Keeping up with Google

As an avid Google watcher it’s been almost a full time job just trying to keep up with the guys. There are probably a good dozen Google related stories moving and shaking as we speak. In broad terms you can classify these developments as falling into several themes.

The PR Battle

Google used to be cute, now it’s a monster which eats it’s own and grinds the face of its critics into the dirt… a perfectly logical progression in business, but it’s clear Google themselves have a problem being seen as the ogre they are rather than the cool kids they think they should be. Putting aside the fact that the German authorities just hate Google and all things Google, the German regulators have just handed down the largest fine they were able to for the reckless collection of non-map data as they built the German street view component a few years back. Although Google claimed it was a problem caused by over enthusiastic geeks; the Germans weren’t having any of it. Indeed, they made it clear in their ruling that had they had a larger book to throw at them, they would have been happy to oblige. At almost the same time, Eric Schmidt continued to defend Google’s legal but creative way of reducing taxes as much as they can. The BBC chewed him up and spat him out, and other media rushed in to pile on. The Brits love paying taxes, so for them to see Google gleefully avoid paying taxes they can legally avoid, it makes them see red.

Focus, Focus and Focus

Google used to throw off pet and or goofy projects with gay abandon… now not so much. Indeed they are thinning the herd. They let their digital children persist of kill them off depending on revenue and potential, and or the phase of the moon. Recently they have been killing products at a faster clip than usual. They killed off their very popular RSS reader, and last week they axed the Google Affiliate Network… to the consternation of many who have scratched out a living in this industry. The affiliate network wasn’t a huge contribute, but it’s interesting that they axed the product which was (presumably) profitable. The logical successor to the late and not very lamented GAN, is the shopping search they introduced last year as a paying service. That’s an enormous opportunity which will likely eclipse the rather clunky GAN…indeed it’s probably already done that.

Colonizing the Future

Google won the search war by doing one thing supremely well, and “borrow” anything else they may need.  They pretty much invented the search category and have benefited enormously from that initial win. The classic example of this strategy is the ad product, which they built on their first empire. That platform is powered by an auction bid platform, which they simply stole from Overture (then Yahoo). They spent good parts of the next year or so in court settling with Yahoo. That legal process allowed them enough room to solidify their market share so that even though they were paid fortunes when they settled, Yahoo lost. The odd thing is that although they innovate like crazy, they rarely get it right in house and have to use their checkbook to play catch-up. They missed video (and bought YouTube), they missed social media with the awful Google Buzz and have foisted Google Plus on a reluctant world. Apple beat them to the punch on phones, and Android is a good copy – albeit under legal attack.  ITunes rules paid downloaded content; Google play is a distant second place.  They missed local reviews and couldn’t buy Yelp. They missed classified to Craigslist, and the quilter market to Pintrest. The list goes on. The list is complicated by the sea changes underway in both how we experience all things digital (mobile, iPads, etc), and the places we go to search (Amazon represents a huge threat to commercial search).

All this puts them under what I have to imagine is intense pressure to second-guess the future to consolidate their hegemony. Google Now is interesting as a potential digital assistant, which will follow you around and be your constant digital helper. Google Glass represents a new category… and maybe their first, truly new category, useful digital overlay. Some are skeptical but I’m already a believer (after a fashion). My new car has a rather cool Heads Up Display feature; where it projects basic travel data and directions in the screen so that you can gauge your speed etc. without ever taking your eyes off the road. After only a week or two of using it I’m hooked. As long as Google Glass comes in my prescription, I’m going to be an early adopter.

RSS RIP

Okay, I’ll admit it I’m more than a little ticked off at Google today. I fully realize that is about as meaningful as being mad at the weather (and as effective), but on PI day and Einstein’s Birthday, Google killed Google Reader. My lovely wife asked me this AM, “what is Google reader and why do I care?” Reader is the RSS platform which a ton of cool and interesting, but not typically very commercial, stuff is based. It’s the glue behind things like Digg and Reddit (my wife Loooves Reddit), and Google just announced that it goes away on July 1st.

Google has made a tradition of trying out lots of stuff and letting it run for a while. Then, either expanding it or shutting it down depending how it does. Not everything they do makes money, but the stuff that does makes absolute fortunes for them. Reader never made much money (as far as I can tell they never really tried to make money with it), but it was widely available easy to plug into as a way to manage RSS, and it worked really well. It worked so well that lots of other folk hung businesses around it. When it’s gone, unless someone like Digg or Reddit steps up and develops an open source replacement, it will likely stick a stake through the heart of RSS as a whole.

What makes me sad (apart from the likely impact it will have on stuff I love like FlipBook), is that the money it costs Google to keep this excellent public service going has to be absolutely minimal. The other day I blogged about the trivial $7Million dollar fine imposed on them by states AG for collecting personal data they shouldn’t have been. I don’t think this is a spiteful revenge act on the part of Google to a society, which doesn’t anymore always worship its every move, but taking away one of our best and most useful public service components feels a bit mean. I’d be happy to trade Google Translate (bablefish works fine), the useless Google talk, and maybe Fusion Tables (whatever the heck they are), for the beating heart of RSS. Once Reader is gone, how much longer will RSS last?

Google Reader, RIP, RSS Dies