Google… The Worm Turns?

Google has been a remarkable company to watch over the years, operating as a pure product company that reflected Microsoft in it’s prime, which is just to say when Microsoft could make or break a new market by simply introducing a new product. Google also adopted Microsoft’s strategy for empowering product managers with great and absolute authority over products.

Over time Microsoft was defanged by endless interventions by government into their product process, the result of which is that Microsoft is no longer feared by startups and investors even though they still enjoy immense power in the marketplace.

Like Microsoft, Google has made mistakes with products in the past and come under regulator scrutiny for their M&A and product privacy issues. However, unlike Microsoft the attention focused on Google has not been debilitating and Google today is a force unlike any other company, even eclipsing Apple in this regard.

With Google Buzz the heat being applied to Google has become uncomfortable, causing the company to quickly recognize that the blunder was more serious than previous over-reaches. We have seen Google respond very quickly with product fixes and an executive level communication campaign but I wonder if what we are seeing with Google Buzz is the dawn of a new era where Google products are vetted much more comprehensively than in years past in order to avoid issues that product managers are not accustomed to putting front and center, like the reactions of international governments.

Privacy officials from 10 countries Monday sent Google Inc. a letter demanding that the Internet giant build more privacy protections into its services, the latest sign of increasingly international anxiety over Google’s power.

[From Ten Countries Criticize Google in Letter for Privacy Abuses –]

Mobile Enterprise

I am moderating a panel tomorrow night on “mobile and enterprises” featuring key people from Google, HP, and DoubleDutch (white label FourSquare). This is shaping up to be a really interesting discussion and what I like about this venue is that the event itself is intimate which encourages good discussion.

The way I’m approaching this is as follows, there are 3 fundamental dimensions to the mobile enterprise:

  1. Unified communications: The integration of voice telephony and a range of messaging technology, as well as the unchaining of these technologies from the desk, are changing how people conduct business
  2. App ecosystems: We have evolved along a fairly predictable path with regard to mobile apps, first we started out replicating desktop applications as small screen formatted and when the limits of this approach were reached developers started building mobile apps as if they had no desktop counterpart. In other words, the development of mobile applications is in a renaissance period exhibited by user experience creativity and the integration of mobile specific hardware capabilities, like location based services.
  3. Mobile internet devices: The enthusiastic reception that devices like the Kindle, Nook, and iPad have received underscored the point that mobile devices do not have to be mobile phones. We are fully unwinding the notion that mobile data and mobile telephony are one in the same and this will have profound implications for companies that have a vested interest in the mobile enterprise, as well as the carriers who are providing the infrastructure services for large enterprises.

I hope you will be able to attend this event, I’m looking forward to a spirited discussion that touches on all three of the points I raised above.

Sidewiki, Everything Old is New Again

Google announced Sidewiki, an addon to Google Toolbar that allows any user to add notes to a webpage.

Google Sidewiki is a new feature being added today to the Google Toolbar that allows anyone to leave comments about pages as they surf the web. Love something you’re reading? Hate it? You can share your views with others who visit the page and who also have Sidewiki enabled. Share, that is, if Google thinks your comment is good enough.

[From Google Sidewiki Allows Anyone To Comment About Any Site]

Hmmm… remember when Third Voice tried this in 1999 and was roundly ripped for being the equivalent of website graffiti? What Third Voice was doing was, as far as I can tell, pretty much spot on for what Google announced today… yet not a word of that long gone company in any of the coverage this morning. Maybe Carol Bartz has a point

“I just want to transplant all you guys out of this sort of cynicism you’re in. I mean, why are you cynical about us [me: Yahoo]? Be cynical about frickin’ Google. Leave us alone.

Twitter, er Google, Hacked

Twitter makes sure that they throw in the obligatory “this ain’t about Google Apps” disclaimer when actually it pretty much is.

This attack had nothing to do with any vulnerability in Google Apps which we continue to use.

[From Twitter Blog: Twitter, Even More Open Than We Wanted]

If Twitter were using something other than a public cloud for their documents and messaging, well it would have been a hell of a lot more difficult for someone to login with a password retrieved via the recovery feature in Gmail.

