Thursday, December 22, 2005

 

google jumps the shark

For those of you who don't know, this Wikipedia listing explains that the phrase "jump the shark" refers to the episode, scene, or plot change that marks the rapid decline of a television series. It is based around a scene in Happy Days where a lead character "jumps" a shark on a jet sky, marking the very moment when most viewers began to turn the show off as unending and unbelievable.

To say that Google has jumped the shark may be a bit premature, but their recent dealings with AOL mark a noticeable change in direction for a company that was once both fresh and innovative. They new appear to be placing much more of their focus on maintaining market share rather than providing better products. This deficit of innovation could easily result in their rapid demise given the cut throat nature of the Internet. Bold statement? We'll see.

"But, what about Google Maps?" some would ask.

Google Maps (Local as it is now called) really opened a lot of people's eyes to the power of AJAX and what can be done on the Internet with a powerful back end a light front end. That said, there is only so far you can go with maps and at this point Google Maps has started to blend into the background noise of newer map offerings from the likes of Yahoo and MSN. You really don't need to use Google Maps if you don't want to. Additionally both A9 and Windows Live (of all companies) are pushing the innovations bounds in a way that Google really isn't. Google Local still does a good job, but only a good job.

"But, what about GMail?"

What about it? Email has been around for a while. Sure it is nice, but so is Yahoo's upcoming AJAX based mail system. While Google has shown its ability to create a very light and useful interface, almost every major competitor has been following suit. The simple fact is that, for the average user, changing email addresses is a far bigger deal than seeing your entire email discussion on one page. Gmail, and not to mentioned Google's personalized home page and Talk products, are great examples of where Google is coping market leaders, not innovating upon them.

Need proof? Consider that they are just now offering a way to collect contacts into groups. Very cutting edge '95 stuff.

"But, what about Search?"

Let me ask you a serious question, could your survive today without Google Search? Well? When Google came out it had such a radically different product that worked so much better that they were able to create an audience for themselves and get many of their now competitors (like AOL and Yahoo) to sign up, even without Adwords being in place. Now Google has to pay people to use their search product. More importantly: both MSN and Yahoo have introduced products that are very nearly as effective (even if they return different results) as Google's Web Search. The Search Engine Optimization crowd is also doing its best to kill Google with one out of every two searches I do resulting in meaningless spam for the first 10 results. Yahoo also has a better image search and Technorati a better (if slower) blog search.

To be blunt, Google's search platform is dead in the water.

"But, what about all the cool features like Weather and UPS code lookup?"

This swings back to Google's other ongoing problem. With every product or feature they add their search results page (already diluted with who knows how many ads) becomes more and more confusing. Their never ending self promotion (Google Toolbar ad on the bottom of every page?) is also getting to the point of being an embarrassment. Each time they make a change to their search results page they open the door a little wider for some young Google-want-to-be to come along and introduce a better web search product while keeping the team in Mountain View from being able to do anything about it.

"But, Google's motto is do no evil!"

Really? What do they do with the terabytes of information they collect from Google Toolbar users? What about the Search information they log? What about reading your GMail to show you relevant ads? What about using Google Analytics in an attempt to get every webmaster to attach Google tracking scripts to their websites in exchange for fancy reporting? Read more here. What about the the ongoing rumors that suggest Google is offering SEO advice to the bigger advertising firms while letting the little guy fend for himself? More significantly, what about Google's new strategy of monopolizing markets and becoming competitors with almost everyone under the sun?

Sounds to me like tactics closer to to the heart of Redmond, WA than Utopia, USA.

Google: unstoppable or on the verge of decline?

Google has a whole lot of things working for them. More so than any of their competitors. They have a reputation for rolling out useful, stable, and unbelievably cool products. They have very good mind share and strong relationships with websites and advertisers. Despite their size they still "feel" like a small company on the surface. From a consumer standpoint Google can do no wrong. So what is the problem?

Well Google has a lot of cash on hand and a severely over inflated stock price (they don't deserve $400 a share when Yahoo provides a comparable search product that most users could switch to without a hitch). This means that anyone Google does business with is more likely to be interested in a fat check than an innovative feature or better mouse trap. This doesn't mean they still can't be Walmart, but it cuts into their ability to be Apple. The simple fact is that their tactics of late are clouding the young, hip, do-no-evil image they've worked so carefully to create.

It would take an awful lot to dethrone Google, but it is certainly doable. It was done to Sony (iPOD), Atari (Nintendo), and IBM (Microsoft, PCs) back in the day. Why not Google? The real question is how. What do you think it would take to take Google down? Please post your comments.


