The Microsoftization of Google

You have to give Google credit; they seem to want to make the world a better place by opening up the world and making technology and services more accessible. And they are powerful enough to make it all happen – search revenue pours in and is being allocated to services which compete with Amazon and Microsoft among others. In the mobile phone space they go up against Palm, RIM, Nokia and Microsoft.

Yesterday they announced a new social networking initiative called Buzz which is supposed to unseat Facebook and twitter. And before I even had a chance to test the service it turns out the company is busy competing against Comcast, Verizon and AT&T in Broadband announced a new fiber service initially slated to serve up to 50,000 customers.

Make no mistake, I am in awe of this company which started in search and already provides wireless broadband and soon will provide fiber to the home with Internet at speeds unrivaled by the current crop of competitors.

It would be safe to say that if these and other lab initiatives were all the company was up to it would be embarking on many times more than the typical company of its size and at a pace which is staggering.

But while juggling a broadband business, wireless, smart grid, search, apps, speech-to-text, email, social networking and virtually everything you can think of the company is single handedly taking on the Chinese government – threatening to pull out of the country and already uncensoring its results for Chinese citizens.

Word has it today that Iran has blocked Gmail in the country which they say they will replace with a national email service which likely will consist of specially bred carrier pigeons.

When you look at this company you have to wonder when it will snap. It may never happen… I am consistently impressed with companies like Oracle and Cisco who can make acquisitions and enter new markets at a rapid clip and still operate a successful and profitable company.

But you have to wonder, is Google going to ever lose its edge?

And if it does lose its edge in some areas will other parts of the company be immune? When you look at Microsoft you see them messing up almost equally across its entire product line and moreover the brain drain from the company is now legendary.

Although it may take time for this to happen to Google it seems apparent that social networking is a place where the company is a few steps above incompetent — perhaps that is too harsh — let’s instead say repeatedly unsuccessful. For the record, I am a huge Google Reader fan and I have shared an immense amount of content on the site… It just seems this is not the place anyone wants to go to be social.

Using Twitter, Facebook and even LinkedIn yields an order of magnitude more activity from readers than Reader could ever accomplish. The company has struggled with Wave which was supposed to be a social network utopia/email killer for users. It just seemed to die on the vine (truth be told programmers at TMC love the service).

Today Juan Carlos Perez over at IDG skewered Google for not having Facebook support in buzz among other reasons. Here is an excerpt:

However, I also found the user interface inconvenient for keeping track of what my 20-odd contacts are posting, a more serious issue. It’s one long page of Buzz conversations, similar to a discussion forum. As comments are added to the conversations, I don’t get a notification of any sort. I just have to keep revisiting them to see what’s new, scrolling up and down this increasingly long page.

According to Google, people can link up Buzz right now with Picasa, Flickr, Twitter, YouTube and Blogger, while Google chat status messages and Google Reader shared items can also be displayed in Buzz.

So I decided to give one of these a try. I linked Buzz to my Flickr account and uploaded about 30 photos to Flickr. Only one of them showed up in my Buzz stream right away. About 10 other photos appeared several hours later.

So is Buzz a complete bust? Not at all. It’s definitely a welcome addition to Gmail, and I’m sure many people will find uses for it.

However, it doesn’t come close to solving the problem that it was created to address: helping people manage the avalanche of social media information many are inundated with. In fact, Buzz may end up compounding this problem, becoming yet another social media channel that people need to watch and maintain.

Without a doubt Google has been a positive competitive influence on companies in many markets as it subsidizes its new initiative with ad revenue which continues to flow. The downside is the industries the company plays in continue to hemorrhage jobs – take a look at your local newspaper as an example. This is somewhat similar to what happens when a big box retailer first enters a community which has a healthy mix of small to medium retailers – consumers get lower prices but the competing vendors generally are put out of business and this could cost jobs.

The question I wonder about is can Google become a shining example of massive growth across many areas like Oracle or Cisco without becoming too big to function properly – or will they become more like Microsoft which is still a major force in the market but a shadow of its former self in terms of innovation and technology leadership.

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