Google and Mobile: Will the Pass from Web to Mobile Search Be Smooth?

April 25, 2011

Over the bunny weekend, I spoke with two people about the direction the Web is moving. In those information conversations, I learned some interesting factoids. First, the Web today is different from the Web of five, even two years ago. The person used the word “ephemeral” to describe much of the information that is available. I thought that “ephemeral” applied to Twitter “tweets” and some of the short content posted in the comments section of blogs and other social media. As I learned, this definition is too narrow. The ephemeral nature of the Web applies to such content types as:

  • Dynamic Web pages such as those produced by airline ticket or hotel reservation systems. The content which is mostly availability and price changes often with each screen refresh.
  • Junk pages that someone produces until the pages stop attracting traffic, often leaving no trace anywhere. To see an example, navigate to
  • Test Web sites or blogs put up and then abandoned. To see an example, navigate to Captain Roy. The Web page stays behind, but the blog and its content is temporary.

I did not agree with the person’s approach to ephemera, but I did agree with the perception that the texture of information available via the Web was quite different today than it was a few years back.

passing baton copy

Can Google’s Web search pass the baton to Google mobile search without losing cadence, speed, or control?

The second conversation focused on the notion of the volume of data. I had heard some astounding and unsubstantiated claims about the rate of growth of digital information. One person told me that Web and organizational content was doubling every two months. This person was the president of a trendy software company, so I zipped my lip. But on the call over the weekend, a person who shall remain anonymous asserted, “Web content doubles every 72 hours.” Again, I did not push the issue, but that is a heck of a statement.

Two observations:

There is a lot of digital information and some of it is clearly not intended to be substantive. Persistence, if it does occur, is accidental or irrelevant to the person creating the information. Other content is machine generated like the “page”, and it is little more than a placeholder or a way to generate ad revenue or click throughs.

Finding information in today’s environment is not particularly easy. The general purpose Web search engines like and are able to provide pointers to more traditional Web content. To locate information that appears in a tweet, I have to exert considerable effort to locate an item. For companies with distinct name, my Overflight services works okay but some outfits have names that make it almost impossible to find them. Examples include Brainware, Stratify, and Thunderstone without lots of false drops to games, rock and roll, or other content which has appropriated a word, phrase, or semantic space.

Mobile search is the primary means of finding information for many people. On my trip to Hong Kong at the end of March 2011, I watched people in public spaces like the Starbuck’s at the giant mall near the central rapid transit station. There were a few laptops and iPads, but the majority of the people were using mobile devices. A similar uptake is evident in most big cities. Here in Harrod’s Creek, there are precious few people, so the one person using a clunky laptop at the Dairy Queen is out of the mainstream.

In my printed edition of the New York Times, I read in the business section today (April 25, 2011) “Google, a Giant in Mobile Search, Seeks New Ways to Make It Pay.” The “it”, of course, is mobile search in particular and more generally mobile online information access. You may be able to read the story online, but the links often go dead. More ephemera, I suppose. Try this one, but no guarantees:

For me, the main point of the write up was:

Still, the company’s approach to the mobile market is classic Google: take problems that computer scientists have been working on for decades, throw huge amounts of data and computing power at them and assume that if the resulting product is useful to people, it will eventually make money.

The article provides some of the excitement that keeps the Google myth alive, but I think this passage identifies two points that can be easily overlooked or downplayed.

  1. The notion of “classic” Google. The company is 12 years old and generates most of its revenue from online advertising. Is this “classic” reference a harbinger of the “new” Coke, “classic” Coke approach to a fundamental change in Web content and Web access?
  2. The word “eventually” is an interesting one. The idea is that if a big company like Google keeps working at something, money will result. When and how much are not known. I thought when I read this word “eventually” of Google’s enterprise sales initiative. The company has landed customers and is becoming a larger player, but in terms of the revenue Google needs to fund its infrastructure, staff, and research and development, “eventually” may not be enough.

Mobile is different from the brute force Web search that put Google on the map. These differences include:

Legal and regulatory climate. Google is under scrutiny and with the economy stumbling along, the stakes are high for politicians, competitors, users, and Google.

Competitive situation. There are competitors in hot new markets such as social media and the telecommunications sector itself. Android is popular but it is popular within an ecosystem over which Google has less influence than it has in Adsense, for example.

Costs. Google has to demonstrate that it can control costs. Talk will not suffice.

Technology. Google was able to benefit from technologies other search vendors either were reluctant to implement or lacked the resources to tap. In today’s environment, the technology of search ambles across a wide range of disciplines, and there is no bright white line to follow as there was in the 1998 search market. There are now quite a few bright white lines, and the lack of a single pair makes life more difficult for Google and other organizations as well.

Business model. The Android and other parts of Google’s mobile business are quite different from the firm’s core business model. Google is working to adapt what it has to what is happening in the fast-changing mobile space. The promise of mobile ads is high, but the money flow is subject to “customer ownership”, the different intermediaries in the mobile chain, and the way in which the giants in the telecommunications and manufacturing sectors behave. Compared to the basics of the Adwords approach, the mobile space is more complex. This does not mean that Google cannot thrive, but there are more moving parts. Some of moving parts are controlled by organizations which are fully alert and attentive.

From my hollow in rural Kentucky, I am starting to think about Google as occupying the same position as one of the giants of traditional media trying to deal with online advertising in the 2002 to 2006 period. Cycles of opportunity seems to be arising quickly and becoming the exclusive property of two or three firms. In mobile, will Google be one of these giants? Today it looks like the answer is “yes”. Tomorrow, well, that’s the Jeopardy question for IBM’s Watson to answer, not me.

Stephen E Arnold, April 25, 2011



4 Responses to “Google and Mobile: Will the Pass from Web to Mobile Search Be Smooth?”

  1. Google and Mobile: Will the Pass from Web to Mobile Search Be … | Mobile Marketing Site on April 26th, 2011 12:26 am

    […] Make It Pay.” The “it”, of course, is mobile search in particular and more generally … mobile search – Google Blog Search This entry was posted in Mobile Marketing and tagged From, Google, Mobile, Pass, Search. […]

  2. Kimberlee Morrison on May 3rd, 2011 10:33 am

    Interesting analysis. I wonder what affect the growth of niche search engines is having on Google’s entrance into mobile search. Seems the competition is stiff with so many apps to get people to the information they want. Yet Android doesn’t even have a functional device search. Priorities?

  3. Enterprise search functionality and data overload « Perfect Search Blog on May 3rd, 2011 11:25 am

    […] Beyond Search, there was talk about ephemeral data; which takes up a lot of real estate. This data never goes away but is only useful for a limited […]

  4. Content Curators | trainingwreck on June 13th, 2011 10:03 am

    […] I’m in possession of various personal mobile devices, ubiquitous internet connectivity armed with mobile search options & a strong and weak tie philosophy on my relationships, I can now learn at the speed of […]

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