....

P.S. It is also possible that Google isn't about to fail but instead is just starting to “grow the beard” (2 points if you can figure that reference out).

UPDATE: Looks like Google is reacting. Read their post about the AOL deal and why it isn't a bad deal here.

Comments:
reference = al gore?
 
You are using Blogger and you are running Google AdSense
 
What a stupid post. You're using two Google services right now...
 
Ok, for the record, I'm using way more than 2 Google services. I'm not saying they don't provide good product, I'm saying that they can be taken down and there are a number of companies getting in line to try and do it. How have they improved blogger since they bought it? Besides letting it become a scum whole for spam comments I mean. What Base, and a cruddy Instant Messenger. Google isn’t solving problems anymore, they’re just trying to make sure they have something in established markets so they can compete. Nothing wrong with that, but they get a pathetic amount of buzz for the minor feature changes their making in comparison to Yahoo’s real attempts to push the ball in many areas. How long can it last?
 
FISA Courts
Echelon
Google in bed with AOL
NSA; Judge resigns
GMAIL drafts make me scream
GMAIL search clunky
National frustration in USA and Google is visible scapegoat with over the top commercial sites sucking our time.
I think you are on to something here...."do no evil rings hollow" in this climate, and I've given them enough rope to tie me up---take back the power may be my answer to AOL scum...lie down with dogs; get up with fleas...thoughtful and insightful piece....keep it up.
 
I'm actually suprised I'm resonding to this post. But overall it seems you have more venom against google than you do valid points.

Googles search is not "dead in the water". Their search engine is still very robust and works wonderfully and plenty of people use it daily. The added search features such as address lookup, ups, zipcode, conversions, spelling, etc are all very useful tools for many people and aren't just fluff on the page. I haven't met a single person who is confused by the Google search page. It is amazingly striaght forward considering how much information they give you.

Why shouldn't google advertise their toolbar on every page? If they can get the toolbar in peoples browsers (notably IE) then they get people to use their search engine without even thinking about it. That's a powerful marketing tool and they would be foolish not to push it.

One small way they have improved blogger, since you failed to provide any kind of balance, is the ability to flag sites as spam sites. Since they added this feature I find far fewer spam sites on Blogger when clicking the "next site" links at the top. Previous to that feature addition I'd see 9 or 10 spam sites for each valid one. Now it is closer to the other way around.

It also doesn't seem like you really understand the deal with AOL. By making the tie in with AOL they are going to be better able to index the content within the AOL universe and thus provide better search results. WHile there is A LOT of garbage in AOL I am sure there is also a lot of very worthwhile content.

You say they aren't innovating (a word I am very tired of). And then dismiss google maps. Google Maps was innovation plain and simple. It changed the whole paradign of online maps and forced yahoo and microsoft to catch up.

You also dismiss their mail client saying they are copying. Yet it was gmail that first thrust AJAX into the public eye and was also the catalyst for both Microsofts and Yahoos forthcoming offerings. You say Google is copying simply because they were slow to implement contact groups - yet it is clearly MS and Yahoo who are playing catch-up. You also dismiss the value of the natural message threading of Gmail yet for many people that is a very valuable feature and is a reason why many people have switched to using their service.

Google Desktop is another product google gives to the public and again they beat Microsoft at their own game. It works far better than Microsofts horrible built in search and offers the desktop sidebar that vista promises sometime next year for everyone already. Personally, I don't use the sidebar (I like a clean desktop) but at least the tool is available for those who want it.

You mention A9 pushing innovative bounds - but are they really? It seems to me they just provide your search history in a different format. They also push a toolbar (suprise). The only real difference s are the bookmarks (taken straight from del.icio.us) and the discount you can get at amazon by using a9.

In some things you are correct. In general Yahoo image search is superior, Yahoo seems to be working on even more stuff (or at least buying more popular companies who were doing new things). However, in others you seem to just be spouting rumors and trying to pass them off for facts.

For instance, you suggest Google is doing somethign malicious with the data it collects. They may be - I don't know. But nor do you. You just speculate and since we are speculating I postulate they aren't doing anything more than showing me ads that I am most likely to click on based on the content of my current page. A feature you by using adwords, both endorse and hope works well. So is it evil? I don't think so and I would hope you don't either else you are in bed with them.

In one sentence you say Google is monopolizing and competing against everyone. Which is it? If they are monopolizing then there really isn't any competition. So what industry do they monopolize? And if they are competing then to suggest they are dead in the water is patently false as well. They are a business, a fairly young and suprisingly successful business. Their job is to expand market share and make money for their stockholders. Supposedly they are trying to do that while sticking to their ten things (though admittedly those ten things have modified over time - something they even admit on their ten things page).

