I am halfway through reading the book Googled by Ken Auletta when it struck me and the thoughts have become this post. Reading the book you are awe-stuck on Google’s initial years, the story of how the founders acted, their extraordinary vision & brilliance, and their boldness, which bordered arrogance, are all unbelievable. Though many of us were in our 20s when Google was founded and have lived through its growth, still when you read it chronicled we realize that this is a company that was so disruptive, so unconventional, so transformational in the first years of its life itself. Switching to the present, when I think about Google today (2011), I felt not so cool or excited about them.
When I think of Google in 2011 I see the following:
Facebook is the new darling of Silicon Valley. You have read stories about the Google struggling to retain their brightest people and fresh A-Grade talent who are choosing Facebook over Google.
Google’s strength always has been the amount of information it has – about People & their interests, what they search and when they search, what advertisements work and so on. Now Facebook seems to be doing one-up in this, FB knows more about individuals – they know who my friends are, and what they like and they know that in real-time from my updates. And people spend a good part of their day on FaceBook, whereas in Google they visit & immediately leave Google.
After their initial wave of product releases (or acquisitions) including Adwords, AdSense, Gmail, Google News, YouTube, Blogger, Picasa, Google Books, Google Maps, and Google Chrome which were innovative & in rapid succession, you are finding things have become slow. (Let us look into new innovations at later points). The last major release I remember of Picasa, YouTube, Google News, or GMail were years ago. Blogger is certainly ageing and crying for an update whereas WordPress is shining with new features all the time. Google Docs is evolving ever slower. There have been incremental updates like Microsoft has been doing for the last 2 decades with Windows & MS Office, but nothing that’s disruptive like Apple is able to come out with each release.
After the initial lead, I am not finding Google Apps to be offering any compelling value over the competition. Microsoft has been successful in stemming migration to Google Docs, in fact, Microsoft has grown its revenues from MS Office pretty well over the last few years much more than expected. When it comes to the cloud you hear Amazon AWS, Windows Azure & SalesForce more often than Google App Engine.
Apple which was basically a Hardware/OS firm is now the biggest media retailer (Music, Movies) and is one of the biggest Online Services firms from new markets that it created from nowhere (Books, Apps) – whereas Google is nowhere in any of these. I have used Android Marketplace and it pales in comparison even to Microsoft Zune/Windows Phone Marketplace and is certainly not in the same league as Apple App Store in terms of technology, user experience & developer experience. Android is also plagued with the problem of heavy fragmentation and so far no plans from Google to address it for benefit of developers & users.
When a company like Google has grown exponentially every year for the last ten years in terms of revenues and resources (people & infrastructure) it is natural to be having big expectations and innovations coming out every year. In recent years, Google has come up only with Android which has become a hit. Google Wave was a disaster, Chrome OS is having release delays & predictions from IT pundits of being born dead, Orkut is an also-run product, Open Social is a failed show of strength, and the PayPal clone Google Checkout has had few takers. Many of the recent announcements from Google have not got the same World Wide PR attention as in the earlier days. The next wave of growth in the Tech World is undoubtedly the Social & Cloud – Google is not the leader in any of this.
It is not surprising to hear bad things about Google, especially from Steve Ballmer and Carol Bartz – who both have called Google a “One Trick Pony” at various times, but I find it to be more true than ever. Google has been very successful in defending its turf on Search for almost 10 years now, it has been constantly improving it, it has got releases in quick successions and almost always the product turned out to be superior in technology to the competition. Bing! is catching up (due to the Yahoo! acquisition & fairly good product) but still, Google is able to maintain its lead comfortably. The entry barrier in this field is phenomenal for any entrant here.
So what will the next ten years of Google be – that’s the billion(s) dollar question. One thing we can be certain of is that the road ahead for the incoming CEO Larry Page from April 1st is not going to be smooth. All the best to Mr Page.