I’ll still use Gmail and hope I never have to use Exchange again but let’s not pretend that the ease by which the Twitter document heist was accomplished had nothing to do with the vulnerability of a publicly accessible hosted services. Better passwords, routinely changing them, and not making forgotten password questions easy to defeat would all help… but then again Exchange administrators can force those things on users rather than relying on users to be self-regulating.

Facebook Connect Is A Huge Success

I’d go with that assessment. Connect has made identity/authentication so much easier for third party app providers and at the same time has struck a serious blow to Google in that these relationships are not transactional and it is a zero sum game. With FB adoption where it is and so much momentum on the Connect initiative, there is little incentive for third party service and app providers to go with any alternatives.

As much as Beacon was Facebook’s low point, that service’s replacement, Facebook Connect, is vaulting the company to new heights six months after its November 2008 launch.

[From Facebook Connect Is A Huge Success — By The Numbers]

The long term strategic value of Connect is in layering on additional service offerings that can slipstream into application services. Identity and authentication are clear wins today, profile data is increasingly accessible, and long term that ability to build in payment services, advertising network extensions, analytics, and CRM capabilities is entirely within their grasp.

Google’s Mid-Life Crisis

I’m not so sure that I concur with Kumar’s bold conclusion that the party is over at the Googleplex. The company is bound to slow downt but make no mistake about it, they are still an amazing cash flow generator. Their core business is highly defensible and while online advertising (search and display) will likely decline going through 2009, the drop won’t be as bad as in other segments and because display and search are not speculatively valued, a 20% pricing correction won’t be catastrophic.

The party is over. The company is moving onto the next stage of its existence and requires different skills than in the first leg of its journey. Her attention has also been too focused for years on PR than Google UI. And, while she is known for throwing her weight around inside Google, there are questions as to whether she has the business acumen for the next leg of the journey.

[From Marissa Mayer’s Attempt To Put a Bolder Face on Google Falls Flat]

As has been commented in many places over the years, Google is living up to it’s reputation as a one trick pony. As they trim their product and service portfolio it is evident that Google pixie dust is not a success guarantor and even in advertising we are seeing that dominance in search does not translate into print and radio success (both having been shut down in recent months). Having said that, I’ll take dominance in their core market over mediocrity across multiple markets any day.

Kumar states that Google is going to require different skills to move the needle from here on out, but that’s true for every business today and historically it has remained constant that companies grow and materially change as a result of that maturity. Very few companies in the history of technology have retained founding teams as they experienced the phenomenal growth that Google has achieved, that Google has done it this long is a testament to their strengths and not any weakness.

FeedBurner May Not Be Hearing Your Pings

This is actually a bigger deal than simply an inconvenience. Many media publishers are now relying on RSS to not only take inbound content but also publish it out and when latency is introduced in the plumbing it creates larger problems for publishers.

RSS is an infrastructure and when providers of the services fail to provide optimal performance it really harms everyone else in the business by introducing a confidence issue.

NewsGator serves content to publishers not only through widgets but also through our platform services that are either instantiated as applications or APIs that are used to drive custom apps. We go to great expense and effort to ensure that our clients are experiencing a level of performance that not only meets but exceeds their expectations and SLAs in our contracts keep us honest on this point. All that work becomes moot though when the actual publisher of the feed fails, as was the case here, because while we republish search as feeds and make additional content available as original feeds, the bulk of the content we deliver is being published not by us.

If FeedBurner decides to take its sweet time in delivering the news, that’s bad for bloggers. Unfortunately, that’s what’s happening right now. We’ve been seeing delays of up to 20 minutes between posting to our site and our posts appearing in our FeedBurner feeds. That’s a pretty serious problem and we’re not alone in experiencing it.

[From FeedBurner May Not Be Hearing Your Pings – ReadWriteWeb]

Android & iPhone, Same Thing Only Different

I watched the Android coverage over the last couple of days and quite honestly, I don’t get it.

Mossberg comes out with a column that basically says, to paraphrase, “the Android is a real competitor to the iPhone, here’s all the things that are better on the iPhone.”

“Google’s new G1 phone announced today is the first real competitor to the iPhone. Like Apple’s product, it’s a serious handheld computer with a powerful new operating system (called Android) and a clever touch-based user interface. Like the iPhone, it’s likely to be a major new platform for third-party software. But it’s also very different, and may appeal to different buyers.”