In the end your post seems to be more about drawing people to your site so they click on your adwords than it does on actually making an honest evaluation of what Google is doing or has done. I suppose that is why reddit had multiple links to your site back to back. You were probably spamming them in order to try to get adwords income.
 
Bill:

You make really good points and are right on topic. The article was meant to produce discussion and I'm glad it has. Thanks for taking the time to respond.

The article itself isn't meant to be a definitive work on the state of Google so much as a devil's advocate take on their recent moves. Google is a good company that I heavily use, but more often than not they receive glowing adoration from a huge fanboy community even when they don't really push the ball forward (Personalized Homepage, for example). As I state at the end of the article, Google may in fact be getting ready to become unstoppable by being the only online company to consistently launch relevant and useful products. However, I do think that prospect is more and more up in the air.

I will make one point however, Google isn't a monopoly but their efforts have the effect of monopolization. There are tens of thousands of companies that depend entirely on their position in Google's search results, their ability to run Google adsense, or their ability to run Adwords. Overture never had this kind of power and Yahoo simply doesn't have it now. Google is at the point that a simple query change, policy change, or price change can put thousands of small companies out of business. No matter what business you are in Google also has a competing product; whether it be shopping or advertising or even hosting. Google has generally been nice about their market position, but they don't have to be.

Consider how you would react if this article was titled “Microsoft jumps the shark.” The Internet is full of people who freely bash the Windows and Chief. Google gets almost nothing but positive press no matter how small or pathetic a change or new feature is.

Also, I don't make any notable adsense money off this blog. It is used mostly for test (hence the reason their is a bar at the bottom of the post instead of five bars all over the page). I make about a $1 a month and will be able to cash out sometime in the year 2008.

Thanks again for the comment!
 
Your reply to my comment is more along the lines of my thinking. You are correct that Google gets very little press (though there is a new Motley Fool article that does throw Egg on Googles face over the AOL deal - http://fool.com/News/mft/2006/mft06011012.htm) and people do seem to get overly excited about small things with google.

I guess part of the problem is I think Jump The Shark is not applicable to Google (or MS for that matter). Neither are fading into irrelvance. Google is on the rise (though how much higher their stock price can go I have no idea. It boggles my mind currently). And it is never safe to count MS out of anything.

Furthermore, the personalized homepage effort by Google is a bit disappointing. MS has a very smiliar page (start.com) but both are taking radically different approaches to their API and allowing people to extend them. I think the divergance should be interesting and may lead to some cool ideas. I'm personally not much of a "widget" fan - but who knows one may come out that converts me someday.

In the end I don't think Google deserves a negative post simply because there is a lack of them. Nor do I think finding speculative fault is a good approach. Google has it's own real problems (that are different to different people).

a couple side notes:
- the IM client by Google might suck (i use GAIM so I don't know) but it is cool they are using Jabber (and thus GAIM had instant connectivity to it) as a back end. The fact that they introduced an Open protocol to IM users is fairly significant as the other players have always been reluctant to interoperate and only gave the idea lip-service. To be fair to the Google Talk client it also includes the live voice communication feature which might be useful and for their first shot at an IM client it probably isn't that bad.

- I still don't see the point of Base; the UI is clumsy and it just seems awkward with no real purpose.

- Googles blog search is horrendous. Hopefully they fix that in time.

- Google Earth is a cool addictive program. I don't use Google Maps much. Yahoo's flash version is a bit more responsive but I don't use either really. However, some of the mash-ups with the Google Maps program have been pretty neat to see. The simple fact that it has an open API is cool and the creativity it has spawned has been pretty impressive.

- The Google Pack is a good idea even though I regret to see Acrobat installed as opposed to a lighter weight alternative pdf reader such as foxit (a free very lightweight one at http://www.foxitsoftware.com/pdf/rd_intro.php). The single point of update for a variety of programs will be helpful indeed for anyone who is, by default, family tech support.

- The ebook store might be a good idea. I haven't looked at it yet but if it seels actual ebooks that are compaitiable with the next generation of ebook reader devices that were unveiled at CES this year (http://engadget.com/2006/01/06/sony-reader-details-and-pics/).

- there are tons of markets Google doesn't compete in though, as always there are rumors of them entering some such as Calendaring. (http://slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=05/03/02/2332240&from=rss)

- their RSS reader is pretty clunky. I don't like it at all actually.
 
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