Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Google: Searching for Success (and getting it)

Everyone talks about Google. Currently, it looks like one of those demigods that can do nothing wrong. But what actually goes on inside that factory of creativity? Are they really all that they are made out to be?
Recently, I was at the Mountain View site and met with a lot of folks running various Google blockbusters like Search, Google Docs, GMail etc. It was an interesting experience meeting them and talking about the various aspects of Google strategy going forward. (Everything below is my opinion and not theirs', so no breach of NDA and all that!) I felt a post discussing where the search giant stands currently and what challenges it faces might be interesting.

Google Strategy Going Forward
The future initiatives of Google will probably be built around four somewhat complementary aims.

Increased ContentExamples:Book search, Google Earth. Though Google's Book search has got embroiled in various legal difficulties, it still is indicative of the future direction Google intends to take. That of facilitating (controlling?) all the information in the world.

Easier ComputingExamples: Muni Wifi, Google Pack, Google docs and spreadsheets. Again, Muni Wifi is stuck in the pipelines in SF battling against other contenders (though I have used the Mountain View Wifi and it is pretty good). Google is going the Intel way by attempting to create an ecosystem to facilitate the usage of its products.

It's all youExamples: Implicit search, personalized home, Gadgets, API, Syndicate, Google Notebook, Custom search engine.This is in line with the overall trend of customization and personalization sweeping the tech industry. It is here that in combination with the various mobile services that it intends to provide, that Google might have the most immediate traction.

Search Search and Search - Though there are no real examples to talk off here, I am sure Google is working pretty hard on atleast three fronts:
1. Making Search work better in non-US contexts so that they compete better with Chinese and soon-to-come Indian search engines.
2. Making Search contextual in an intuitive user-friendly way. Why should I think of whether I should go to image search, video search, regular search or some other search? An interesting initiative in this direction is SearchMash. Incidently, if one reads the privacy notes, it is backed by Google.
3. Making video search better so that it relies less on tags and more on the content in the videos.

There are other areas like Mobile services that are probably getting more attention within Google but the various initiatives in that division (Personalization, Location-based services, and different applications for different geographies) could be linked to aforementioned four main areas of thrust.

Meanwhile what should it be worried about?
Here is a laundry list of challenges in front of Google (in no particular order)

• Governmental interference in controlling/regulating search results (Case in point - China-Google Saga)
• AOL supplies 12% of the google ad revenues. That is significant buyer power
• Government regulations mandating access to search records. This could severely undermine Google's "Do No Evil" policy
• Video Copyright issues with the proliferation of Video based sites like YouTube, Google Video
• Google has not had a great track record with effective integration of its past acquisitions (Blogger). However, there are signs that this is changing
• Integrating a 2.1B acquisition with its own strong culture (Youtube) might be quite a challenge
• IP Rights issues especially in the arena of Book search
• Activities like Phishing and Click Fraud

Regardless of all the challenges, the impact of Google (now and in the future) cannot be underestimated. The startup has become a monolith, the food is still very good (Oddly enough, I never understood what the hype around free food was, it's good, but its just free food guys!), the people are amazingly creative and brilliant.
Google is growing at a massive rate and will probably continue to in the near future. How this impacts its culture, creativity, and its ability to churn out products at the rate that it does, is probably going to be its biggest challenge.


Anonymous said...

Consider this for some Google fodder:

Google still derives 98% of its revenues from search ads and paid listings. This after making a bizillion acquisitions and churning out a gazillion free (yet not so free) products.

Before Google's ad revenue hits a wall it needs to turn in the direction opposite to where Microsoft is headed.

Punit Soni's Adventures in VCland said...

When you ask them this question, Google responds by saying that even now, they have only 13% of the ad market. This means even if they are one-trick pony, the circus rink is huge.

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