Google-y eyes too big for its stomach?

July 17, 2010 § Leave a comment

I don’t know why exactly, but I’m finding myself more and more drawn with interest into what Google’s doing these days. Only at the beginning of this month it was unveiled that they may be entering in to the travel market – and maybe the price comparison market – as they bought up travel information firm ITA Software (who basically supply flight info and pricing to major travel websites such as Kayak, Orbitz, Hotwire and Microsoft’s Bing).

And now, only a week or so later, Techcrunch has discovered a secret $100 million plus investment deal Google has made with Zynga, part of a strategic partnership to both a) prepare for Google Games, coming later this year; and b) put a bullet in PayPal, Google Checkout’s direct competitor and major beneficiary of Zynga as a payment medium. But it’s also a shot over the bow of Facebook, too, as Zynga (if you didn’t already know) makes such masssively, massively popular games such as Farmville (approximately 62 million active users) and Mafia Wars (close to 18 million), which of course have their foundations built upon on the number one social networking site on the web.

(To put these numbers into perspective, World of Warcraft, the poster child for massively online social experiences, has around 11.5 million active subscribers from the last count taken around late 2008, and that took them four years to develop, whereas Farmville was launched only 12 months ago.)

So, this is Christmas present, but what about Google’s future?

Having been asked a question about possible Google integration, Amit Singhal, Google Fellow, responded:

So my calendar knows when I have free time, my [GPS-enabled] phone knows where I am, my to do list has a list of things I need to accomplish and time is expensive … On top of that Google local knows the map of this place and it knows where all the sports shops are – so why can’t this thing tell me ‘you have 45 minutes free in your agenda, there’s a sports shop 300 metres away go and buy a cricket bat

Taken out of context? Sure. Slightly worrisome? Most definitely. And this is another lurking aspect of Google’s future that even now they’re having to deal with, whilst with Apple it’s now arguably reached its crescendo point – namely, the negative PR generated from turning from a small-time underdog to being large corporate behemoth, where every little decision is scrutinised and every public outcry is magnified, because now you’re the guy wearing the bullseye, and everyone’s going to take a shot, rightly or wrongly so.

On the Guardian’s recent Tech Weekly podcast there is a fascinating interview with Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt, who goes onto discuss the challenges the company has faced in regards to privacy – very interesting, especially when considering that he is a former member of Apple’s Board of Directors.

And this is the point I’m coming to, something I’ve been thinking for a while now. Google, with all the trouble it’s got itself into already with China and with invasion of privacy, is at great risk of heading towards some kind of scandal or PR crisis, one with which they’d find it difficult to recover from. Simply put, a company that grows that large that fast is going to run into issues further down the road.

It seems that Schmidt is highly aware of the dangers, especially with such a sensitive topic as privacy, but he’s also caught in a dilemma. If Google don’t keep evolving and improving then they’re going to be left behind, yet the more they diversify, the more they become vulnerable to attacks against their core business, and the more exposed they end up becoming. For example, Microsoft’s Bing has already caught 12.7% of the search engine market in just over 12 months. That’s an incredible gain, while Google’s share has declined – only down roughly a percent from 63.7 to 62.6, but still, this is something they need to watch out for, and they know it.

This is the digital landscape, unfortunately, and it’s the same point Schmidt makes in the aforementioned interview. Digital companies exist in market with an unprecedented potential for growth and for creativity, but the winds of fortune are oft quick to change if a company becomes sloppy or slow. It’s almost an inconceivable tight-rope act, of remaining agile, fresh, new and original while also being of the largest and most influential companies in the world. How on earth do you make that balance out?

I certainly don’t know, but I’ll be very interested to see if Eric Schmidt does.


N.B. My friend Tristan Harrison is doing a half-marathon on behalf of LIDEFO project. Based in Uganda, LIDEFO is a volunteer-based organisation which is dedicated towards the redevelopment and reconstruction of impoverished areas of the country. He’s actually gone to the effort of making a pretty funny montage video and everything. So, please donate, even if it is a little. For us it’s the difference of not buying a coffee in the morning for a week, but for them it’s a new school, a livelihood, or even life or death.



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