But then he goes on to point out:

1. Tightly bound to Google Contacts, Calendar, and Gmail. No Exchange sync.

2. “The G1 won’t win any beauty contests with its Apple (AAPL) rival,” and “still, it feels pretty good in the hand when closed, although I found it more awkward when opened. ” So it feels good and awkward.

3. “The web browser is based on the same open-source technology as the iPhone’s, but works differently.” Same thing only different…

4. No street view in google maps… which is kind of ironic considering it’s, you know, GOOGLE maps.

5. “The G1’s multimedia capabilities are less polished and complete than the iPhone’s.”

6. No built in video player, gotta go download it. There is a Youtube player but no video player.

7. “And it lacks the iPhone’s ability to change the orientation of a web page or photo by just turning the phone” and no flicking through photos with your finger.

8. The G1 also has much less memory than the iPhone.

On the pro side, the Android does have copy/paste, which the iPhone desperately needs, and MMS, which nobody uses.

Gizmodo came out today with a review that is less generous than Mossberg’s, who typically plays it down the middle. Is Google spiking the packaging when they ship this handset out? Is there halo of sunshine that emanates from the box when it’s opened?

GE Drops Google, Selects Zoho

I agree with Daya on two points, Google Spreadsheets is a disaster and Zoho is a remarkable company that has defied the odds to become the leader in online productivity apps. With 1 million users, before this 400k GE agreement, they have outmaneuvered everyone else.

A GE spokesperson who did not want to be identified said their decision was based around issues of personal and corporate privacy, functionality, support, features and Zoho won hands down. The spokesperson said the Google application was intrusive and the ads started to become a nusiance. I tested both applications today. Google Spreadsheets was a disaster. I have not noticed any major change with it over the past year. However I would encourage you to try both products to get a feel before you choose one.

[From GE Drops Google, Selects Zoho]

Zoho’s product portfolio is broad, very broad, and it further highlights how well this company just “gets shit done” because none of these products are crippled or feature bare. What I like best about Zoho is that in a business obsessed with who is going to buy so-and-so, these guys have gone for it and are building a real brand.

Simply put, Zoho owns this category, everyone else is an also ran.


Google M&A

David Lawee was asked yesterday while on a panel at TC50 about exit strategies what the most successful acquisitions that Google has done to date. His answer was insightful and I think quite candid, he pointed out Keyhole, Urchin, and WrightleyWritely and in each case referenced how the company was able to retain the people and then transform a part of their business with the acquisition. BTW, if you ever get a chance to meet Lawee you will find him to be one of the nicest people at Google, an attribute which no doubt helps the company tremendously when doing M&A deals.

Google has done a pretty extensive laundry list of deals over the years, I found this list on Wikipedia (found using Google, what else?). Interesting to note that Android could well prove to be a defining acquisition when the history book is written, but we’ll have to wait and see on that one.

Keyhole and Urchin are dramatic examples, WrightleyWritely to a lesser degree because Google Apps hasn’t changed the market landscape and Google Docs, being just one part of Apps, is rather poorly integrated into other services (although that is changing). However, it would be hard to argue that Google Maps and Google Analytics don’t represent seminal events in our industry, they are standard bearers and in each case they upended the existing market by going to free for what were previously expensive products, and by dramatically expanding the distribution at competitor’s expense.

Interestingly, Youtube was not talked about much and I believe this is indicative of the challenges that Google has had making this work. Youtube is fantastically successful from a traffic standpoint, not so much so from a monetization perspective nor from the perspective of impacting other Google products. Given the amount of money that Google paid for Youtube and it’s then very small team, it would be hard to argue that they didn’t set themselves up for a few very high hurdles to clear before generating a return on this investment. The fact that there are so many streaming video services available only further reinforces the view that this was not a transformative event in Google’s history, at least not so far.

Lastly, I was shocked that David didn’t bring up Applied Semantics, which could be argued is the goose that laid the golden egg at Google. But then again, I don’t think Google likes for anyone to point out that core search and contextual advertising was anything but developed by Google brains.

David Lawee image
Birthplace: Canada
Companies: Google

David Lawee was named vice president of corporate development at Google in February 2008.

Previously Lawee was vice president, Marketing, at Google. He had global responsibility for all Google marketing activities. His worldwide mandate… Learn More