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What is Google?

What is google?  If the first thing that comes to mind is “search engine”, you’re not alone – nor far from the mark.  96% of their $38B in revenue last year came from web searches.  Years of fairly intense competition from Bing, Yahoo, and a lot of others hasn’t really dented their position at all.

If you take a closer look at where google gets its money, it’s nothing more than placing ads in those searches.  After all the hype about the online world the business model for google – and facebook – is not significantly different than the one developed about 150 years ago for newspapers and duplicated as broadcast technologies were developed.  The only difference is that google is in the business of curation, or using other people’s content rather than developing their own.

My hunch is that William Randolph Hearst would be impressed, but should anyone else?  Not given the threat by mobile devices spurred in part by google itself.  Google’s biz – curation for profit – has one really big enemy to deal with, and that is google.

It’s been a year since google launched google+.  It seemed like a very good idea at the time, even though no one was sure exactly what it was (other than not-facebook).  It was set up in a way that allows users to organize what they see based on their own definitions.  Making sense of the internet has always been the hard part, with its blast of information something like “a firehose aimed at a teacup” in the words of Scott Adams.  Google+ looked like the framework necessary to do that.

A year on, google+ is not much to brag about.

It’s not as though google doesn’t have all the tools on hand to absolutely own the internet.  Their acquisition of PostRank brought in a powerful meter to determine what content is truly popular.  Google local can tell you what’s happening all around you, complete with google maps.  The installed base of android mobile devices gives them a huge advantage in the fastest growing area of the internet, a place where screen “real estate” is increasingly more expensive due to size and likely to squeeze out traditional advertising.

For all that, they’ve let it drop badlyPostRank faded into oblivion.  Local businesses have actually been discouraged from developing on google+.  Android itself remains nothing more than an operating system.

Curation itself has come under fire with the latest update in the search engine that generates google’s revenue stream.  The latest “penguin” update in their methods last April seems to heavily penalize curation sites over “experts” with original content (Barataria has seen a huge boost).  That may be so that potential competition does not get a free ride with google search, but there are no signs that they are moving ahead with their own improved curation.

What is the future of google and curation in general?  How are users going to organize the data they receive so that they can make sense of it?  How will this develop as screens become smaller and attention spans on the go drop to demanding the best information quickly?  There are no answers to these questions.  Despite having all the advantages in-house, google is not providing strong leadership on the future of its own business.

For all of the potential, the revenue model remains nothing more than selling ads the same way any media has made money for many generations.  Google’s “news hole”, always essentially free, is just as disorganized and overwhelming as it always has been.  The true potential of the internet and mobile devices, which is to empower small businesses and individuals with new ideas and products, is simply not realized.

What is google?  It’s little more than a newspaper – one left sitting on the coffee-house counter after having been read, ramsacked, and refolded by dozens of other patrons.  This form of newspaper has the advantage of being free, but sometimes you get what you pay for.  In the case of google, free content could be so much more than it is if only they’d get their act together.

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10 thoughts on “What is Google?

  1. I dunno about all this. But I have come to HATE the Google search engine and am actively looking for something better. It’s so laden with adds and crap hits going nowhere useful that its become a huge waste of time. Considering how much time I spend searching, I’d gladly pay for access to cleaner searches. But I don’t hear others complaining about this, so maybe it’s just me…..

    • No, I think your hatred is pretty universal. The whole thing is crude at best, and that’s my point. I think they could find a way to provide services businesses actually want and have a greatly enhanced user experience at the same time, but they aren’t trying. It’s sad.

  2. Agreed, though I think google is more like those billboards around town that are annoying and useless. There has to be a better way.

    • Yes, there has to be. Many people would like to know what’s going on in their town and what businesses they like are up to. The model used now is a broadcast one.

  3. There is only one revenue model for media of all kinds no matter what anyone says. They are all the same.

  4. The Google search thing was clearly a success story in business terms. I think it has the great majority of the “market.” What Google keeps refining is the art of serving up targeted adds and “hits” based on one’s past history online, plus, in effect selling the profiles. Its creepy-effective. Meaning: Google has more control and the user has less. Repeat ten times. You just can’t do a real Boolean search any more, or I can’t. It’s part of a larger pattern of loss of control, of more and more effective manipulation. Now I’m sounding paranoid to myself…..

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