Google Dethroned: Okay, Right after the Next Financial Report

January 23, 2009

Sarah Lacy who has a sketch of a stylish woman as a logo wrote “Google Dethroned?” here. Notice that the Beyond Search Web log has an image of a pest-infested goose as a logo. You can probably figure out that Beyond Search’s analyses are somewhat different from Sarah Lacy’s.

Before I read her interesting article, I looked at the news about Google’s financial results here. The headline is more explicit here: “Google Sales Jump 18%”. I am no Ivy League sophisticate. I swim in mine run off in Harrod’s Creek, Kentucky, for goodness sakes. The addled goose figured out that Google cranked over $5 billion in revenue and operating income of about 33 percent. As I read this summary, I thought about the GOOG’s having somewhere between 70 and 75 percent share of the Web search market. I also keep hearing about Google. There is a certain media fascination with what is generally perceived as a Web search and advertising company. That is a false impression in my opinion. Quack.

Ms. Lacy’s view, if I understand her as she intended, Google has been on top and is now in the process of falling to the rocks below the top of the hill. She identifies some signs of Google losing its Web supremacy. I can’t reproduce her list without spoiling your fun. I will mention one example: Hulu. The idea is that is facing tough competition from Hulu. Hulu’s video search is better. For me, the most interesting comment in her write up was:

The last three times I’ve looked for a video clip, I’ve spent half an hour scouring Google and YouTube only to get a flood of inaccurate results. Each time, I’ve tried Hulu as a last result, and found the clips within minutes. Hulu has better fields, parameters and user interface for searching videos than Google, which still appears to search for video the way it would for text. Hulu won its own game (content) and shockingly in video beat Google at its own game (search).

I have been involved in search for a long time. Could Ms. Lacy’s failure be related to her query itself? My hunch is that formulating the appropriate query may have more to do with finding what’s needed than the search system. I find the vendors’ video search systems less useful their than text search systems. However, when I watch the Beyond Search goslings looking for video using an Apple TV and a Mac Mini, I don’t recall any problems in findability for young goslings. I think my Beyond Search goslings have video search whipped. Maybe it’s age? Maybe it’s search query formulation? Maybe it’s what the user is seeking. Monday I asked about Johnny Cash and within seconds I was asked, “Do you want Hurt? Something from his days on the road with Elvis?” I made a chance comment and the YouTube system reacted faster than my addled goose brain. The results were spot on.

I do want to state that I don’t think any company can remain “on top” forever. Check out GM. There’s a good example of how long a former giant can exist even though it is irrelevant to me.

I think the flaw in Ms. Lacy’s and her informant’s argument is the assumption that Google is a Web company.

Wrongo. (That’s goose talk for really off base.)

Google has more in common with the pre break up AT&T than Netscape. Mavens who keep thinking of Google as a search and advertising outfit are in for a really big surprise. You can get more color on this surprise in my forthcoming Google: The Digital Gutenberg (Infonortics, Spring 2009). In the meantime, take arguments like those articulated in “Google Dethroned” as received wisdom that may not be 100 percent in line with reality.

Stephen Arnold, January 23, 2009


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