Is Catch Up the Google Method?

April 18, 2011

I read an interesting article called “The Real Reason Mike McCue Needs $50 Million: Google Is Building a Flipboard Killer.” In the 2004 to 2007 period, I was doing quite a bit of work for clients interested in Google’s technical systems and methods. The parts of my work that were not locked up by my clients provided much of the information in my Google monographs: The Google Legacy, Google Version 2.0, and the Digital Gutenberg. I have the manuscript of a fourth Google monograph, but I set it aside because Google was shifting from a company leveraging its platform in the years after its initial public offering to mid 2007. But by 2008, it became clear to me that Google had become a me-too company. The burst of value from its use of previous search learnings had slowed. I suppose the early indicators were the reliance on former AltaVista learnings and the dust up about online advertising, a matter settled before the Google IPO.

The story about a Flipboard killer caused me to ask, “Really?”

Flipboard is a software and service that repurposes existing content to make it more convenient for a tablet user to read articles from preferred sources. There is great potential in Flipboard, particularly with its interface and the software’s user base on the iPad. I have zero complaints about Flipboard, its advertising potential, or its business model. (Flipbook has been around while. What’s this say about Google’s reflexes?)

The point for me is that once again Google seems to be watching for innovations that get traction. Then either after one of those management processes that end up with a decision to follow a me too strategy, a company chases a market leader. Long before the “innovator’s dilemma” became essential reading, the hot start ups could bedevil the incumbents. Smart incumbents find a way to retain control either by acquisition, pricing, or some other MBA method.

Some companies are able to emulate. The example that I have heard many MBA types use is Toyota and the Lexus. For a few years in the early 1990s, Toyota made life interesting for luxury car makers and gave migraines to some BMW and Mercedes executives. The economy, time, and shifting market tactics have allowed one of the all time leaders in “me too” thinking to become a player in the luxury car market. But BMW and Mercedes are hanging in there. Toyota, like many large organizations, has wrestled with cost controls and made decisions that have produced some fascinating consequences in the US market. Is “black eye” an MBA approved word? Probably not.

Google, according the the write up, is crafting a Flipboard “killer”. Well, maybe. I think Google can compete in the Flipbook sector which is already well served with a broad range of applications from dozens of vendors. I confuse the functionality of Pulse, TweetMag, and dozens of others.

Google is a powerful company, but I am not sure that “killer” is a concept I associate with the firm’s products and services right now. “Killer” to me evokes thoughts about Amazon and its blend of WalMart-esque retail and economical cloud services, Facebook with its Facebook members disrupting governments and dating patterns around the world, and, of course, Apple. I drove by a Best Buy in Louisville, Kentucky, and saw a line. Obviously some of those in the technically challenged commonwealth wanted to buy an iPad when the big box opened this morning (April 17, 2011). In the advertising space, I learned that there is a challenger to Google and the Groupon / Living Social services called Like kudzu, Google may have to do more than focus on a single vendor in a single  niche.

Google has sufficient cachet to create a good story. For me, I just want to see proof in the form of new revenue and users. Proof is not reading an article about what may happen. I want to see a better search result, not read about Panda. I want to see high quality hits, not read about Google penalizing a particular company as reported in Google Lowers the  Boom on Alleged penalizing of a particular firm and its content is an indication that Google is just reacting.

Flipbook is proactive. Thank goodness it has some additional capital to move forward. Patching leaks in an ageing speedboat whilst underway in choppy seas reveals quite a bit about the state of the craft in my opinion. Google was “about” search. More effort needs to be put into that core competency; otherwise, curated finding services are going to be fertile ground for the next Google in my opinion.

Stephen E Arnold, April 18, 2011



One Response to “Is Catch Up the Google Method?”

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