Google and Big: The Roman Crowd Sees One Thing, Caesar Another

June 29, 2009

I read the New York Times’s story “Google Makes a Case that It Isn’t So Big” when it plopped into my newsreader sometime after I tucked my head under my wing. I awoke to the story referenced in a number of Web articles. I enjoyed the analysis in Tech Generation “God Is Out on Whether Google Is Good or Evil” because it mixed math and morality. C Shanti wrote:

Consumer Watchdog managed to get hold of the slides that Google is touting around earlier this month, and it’s clear that Google wants us all to think that it’s just a minnow compared to giants like Microsoft and IBM. Interestingly, it doesn’t include Intel in the figures – Paul Otellini, Intel’s CEO is on Google’s board. One key message Google wants you and me to understand that “competition is just a click away” – that means that if something comes along that’s better, like Microsoft’s Bing, for example, arguably – Google stands the risk of being toppled off its search perch.

The addled goose wishes to honk respectfully:

  1. Search and other computer centric activities are a combination of mental habits and motor skills. As a result, switching is not the easy-as-pie action that most observers assert. I have said in many venues “habits are like a soft bed. Easy to get into and hard to get out of.”
  2. In the scheme of things, Google wants to be IBM-sized. I think it was in 2006 or 2007 that I first heard the $100 billion figure offered as a revenue target for Google. In Google Land, $100 billion is a one followed by 11 zeros or 2^11*5^11 if you are Google grade. The Google ad revenue is a mere $20 billion or 2^11*5^10. That an order of magnitude and a big number. Ergo: Google is small.
  3. The Google game plan means that Google will explain its position over and over again. Say something enough times to those who don’t dig into the argument and the Google position starts to sound pretty darned reasonable; “Google has many competitors” and you can see how Google presents its challengers in the image from the Google game plan deck below:

google competitors

© Google via Computer Watchdog at

Yep, in semantic search Powerset and Hakia are going to be a real challenge for Drs. Norvig, Guha, Halevy, and Pereira and the others in the Google semantics vineyard.

My take on this big small argument is that it depends on the seat in the arena from which one observes the action. Think about Rome. Some of Google’s “competitors” are huddled in the tunnels in the Amphitheatrum Flavium (named after my hero Nero’s modest statue). Other competitors are in the arena; for example, Microsoft and maybe Amazon. Others are sitting in the Emperor’s box; for instance, IBM (a Google partner for now), Oracle (a semi pal), and other  companies attracted to Google because its aura invokes victory.

The observers don’t see the dynamics of the Google ecosystem. The main action takes place in the sand of the battle ground. I think that is the wrong place to look. Honk.

Stephen Arnold, June 29, 2009


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