Will Google Fade?
New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo wonders if Google has reached its peak and will slowly fade into oblivion. He compares it with Microsoft, once a dominant technology company which has been rendered to a boring company that no longer determines future of the technology industry.
Is Google really destined to meet a Microsoft-like irrelevance?
Let’s understand Google’s current areas of strength. Of course, the biggest strength is they have got people’s attention. People use Google’s products all the time, but just how big is Google’s audience?
As per this data (from 2013), Google has complete dominance (over 90% market share) in almost every country it operates in. Go ahead and check that link. Barring a few exceptions like China, Russia, and South Korea, all these countries do not know a search engine outside of Google. Even if Bing manages to win good market share from Google in US, they don’t seem to have any plan in place to do the same for rest of the world.
Google-owned video service, YouTube, on its own a massive web property with more than a billion users a month with 6 billion hours of videos watched every month. It is third most visited site in the world after Google and Facebook. There are very few, if at all, online destinations that can boast such attention from the increasingly distracted web users. It’s not a big surprise that YouTube is the second largest search engine. While we are discussing moving budgets from AdWords to Bing, YouTube is trying to eat in to the TV advertising pie, and probably doing it with much more success.
At the end of 2014, close to 2 billion Android devices are in use. It can be argued that the market share itself may not be relevant and iOS performs so much better on other metrics like engagement, purchasing power, etc. Marketers may argue that Android users are not as valuable to as iOS users. Yet, having a huge user base with default services from Google is a defensible moat. If Mobile is the future of internet, Google has a very very strong lock on it.
Just when everyone thought browser wars are over, Google launched its own browser Chrome. In less than five years, it has become dominant browser. And this browser’s address bar is the Google search box! What started as “just another browser” has morphed into a light-weight operating system and Chromebooks, a laptop with Chrome OS, are among best selling laptops. Contrast this with the terminal decline of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer which has fallen from near monopoly of browser market to a distant also-ran.
Almost 3 years old data suggests Gmail has 425 million users. They must have easily added another few hundred million users since then. Again, the humongous lead Hotmail (acquired by Microsoft in late 90s) and Yahoo Mail had over every other service was lost in less than a decade.
This is another product that owns a user base of over billion users, partly thanks to being the default application on Android.
Pop quiz. Quickly think of a Microsoft-owned internet property that can claim such a wide user base? You have to think hard to come with an answer for that. Microsoft has hardly any web property that comes close to these numbers. Skype with over 300 million users comes close, but there are bunch of other mobile messaging applications that surpass Skype in the users.
Given Google occupies such a huge mind share of online users, it is hard to think that Google will lose this audience over next few years.
Does this mean Google will be one of the top technology company, forever?
The answer will be more nuanced than just an “yes” or a “no”.
Often, dominant technology companies get sidelined when they stop innovating or fail to ride the new wave.
Tech industry is awash with examples where giant companies with formidable market positions vanished in matter of years. Think of AltaVista, Excite, Lycos and 23 other search engines before Google. Think of BlackBerry and Nokia before iPhone. Think of FriendSter and MySpace before Facebook.
After the massive success of iPod, Apple could have just kept selling the iPod forever. But, the success of iPod didn’t stop them to explore new opportunities like phone or tablet. Today, iPod barely gets a mention when people talk about Apple.
Search continues to the only product that brings in large chunk of Google’s revenues. Hence the temptation to dismiss Google as one hit wonder is very high. But, looking at just revenues to make prediction about company’s future, is unfair and, to a small extent, uninformed.
Google has continued to innovate in the areas that were considered unrelated to its mission of “organizing the world’s information.” A quick reminder about bunch of products mentioned earlier that have got billions of users. These products are a testament of Google’s hunger and ambition.
When it looked like mobile could disrupt Google, instead of protecting their turf, they wholeheartedly embraced the new paradigm of computing and re-invented themselves. Read this fascinating article by Steven Levy about this change. (You should also read his other articles in the series on Google to understand the new areas Google is exploring – Google’s secret study to find out our needs and Google search will be your next brain. )
Google’s projects like self-driving cars may look like distractions. But, its potential to change the entire automotive and transportation industry are grossly underestimated. When Android was launched, similar concerns were raised. But, today with billions of cheap smartphones running Android have made dramatic impact on the people’s lives. It is far too difficult to assess an initiative like Android through the prism of company’s core products. Projects like this show that Google is willing to explore new areas where it can make a meaningful impact forever.
Of course, you will also have products like Google Glass. But, the very fact that Google is unafraid to look silly when such initiatives don’t work out, make it much more resilient to try out whacky ideas.
A decade from now Google may not be known as the search company, which still contributes large part of their revenue. But, you can safely bet that all the massive amount of data that Google is sitting on, will open new frontiers in company’s future.
About the Author: Shashikant Kore is co-founder of Karooya – negative keywords tool for AdWords