“What happens if Google chooses to come into your space with your own content?”
I grew up at a time when companies were afraid of Microsoft because whenever they came up with a good idea, Redmond would copy it and potentially put them out of business. They weren’t always successful but having the world’s largest software company in your market was generally a recipe for reducing investor interest.
And I would have to say that after a lack of marketing skill, no other force has slain more tech entrepreneurs than Microsoft. For example, Microsoft Internet Explorer effectively killed Netscape Navigator; Microsoft Access killed Paradox and Microsoft Office killed WordPerfect. There have also been failures… MSN never killed AOL and Microsoft Money never killed Quicken. Generally speaking, when entering a new market which it rarely created, Microsoft had to kill a relationship with an incumbent to win customers. Quicken proves that Redmond can fail – even when it tries to deep six a company.
Google is in many cases the new Microsoft and where once a company needed physical distribution to get products out to a market, nowadays, many services live online and getting customers to change behavior is very simple.
If you think about it, Google is in perhaps the best position to kill virtually all web services. On a single page the company has laid out all the ways in which you can use the search service to get to information you once needed from other sites. Some which I use often are the calculator and currency conversion features. For example, by entering 10 dollars in euros in the search box you can see that the result is 7.7 euros. You can also use Google to find the weather, track flights, as a dictionary, for stock quotes, to find area codes, sports scores and local businesses.
And it is this last point which should bring many investors and regulators concern. You see TechCrunch is reporting that Google is using its Places service as part of its Google Maps for Mobile strategy to displace competitors in local search such as Yelp. The problem is the service from Google seems to be in some cases primarily fueled by reviews which are being scraped from Yelp.
Once again, Google has inserted itself into the business model of a company whose content is used to generate revenue. One might argue that Yelp can easily tell Google not to crawl its site and that Google generates revenue from much of the content it displays from sites on the Internet. In both cases you would be absolutely correct. But in reality few if any sites can afford to exclude themselves from Google’s index meaning this is a problem for Yelp in which there seems to be no solution.
And this gets me to my point regarding why Google is to be more feared than Microsoft because as tough a competitor as they were in their peak Redmond just stole ideas but had to develop programs and services themselves. Google as a massive starting page on the web not only steals ideas but is able to steal the content associated with the ideas to muscle out the content specialists in field after field.
And at this point I should put in a disclaimer that if I headed up Google, I would probably do the same thing as this is logical business extension. Moreover, the case could be made that Google’s business practices are responsible for boosting the visibility of services such as those provided by Yelp and others. In fact over 56% of Yelp’s traffic comes from Google which is actually a huge number and more than twice as large as the percentage of traffic – 25.19%, the search engines drives to the Wall Street Journal for example.
In the old days, VCs used to ask startups, “What happens if Microsoft chooses to come into your space?” This has changed to, “What happens if Google chooses to come into your space with your own content?” My wife has a relative who lives in Brazil. I met her for the first time this past weekend and she went on about how Google’s Orkut is a huge social network in her country. As hard as the search leader has tried it hasn’t yet fared well in the social networking world outside of this country. As we discussed this fact, I couldn’t help thinking that Google isn’t perfect either in terms of succeeding in all spaces it plays in but it certainly is a force to be feared among global entrepreneurs and requires you to to be smarter and work harder to be successful.