Who’s afraid of the big, bad GOOG

Google keeps getting bigger and bigger and that makes competitors get ever more skittish about competing. But I think this is the perfect time to nip at Google’s heels and come away with a mouthful of flesh. For Google will get too big. Just as newspapers got so big and so protective of their classified monopolies that they could not adjust their business strategies to deal with new, smaller competitors interested in taking any marketshare away from them, so Google will be big and lumbering. Here are Fred Wilson’s questions about Google’s stock and dependence on search ads (he bought Yahoo stock instead; see my post below on why I decided not to). I think Google will keep growing and that is precisely why I think there are a number of great opportunities to compete today:

* Specialized search: Like Google, the internet has gotten too big. A one-size-fits-all search is becoming as satisfying as one-size-fits-all media. What the internet needs now is topicality: searches within health, business, sports, my town, video, books, and so on. The links among sites and analysis of content within them can help to put a topical layer on what’s there. No, I don’t want to reproduce the Dewey Decimal system and no, I’m not pulling for the semantic web. But being able to at least give preference to content in certain topics when I express my need — search health content, please — makes the search results and advertising attached to them far more relevant. And there are fringe benefits: My actions in those search results help confirm the categorization of content — if I searched for health and was satisfied and clicked on that link that must mean it is about health. This also helps categorize my interests and helps a service make advertising more relevant to me, thus more effective, thus more profitable.

* Ad networks: Google’s AdSense and AdWords grab important marketing dollars, including those from advertisers too small to afford the big, old ad vehicles; from businesses that could never reach this level of targeting before; from big businesses that are eager to buy online but can’t find any easier and more efficient way to do it. But these programs are still built on the coincidence of a word on the page — on shallow content connections — and not on the essence of the internet: relationships. No, I’m not going to suggest that MySpace and other efforts and social networks will take this over. The internet itself is a social network but Google, like a geek, is blind to the human interaction around it. So what are the opportunities?

First, I’ll flog the open-source ad network for citizens’ media, built on trust and authority that is measurable thanks to the social interactions among the creators of content online. This shouldn’t be a new destination; it should, as Google does, find the ways to take advantage of the content and connections that already exist online and put together networks — masses of niches — that turn relevance into efficiency.

Google is also trying to take its hegemony and efficiency in the auction marketplace for online ads and bring it to other media — radio, TV, print. But it is just beginning. So other players could come in and manage this. Even in network TV, there is a movement among advertisers — started by a former ad exec at Chrysler now at Wal-Mart, Julie Roehm — away from the network-controlled upfront and toward an auction marketplace. eBay, where are you?

If newspapers could get off their asses, they should have figured out long since how to provide rich directories of local advertisers in their markets. Problem is, they were trying too hart to protect their legacy businesses (read: monopolies). Now that the truth is dawning on them, maybe it’s not too late to wake up and offer local advertisers better, surer audiences, more efficiency, and better deals. Maybe.

* Social connections: I think there is a big opportunity to map social connections that already exist online. MySpace is really Rupert’s space. The internet is our space. It is, once again, already a social network. So look at it that way and make connections among the people here. Make it a way to find people. Make it a way to measure the quality of relationships: authority (as in Technorati), trust, leadership.

* Multimedia serving: YouTube is beating the hell out of Google. Of course, YouTube is earning next-to-no money. Google has tried to be a repository and server for our stuff but so far, it has failed. And because Google has tried to serve this stuff itself, it has not tried as hard as it could have — or would have, not long ago — to search this stuff wherever it sits online. So there are two opportunities here: Serve media easily with ads and revenue attached for the creators. And build a search that involves content, context, and social interaction (a la Flickr) to find the good stuff. That will be the real network of the future (this is the real topic of my Guardian column Monday).

* Identity services: Microsoft didn’t succeed at creating the universal wallet with Passport — because, I think, it was Microsoft trying to do that. Now Google is offering its wallet. eBay has its. Amazon has its. We still need a universal wallet. We also want to have some means of accepted identity for other reasons (authorship, trust, social relations).

Google is not invincible. Its specialized searches are lame. The Froogle shopping search is marginally useful. Google Finance didn’t bowl over the world. Calendar was a bit of a fizzle. The book search isn’t great — though that’s by no means Google’s fault but instead that of publishers that want to hide their books from public view.

Don’t get me wrong. Google is an incredible company. Google search changed the world. Google innovated in all these areas and showed the way. But that’s not to say that they cannot and should not be challenged. Or else it will just keep getting bigger and bigger.

What other opportunities do you see?

  • Well a good opportunity would be for their ads to be relevant. I’ve long complained about their simplistic search logic.

    On my site of essays about social philosophy are ad sense placements for philosophy brand cosmetics. I’m sure the economists want to smell as sweet as the next person, but with results like this I would want to think twice about trusting them with indexing information of national significance properly.

  • Hi Jeff,

    You are aware that eBay won that bid to test auction based TV ads. I’m guessing you are, but your “call” to eBay sounds as if you want them to act, and I think they are.

    the old story here

  • anonymous

    Google is locating its Adwords HQ in Ann Arbor. Very smart. The most underutilized pool of high-tech talent in the nation. And relatively cheap compared to places on the coast.

  • Jeff –

    I think there’s a lot more to the social networking idea. Even though Orkut failed as an alternative to Myspace, it was accepted by youths in Brazil, of all places. I think smaller versions of Myspace-like services, tailored to more specific groups of people, could be a viable opportunity. But the notion of bringing these people together using a Tecnorati-like connections is a great idea. Very cool.

    – Clay

  • Hey, I just wanted to say thanks for pointing out all of Google’s less-than-stellar products. I have nothing against that company, but I get tired of the fanboys ooohing and aaahing over every little thing that Google does. Froogle is way overrated in terms of its usefulness, and I’ve never even heard of Google Finance until just now!

  • Marko

    Google is the master in search, but the minute it became listed on the stock exchange, it was bound to go a wrong way. If you cannot grow in what you do best, you have to search for other ways to get money to satisfy the shareholders. And that search makes you a follower instead of a innovator, beacuse innovation costs time and money. And time you don’t have. As a follower is always in the disadvantage, it is clear that other Google products are not (yet) the best in the world.

  • is it just me or does anyone else think gmail doesnt really work that well. Sure you can send large files but it awkward and very slow. Its been out how long? Long enough I think. Even Yahoo has the email thing figured out.

  • The notion that Google isn’t being challenged is ludicrous – not to mention its geniuses are challenging and pushing other stodgy companies, all of which improves everyone’s consumer choices (even those of the whiners).

    American NEEDS competition in healthcare and education. I say direct your econo-illiterate advocacy there.

  • I love google and am amazed by what they have built and done. Still a vertical search, like what FUTEF offers for Wikipedia is far better than google. FUTEF adds another layer that is not possible w/ google by showing related categories and allowing for real exploration. Other vertical players will also exploit the unique nature of their niche to provide a richer, more useable experience.

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