I have been thinking quite a bit about HOW to address all of the ‘stuff’ flying around about Google, Google +, ‘search your world’, Twitter, Facebook, and a partridge in a pear tree … because in some ways things seem very clear but in other ways not. So what I decided was to drop a couple of ideas and then open it up for everyone to discuss.
First off, let us start with the baseline assumptions.
- First: Google has a monopoly in search.
- Second: Google’s search monopoly is a ‘natural’ monopoly. (more in a minute)
- Third: Google sees search as the absolute core of its business.
- Fourth: Google sees everything else it does as subservient to advancing and protecting the core search business.
- Fifth: Google will protect itself from threats to its search monopoly by any and all means possible.
There are likely many more I could make, but this is a start.
Saying that Google has a ‘natural’ monopoly means that they EARNED it by doing it better than anyone else. This is extremely important as it distinguishes them from Microsoft in the 1990’s. When I open my browser on my home or work computers, I can assign a default search tool, and can even have any search website as my home page. I CHOOSE Google … but since I have been on the internet since before it was called the internet, I obviously used something else. I started with the pre-web tools like Gopher and Archie, moved to WebCrawler and eventually to AltaVista. I stuck with AltaVista way too long, leaving only when it turned into a portal and Yahoo ruined it … then I went to Google. Since I use Mac and PC and Android and iOS devices … I could use anything I wanted. But I choose Google search – and don’t like Bing on my Windows Phone 7.
When I say ‘advancing and protecting the core search business’, I mean Android specifically but not solely. The Android platform was Google’s way to advance their ecosystem into mobile without being beholden to anyone else (like Apple). I also mean protecting by extending things that are ‘required’ on an Android device to include Maps rather than someone else’s navigation software (which happened with the original Motorola Droid, as contracts had to be broken and Maps included or Google wouldn’t ‘certify’ the device … resulting in the death of a small company).
And when I say ‘protect itself from threats’, I mean that they will leverage their monopoly to thwart threats. They want ANYONE who is thinking of searching ANYTHING to come to Google. If they go to Expedia or Priceline to search travel info, that is a problem. If they go to Amazon for purchases, that is a problem. If they go to Twitter for news, that is a problem. And if they head to Facebook to search for friends, that is a problem.
And this is where things get interesting and problematic. Who really cares if Google opens an online travel service or their shopping portal or even a social network? Why shouldn’t they be able to advance as they like? The problem is not having them, but integrating them into their search engine.
And this is where things start to get like Microsoft.
Google has done a pretty good job at evenly penalizing sites for trying to ‘game’ their search – to the point of recently demoting their own Chrome browser for paid links! That is a really good policy – and it isn’t the first time the search business has penalized another arm of the company.
The problem with Microsoft was that they already had an established monopoly, but like any public company are expected to constantly grow each business and also add new revenue streams to both protect existing businesses and open up new growth areas. So with Microsoft, they were late to everything about the internet – they tried to copy AOL with MSN (and failed), dropped in a free ‘Mail & News’ into the OS releases and found success … but it was when their late entry into the browser field came along and was integrated deeply into Windows itself came along – and at the same time Windows Updates started causing mysterious crashes and incompatibilities with Netscape – that they crossed the line from evolution to anti-competitive.
When Google decided to enter the social networking fray again with Google+, many wondered how it would work. Very quickly it became clear that Google saw this as a ‘core competency’ – they were taking existing, popular products such as Reader and fundamentally altering them to be more ‘Google+ friendly’. This was not some ‘Wave’ type lark. But when Reader lost the ability to comment and was replaced only with Google+ sharing, it annoyed some but since it kept the ability to email, tweet or Facebook share, it was just a bad decision.
This week with Google ‘share your world’, things seem to be different. When you search for something on Google now, your results (as shown in the top image) are laden with Google-centric results. Flickr shows up on top … but ONLY because Robert Scoble +1’d it and I follow him on Google+. There are also other unrelated Google+ profiles and maps. The maps feature I LOVE, and is something I use regularly – again, I consider Maps a ‘natural’ dominance as I just like it better than Mapquest and switched without ever looking back.
But in spite of having a Google+ account and making some use of it, if Google was actually searching ‘my world’ there would be LOADS more from Facebook and Twitter. Google claims that they would give equal weight to those services if they allowed Google full access to all of their data. Seriously – why not just ask for bank account access while they are at it! The other problem is that Google already has MILLIONS of Facebook pages and Tweets indexed – just try searching your name and Twitter or Facebook and see how many results pop up.
To many this demonstrates that Google is trying to leverage their search monopoly to make Google+ the de facto standard social network, removing Twitter and Facebook from the public conversation.
What do you think?