At one point, Google seemed to be the poster child of a new business ethos.
Its core mission statement said to do no evil (with the clear implication that most major businesses happily would do evil in return for profit); it refused to follow conventional procedures when dealing with Wall St and analysts and professed itself to be uninterested in its share price; it allowed its employees to spend one day a week doing anything they liked, it was a hotbed of innovation and slightly wild and crazy concepts and projects, and it provided an ever larger sea of internet services and tools.
Oh – and in spite of all of this (some might say, because of all of this) it was also wildly profitable and successful by every measure.
These days, much has changed, and Google is now – to use a corporate double-speak phrase – focusing more intently on core missions. We have seen many Google services discontinued, and while these have generally been trivial non-mainstream applications and products, it is significant to see their disappearance, because Google seems to be retreating from its earlier manifested desire to be the complete one-stop shop for anything and everything to do with information – its retrieval, access, use, and storage.
Google’s move back from wanting to be involved with every aspect of our information is interesting. The earlier desire to provide everything to us was understood as giving Google, in turn, a very complete profile of us, which it could monetize by using to deploy more accurately targeted ads to us and selling this at a premium to advertisers. So what does Google’s increasingly selective range of services mean? Is ultra-demographic targeting no longer valuable? Or can Google now understand so much about us with more sophisticated assessment of just some of our data and information access/use? Does it already know all it conceivably needs to know about us without needing to continue to offer ‘loss leader’ extra services? Almost certainly, the latter situation is the one which now applies.
The latest example of a Google withdrawal is the announcement on Wednesday that Google will be discontinuing its excellent Google Reader service. I have found it to be a very useful way of aggregating all my various RSS feeds into one single reader service program, and will miss it greatly.
There’s an interesting related point to this, which circles back to Google’s claim that it will do no evil. I forget what I used to use as an RSS reader before I switched to Google’s Reader, but there were plenty of other products out there. However the rise of Google Reader killed off most of the contenders, unable to compete with their products and their need to make money, when the great Google started offering a similar product for free. Now that Google is discontinuing Reader, there are not nearly as many other products to choose from.
One can’t complain about Google (or any other company) offering a good product for free. But when the net outcome is that other viable competitors wither away, and then the free product is discontinued, one wonders if ‘there shouldn’t be a law against this’ – but what exactly would one seek to legislate against or regulate?
Perhaps, at the very least, Google should now agree to sell the source code of its Reader program to the highest bidder. Indeed, wouldn’t that make commercial sense to Google – rather than just closing it down and throwing it away, why not sell it off and at least get a million or two in return for it?
Oh – Google also revealed itself to be unimpressed with Blackberry’s future prospects. It is also killing off its Google Voice app for Blackberry phones.
Including these two, and five other services also being discontinued, Google has ended 70 different features or services in the last two years. Google says that by focusing their efforts, they can concentrate on building great products that really help in people’s lives.
That may be so. But the uniqueness of Google, until its new campaign of ‘focusing its efforts’ was its gloriously unfocused and sometimes random and even whimsical release of new products and services.
The new Google approach will doubtless make it financially stronger, in the short-term, but by changing its culture and now becoming more entrenched and institutionalized, it is opening the door to new fast-moving unconstrained companies who will hopefully come up with the next generation of tools and productive enhancements, and who may in turn topple Google’s dominance.
We’ve seen it happen before in circumstances that seemed equally unthinkable – IBM with hardware, and Microsoft with software as the two obvious and most prominent examples. Do these moves by Google mark the end of the company’s ascendancy and the incipient start of its own long demise?