I’ve been casually repeating the following aphorism, and Rick Marazzani nudged me to blog it.
Microsoft is the new IBM. Google is the new Microsoft. Facebook is the new Google.
In the 80s, it was said that no one was fired for picking IBM. Microsoft was the hot new innovator in the 80s. In the 90s, got stagnant and then beloved for embracing open source. Microsoft turned into a villian. Five years ago Google was the new innovator that everyone loved. Now they are playing the kind of tricks we used to expect from Microsoft, why Microsoft is earning new love, probably coming from new leadership from Ray Ozzie.
It might feel early to some, but I think it’s time to say that no one will be fired for picking Google for their IT services. Search engine and adwords aside, Google’s office suite (especially email) is strong enough for the enterprise. But while Google has awesome products–products that are more exciting than Windows and Office ever were–it’s also playing games in the market.
Case 1: Android. Is Google serious? Yeah, it’s a move against Apple and the iPhone, but where’s the beef? Android phones should have been here by now. It’s not too late for Android to make a mark, but it does seem like Google announced early to scare off competitors. Fortunately, it hasn’t worked. Nokia/Symbian going open source is a strong move. And Motorola had news recently about their Linux phones, which actually are coming out. The more people at the party, the better for us users.
Case 2: Knol. A lot of people have noticed over the past few years that the top link on many searches at Google point to Wikipedia. For whatever reason, Wikipedia does not use Google adsense. They don’t have any ads. I remember Jason Calacanis begging them to put ads there, but they didn’t listen. Google can’t have so much traffic going off into non-monetized land. Their solution is to clone wikipedia and put ads on it. And just to make sure the traffic is going there, they seem to have juiced their search results. Techcrunch reported last week that Google Knol entries are appearing high in search results much faster than should be expected. That’s the kind of behavior that inspires Justice Department types. But worse, it erodes confidence in Google search results.
Case 3: Friend Connect. Google has clearly blown it in the social space. I don’t count them out entirely, but they have not been winning. Orkut is insigificant. They’ve been sneaking social features into Gmail and Reader, which depending on your perspective either treads close to or steps over the social contract with users. With Friend Connect, they seem to be pushing Facebook towards being more open and letting users keep hold of their data. This is a net positive for users because Facebook didn’t blink. They accelerated their own Connect strategy. Still, Google comes out looking like a bully in this.
At F8 last month, Zuckerberg talking about how the mission of this company is to bring people closer together, the enable better understanding of each other. That’s a big goal that sounds a lot like Bill Gates’ mission to have a computer on every desktop. Google’s do-no-evil motto seemed hip a few years ago, but their misteps sometimes make it seem like a joke. Their stated mission is to connect people to information. Boring. Give me the world-changing missing every time.
Lest there be confusion, I am in no way suggesting that Google itself is evil. It’s a corporation. Individuals are judged by morality, not abstractions. And I’ll be the last person to indict business and businessmen. If I could offer humble advice, I’d suggest to Google’s leadership that they not allow their teams to pull these tricks even if they seem to make sense in the short run.