A few years ago, web thinker Jeff Jarvis published an homage to the world’s most successful Web search and advertising company titled “What Would Google Do?” These days, the question seems to be, “What is Google doing?”
Google won us over with a revolutionary approach to Web search that made its predecessors seem archaic. It quickly toppled Yahoo as the coolest company on the planet based solely on its efficient and fast way of finding everyone else’s content. Now, though, Google is something entirely different.
What is Google doing? I’m not sure. There may well be a great, bumper-sticker answer. But Google’s actions are too chaotic to come up with a grand, unified theory. It’s toying with apps, mobile software, mobile hardware, mobile phones – and, oh yeah, still dabbles in Web services it decides with zero discussion to terminate with extreme prejudice. It’s one thing to be pulled in all directions as a dance partner, it’s another to have it happen on some carnival ride.
Search has turned out to be only Google’s opening gambit. It still owns just under 70 percent of search market share, and because of that reach about 40 percent of online advertising. For some companies that would be enough, this one, near-perfect service. But Google had bigger ambitions than merely imposing order on the Internet’s chaos.
We got a hint of Google’s plans in 2006, when it paid $1.65 billion – what was its largest acquisition to date – for YouTube. It also gave us Gmail and Google Docs, which dramatically changed users’ attachment to the cloud and boosted their own productivity. A bunch of honest tries, like Wave & Buzz, followed – early misfires in collaboration and social networking. But for all of Google’s innovation and experimentation, it started to feel like Lucy and the football. Rather than keeping what resonated, Google seemed to abruptly end services we had found useful, and had even come to depend on. It shuttered Google Health, a service that maintained all your medical information, and Google 411, a voice-activated directory service.