Google as Machiavelli

December 24, 2008

Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli–a poet, philosopher, and tunesmith–wrote a view of power that resonates in our 21st century, consumer fueled world. I enjoyed Saul Hansell’s reference to the savvy 16th century Italian, in the article “Google’s Machiavellianism” here. Mr. Hansell opines that Google may have to buy a social networking outfit in order to keep a bumbling competitor from transforming itself from Barney Fife into the Incredible Hulk. Mr. Hansell touches on some of the Google vulnerabilities that have become visible; for example, privacy. For me, the most telling comment in the article was:

… the most powerful opponent Google might face would be a combination of a portal and search engine with one of the big social networks. A year from now, if the players were MySpace-Yahoo and MSN-Facebook, Google might be sweating a little more.

This is a good point, but several thoughts crossed my mind:

  1. The GOOG has been moving forward mostly unimpeded for a decade. I am skeptical that a tie up between or among Microsoft, Yahoo, MySpace, and Facebook will work the competitive magic for which Mr. Hansell suggests is much needed
  2. Google is not well understood because its core asset is its plumbing. Assume that Google gets a dent in its beak. Google’s response will be to push the button that launches Google into other sectors ripe for financial plucking
  3. The economic downturn will affect other ships in the financial ocean. If Google continues to increase its lead in Web search (which happened last month), the gap between Google may actually widen.

In my opinion, the social network trend is real, but it like other trends can fizzle or become a component in the next big thing. Oh, one other point. Google embraces the ethos of the math club. I am not sure Machiavelli’s writings are high on the Googlers’ reading list. Euler greases the Google’s skids: Math, not Machiavellianism.

Stephen Arnold, December 24, 2008

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