Is Google the next AOL?

Is Google the next AOL?

: Fred Wilson doesn’t quite say that — or even ask that — in his good post contemplating the state of Google. So I’ll ask it: Could Google pull an AOL?

Perhaps not. They don’t charge. They don’t have horrible customer service people putting you on hold. They didn’t ruin my f-you money Time Warner stock (sorry, that’s my problem, not yours). But it’s raining on the honeymoon.

It is the peril of size: You grow too big. You separate yourself from your public. Happened to Microsoft, AOL, Yahoo, journalism, GM, Walmart…. How big is too big? If you have to ask, it’s probably too late.

Mind you, all those companies are huge and successful (mostly). But they’re not beloved anymore.

But nevermind that emotional view of things. Who needs to be loved when you’re rich?

The better analysis is to ask where Google is vulnerable, where newcomers can play the mouse to Google’s elephant (or, as Fred says, Joe to Starbucks). I think there are opportunities to create better specialized searches (jobs, blogs, multimedia, local, cars, homes….), better ad networks (with more and better data and higher value for marketers and publishers), and so on.

I’ve asked it before and I’ll ask it again: I love Google and what it has done organizing the world’s information and valuing links and taking the cooties off of citizens’ media and changing the culture. But is it time to start fearing Google (with its caching and its opaque ad policy and its opaque news policy) or mock Google (as Fred does, for reverting to banner ads)? Just asking.

The better question may be: Is it time to start competing with Google? Just wondering.

Go read Fred’s post and contemplate the future of Google … and the world –aren’t they the same already? (Just joking.)

: UPDATE: John Battelle, who wrote the (upcoming) book on Google, adds:

It’s hard to be the de factor leader in the tech/media space, and Google is clearly not entirely prepped for the role, at least not yet. But given its success and its stock price, it has no choice. We’re expecting the company to act how we want it to act. The problem, of course, is that we all have different expectations, and we all think we’re right about what the company should do next.

The only thing a company can do in such a spot, it seems to me, is lead. Lead on issues of policy, transparency, open APIs, IP/DRM, and the like. How to do that? Have a clear and consistent voice and vision about where you think the web is going, and what kind of web you want to see built. That requires a confidence and certainty, characteristics which I sense exist in spades at the company, but have not really come out in a full throated way. There seems to be a lot of reacting going on at this moment – reactions to critics, to competitors, to PR flare ups.

It’s scary to lead, to declare where you are going and then head there. It’s even scarier to admit that as a leader you’ve made a mistake. But that’s what we expect of our leaders – that they head somewhere, so we can either follow, or plot our next move to outsmart them and take their place. For now, it seems Google is a reluctant leader – it does not want to declare where it’s going, or what it’s plans are when it gets there. That’s causing consternation and second guessing like Fred and Jeff and Dan’s posts.

: Roger L. Simon joins in and finds a good excuse to plug Pamama Media as an ad alternative.

  • An Enterpreneur

    >> Is it time to start competing with Google?
    Some of us already are.

  • Bottom line, Google’s nothing more and nothing less than the ad server with the best consumer brand. The question is, how durable is that brand recognition advantage over the long term, with lots and lots of little companies nibbling away at the edges?
    It’s trading more than 90 times earnings and I just don’t see it.

  • It may sound ridiculous now, but I think that for many people, provides a better default search than Google. Please visit this link and judge for yourself:

  • DSmith

    I’ve already stopped using Google News because of their leftist bias. That same bias is in the back of my mind whenever I use their other search engines. So far as I am concerned, they have broken their trust as information brokers. I’m on the lookout for better competitors. So yeah, to this consumer at least, Google could not only pull an AOL, they may have done it already.

  • You grow to big.
    it shore duz hurt me to see setch misstakes!

  • Drew

    I loved Google as a web search engine, but their philisophical opposition to information hierarchies has shown that they are willing to put thier ideologoy ahead of usability or the customer’s wishes. A healthy company does not do this.
    Two examples are thier reworking of DejaNews’ usenet search engine (now Google Groups) to limit access to the hiearchical relationships between newsgroups, and thier development of the Picasa image cataloging software which inexplicably does not let you view a folder hierarchy from your disk, but rather puts all folders (including nested folders) at the same level.
    Google “picasa hierarchy” or “google groups suck” for more info.

  • It seems to be sport these days to compare Google with some other successful company. Here are a few examples:
    Why Google is Wal-mart,1284,67287,00.html
    Google as Starbucks/ McDonalds
    Google next Microsoft

  • whatever

    Google’s left-wing philosophy and hypocrisy made me change to Clusty, which I am pretty happy with:

  • kamatoa

    All the criticisms are nitpicks.
    Not only has the search engine business been hyper-competitive for years, but Google was a late-comer who beat everyone else through innovation and a user focus. If anything, the environment’s gotten more competitive, and Google’s gotten better.
    Gmail is the best free email service on the planet – and unlike their inferior competitors (Hotmail, etc.), they allow you to access your email via POP. That is superior service and it leads to committed users.
    Google Maps, despite a few bugs, is by far the best maps system online for ease of use and practicality, plus you can overlay sattelite images on your map results on a 1:1 scale – a tremendous benefit for some.
    Google scholar is far superior to my university library’s academic database search engines. Why? Google searches journal articles’ full-text, not just abstracts. The only problem is my university’s 1.5 million volume library doesn’t have access to all the journals Google gives results for.
    Got a problem with Google News? You’re blaming the messenger – Google’s holding a mirror up to the media’s inbred leftist bias. Can’t blame them for beeing accurate. On the other hand, Google News searches and links to more conservative MSM voices than any conservative blog.
    This is just a sampling. And they give it all out for free. And they don’t annoy their users through cheap advertising gimmicks like popups and blinking banners. Sure, Froogle could be a lot better, and some of their betas aren’t too helpful, but it’s a massively good company.

  • 1. Yes, Google is AOL to the extent that it’s currently overvalued and will suffer a “correction” in the capital markets.
    2. No, Google is not AOL:
    a. It’s free and switching costs are 0.
    b. AOL’s philosophy/market strategy was to limit the universe: encouraging use of proprietary content (some may remember its origins when it was only proprietary content and didn’t really allow Internet access). Google really provides the opposite service.
    c. Other than AIM, what has AOL innovated lately/in years? Google continues to offer startling services. GoogleSMS (46645 on your cell phone)is astonishing. AOL could have done this too.
    d. Once the flurry of irrational exuberance fades, Google will follow the on-line ad revenue curve. Yahoo! was supposed to have died a couple of years ago–they had no revenue model. But they’re back. (mid-range, I’d short Google stock, long term, moderate growth following ad spending once the correction occurs)
    e. Google came out of nowhere. Someone else can too. Just need a better product.

  • When was Microsoft “beloved”? What a concept! I must have slept through that era. So far as I can remember, MS has always been about as lovable as a hand grenade in a dumpsterload of dead fish.

  • Charlie Sierra

    For a couple of (so-called) with it guys, Jeff and Fred, you folks are completely clueless.
    Many of the comments are also from leftfield.
    Do I smell jealousy?
    Seriously, a great philosopher said “life is just an extension of high school”.
    Which is what this nonsense reminds me of. I can fondly remember how fickle us cool kids could be the moment we discovered that the other groups at school had the temerity to like some music we did.
    If some band jumped from SubPop to a major, they were a sellout, etc…
    Must be a slow news day.