Google is big. I mean, really big. Google is only a mere 12 years old and has managed to plow past the search engine competition with ease leaving Yahoo, Bing, and Ask in its rear-view mirror. We’re all fairly aware of the extent to which Google dominates the search market, however, these days Google can be found dabbling in just about everything. Prior to writing this article, I fancied myself a bit of Google connoisseur. I work at a search engine optimization firm and as a social media consultant and as far as Google’s role as a search engine goes, I know more than the average Jane. After fishing around for some material for this article, I can wholeheartedly say my bank of knowledge is more limited than I originally thought.
Most can confidently give you the lowdown on Adwords, Adsense, and the Google Affiliate Network. We can complain about the Google Affiliate Network’s interface and how antiquated it is compared to Commission Junction and Linkshare. We can spout information about the always-handy Google Docs and how useful it is for collaborative efforts and real-time editing. We can tell you about how finicky Google is as a search engine as we watch our clients’ rankings move up or down a position bi-weekly. I am currently writing this in Google’s Blogger while simultaneously chatting on Gmail. Despite my knowledge of some of Google’s heavy players, much of Google’s massive network of services has eluded me.
So, what gives with all these sectors of Google I didn’t even know about? Have I been living under a rock? A quick survey of the office illustrates that I am not alone in being completely unaware of some of the services Google now provides outside the scope of search. I had heard and giggled about Google Weddings, clearly aimed at stealing a piece of the virtual wedding cake from the TheKnot.com. I had heard about Orkut, Google’s social network, but don’t personally know anyone that uses it in the US. So what all does Google offer these days? A comprehensive list is hard to get my hands on, but if you're sincerely interested, Wikipedia has a pretty accurate list here and Google lists some of them here.
This is my newly made Orkut.
In addition to stomping the competition in terms of search, Google is striving to be number one in other countless corners of web. Although Google does some things very well and arguably pioneered the simple interfaces that have spawned the success of sites like Twitter and Facebook, it would be nearly impossible to succeed in every realm of the internet. The aspect of Google's expansion that leaves me wary isn't the way they have developed and refined their search engine, it has more to do with the replication and/or acquisition of smaller companies combined with their power as a dominate search engine. Let me break it down.
My problems are twofold. First, their constant need to branch out into other markets seems strange to me. Here's how it works: Google sees something new and fancy. Google likes it. Google tries to buy it. Then, one of two things can transpire: 1. Google can successfully purchase the company and welcome it into the Google family or 2. Google is turned down by said company and then decides to replicate the company they could not acquire. Examples of this can be seen with several recent acquisitions and expansions and throughout Google's short history. Soon after the now obsolete Friendster told Google to hit the road in late 2003, Google's Friendster-like social network Orkut sprung up. In 2006, Google acquired YouTube for $1.65 billion. When Foursquare recently turned down Google's offer to purchase the rising star, Google expanded Google Places to mimic some of the features Foursquare offers. Google's list of acquisitions goes on and there are few places left on the web that Google doesn't have a hand in which leads me to my next point.
One can only wonder at what point Google's business endeavors and random offshoots will be in conflict of interest with their "unbiased" search. A prime example of this can be seen with Google Places (www.google.com/places) and Google Weddings (www.google.com/weddings), both on the Google.com domain name and not a sub-domain like many of Google's other ventures (adwords.google.com). For right now, Theknot.com still outranks Google Weddings by a long-shot for the generic wedding keywords, but how long will this be the case? Can Google really retain the same algorithm it uses now to crawl its own business sites? How will that work? Time will tell.
Google's immense power is undeniable. If a business falls a few spots in Google search, they risk losing thousands of hits and potential customers each month. Companies spend hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to secure first page visibility on Google from search firms like my own. Google has the power to "punish" firms that it thinks cheat the system by reducing their rankings and burying their sites, as seen in the recent JC Penny controversy featured in the New York Times.
One thing is for certain, big can mean success, but the bigger you are and the higher you climb, the harder you fall and as recent times have illustrated, nothing is too big to fail. Moreover, should one company really have the internet on lock? How much power is too much power? Should Google stick to search? Are there some things Google should keep their paws off of? Share.
For more on this topic, check out this article in the New York Times about Google's potential monopoly on search and how it will pan out in the future.
Over and out.