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Is Google too big to get anything done?

by Simon Brew

With the recent launch of Google+, Linux User columnist Simon Brew wonders if the search giant has the power to reinvent social networking…

The old policy with Google, that used to work really quite well, was to launch something early and fix it as it went along. It used to make visiting the Google Labs part of its website really quite interesting, as you got to tinker with projects that may not even ever see the light of day. And, crucially, you got a snapshot of some of its thinking, and what kind of ideas it was working on.

You can still see Google Labs (though not for much longer since the recent announcement of its demise). Google Body, for instance, lets you zoom in and out of the human frame. There’s Fast Flip, too, which lets you quickly take in the headlines of newspapers. And then Art Project allows you to virtually navigate the museums of the world. All intriguing ideas, and the Labs usually have something tucked away that’s worth a look.

What I wonder, though, is where all of Google’s good ideas lie these days. Because the firm itself has a problem, and there’s little getting away from it. And it’s quite simply how big and dominant it has grown. No longer can Google sneak out a product like it might have done in the old days. Instead, the Google stamp brings with it a degree of scrutiny that must work as a double-edged sword.

Take Google+, its latest foray into social networking, which has something of a Microsoft feel about it. By that I mean it took an existing market that was popular and has tried to crack it. Microsoft attempted this with games consoles and succeeded. It tried it with Zune and it failed. Google? It’s surprisingly failed to really crack social networking, having acquired YouTube and watched the likes of Google Buzz and Google Wave fail to take hold in any meaningful way.

Yet you can’t force a social product onto the market. Look at how Facebook and Twitter actually developed. Both worked on a no-revenue model at first, powered by what could be done, rather than how much market share could be snared. Granted, as time went on, their respective size meant business realities kicked in for them. But had a corporation tried to bring Facebook and Twitter into the world, then I’d wager a sizeable amount of cash that they would have failed.

In fact, just look at MySpace. Once that went under the ownership of Rupert Murdoch, the investment model changed. The desire to innovate went away, and presumably there was a spreadsheet and posh meeting to account for every new feature that the developers wanted to try. The end result? MySpace became staid, and people abandoned it. Quickly.

Google, with Google+, is basically trying to sell people something they don’t seem to want or need. It’s interesting thinking, in that it makes social networking far more implicit. But it seems a little odd, and it seems to me that Google doesn’t have the nimbleness it needs to really make this happen. If you want proof that the market itself might not be certain either, then note that closed Google+ invites are trading for a fraction of a price that Google Wave equivalents used to go for. Google just isn’t that exciting any more, not since it became so big.

The next big innovations in social networking, just as with the last ones, will be fired up by the open source community, before probably heading off to a money-making future. I’m pretty sure of that. And while Google may have more success with Google+ than Wave, it has no magic wand here. And I can’t help thinking that might be a good thing…

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    • Dolan Murvihill

      Wrong. So wrong.

      You say that Google can’t “sneak a product out,” but then you bring up Buzz and Wave, products that were very, very much half-baked when they came out (in the case of Buzz, this lead to a rather impressive backlash). Plus is also in public testing; unfortunately, because I was an idiot and didn’t lie about my age when I set up my Google account, I haven’t been able to get on, but I am willing to bet that it is not feature-complete either.

      Google’s attempts to crack existing markets are nothing new; the most notable market Google broke into was search, which they pulled out completely from under the likes of AltaVista. More recently, they have been successful with Android and Chrome.

      I’m also wondering how you can justify your claim that Google “has failed to crack social networking.” Plus launched just five and a half weeks ago, for invitation only, and already has ten million registered users.

      Why bring up MySpace? You mentioned that that social network crashed because “the investment model changed.” Okay? That’s neither here nor there; Google has a long history of developing products for a very long time before monetizing them. To the best of my knowledge, Chrome still isn’t profitable.

      Ultimately, I am wondering whether your argument is about business or innovation. You say that “Google’s good ideas” are going away, and then you mention the business failures of Buzz and Wave. So, because Wave fails to break into social networking, it is not a “good idea?”

      This whole article is completely scatterbrained. I don’t even know what you are trying to say.

    • Paul Blaukis

      @Dolan Murvihill
      You’re an idiot.

    • David

      You mention Buzz…well think of the backlash against it that came about due to poor management decisions forcing users into it by default. Now consider the management decisions regarding anonymity in G+ and how many early adopters have been kicked out leading them to advise others to stay well away. Frankly I suspect that a great many of those initial millions of accounts have been suspended and that others will be forever ghost accounts, unused and unwanted…I see another failure looming.

    • Daeng Bo

      @Paul Blaukis,
      Wow. Dolan is under thirteen, and he offers an intelligent, well thought-out reply, and this is what you come up with? I hope that you are younger than he is. If not, you should be ashamed, whether you agree with what he said or not.

    • William Hughes, Sr.

      I think Google has become enamoured with the closed business model of Apple. They have never released ANdorid Gingerbread to open source and everything is done in house or under non-disclosure now. That could be the death of ANdroid since Goggle doesn’t have the religious zealot followers that Apple does.

    • Chris

      This article is basically just a large, baseless assumption. “Google is going to fail because it’s entering the market with a paid service.” Why? On what is this assumption based? Plus, you’re either insulting Google for wanting to make money or are you insulting computer users by saying they won’t use a service if they have to pay for it. Either way, you’re insulting someone. Just because Google has done open source projects in the past doesn’t mean they should always do that type of project. They’re a company, companies like to make money. And people pay for online services all of the time. Time will tell as to how Google+ will be accepted but to make predictions like this early in its life is like predicting that a sports team will win the championship early in the season.

    • Jordan

      I disagree. Google’s problem has never been a lack of good ideas, it has always been follow-through and commitment to those ideas. Look at Nexus One. It’s launch was relatively successful, but then Google absolutely failed to support it.

      In regards to Google+, there is absolutely a market for it, with the market being a social networking site that also takes pains to respect user privacy. This was the main criticism of facebook, which has not been addressed since the launch of Google+, and has been one of the praises of Google+. Now what has the problem been for Google+? Lack of follow through. By all appearances, Google has little intention of ending the “public beta” and will kill Google+ by simple lack of maintenance. (that being said, I have no inside info about Google+, and tomorrow may see the end of the beta and the full service being available)