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.