Google: Now in the Barrel

August 7, 2011

What happens to a rodeo clown in a barrel? Most bulls eye the barrel and they continue to do unpredictable things. But when the rodeo clown is in the barrel, the clown knows a hard knock may be coming. In the Silicon Valley ranch land, there’s a bull riding contest underway. Google, it seems, is now in the barrel. The bulls are charging around and it seems as though some of the bigger ones are looking to put some horn on the clown in the barrel. Every company gets a turn in the barrel. Silicon Valley is mostly family with a handful of Hatfield and McCoy schisms. Siblings and cube mates may leave one company to go to another, but the closeness and shared experiences persist. When a company finds itself in the barrel, then there is a moment of fear, then horror, and then shock. How can those folks who shared a cube or a dorm room or a significant other find themselves in a fight that can become bloody, even fatal?


Power is like those nifty sticks that some of the southern Europeans jab into tomorrow’s dinner. The grace and elegance is superficial. The real business of irritating the bull is the thrill of the kill and the utter, total domination of the bull. In the US, we don’t do outright public bull killing. We use the word sport and focus on the clown thing. It is a bit like sumo wrestling with combatants wearing plump, air filled fat suits.

I enjoyed “With Google There Will Be Bad Blood.” The run down of the bulls, matadors, and clowns is interesting. I found this passage notable:

Speaking of failed Google acquisitions, after Google tried and failed to buy Yelp and Groupon, they moved forward on products that competed directly with them. In the process, Yelp has felt Google was actively screwing them in search results. Bad blood galore now. On the smaller startup side of things, both Color and Path turned down massive acquisition offers from Google. Part of it was because the startups wanted to remain independent, but a large part was also that neither groups of employees wanted to work for Google. Naturally, Google has since been working on products that compete with both — not only Google+, but also mobile apps created through Google’s Slide division.

This passage resonated with me for three reasons.

First, if the statement is accurate, it caused me to understand that Google’s approach to innovation is to learn, try to acquire, and then do the “me too” thing. With innovation pushed to the product level at Google, I wonder how much “me too” is operating in Google’s core?

Second, Google seems adept at identifying what’s hot. My question is, “Why doesn’t Google convert a trend into a product or service itself? I find this an interesting question to which I have no answer.

Third, whatever Google is doing, some of the companies it covets are not ready to journey to the Googleplex to get a Google mouse pad. In 2004, I think companies Google wanted to buy were swooning to be certifiably Googley. Perceptions seem to be different.

So what?

General Web search users are not likely to make a shift any time soon. Furthermore, the competitive fights over patents are likely to have an impact over a longer time horizon. Neither the media nor most azure chip “real” consultants have the mental chops to shift from the “if it bleeds, it leads” approach to “real” journalism. So today’s dust up is tomorrow’s forgotton dust bunny.

The rodeo clown analogy provides me with an anchor point. Other Silicon Valley cowboys had to do time in the barrel. Some survived. Google strikes me as an amiable clown and one likely to emerge with a few bumps and bruises but intact. No wonder some children find clowns scary. Which company goes in the barrel next?

Stephen E Arnold, August 7, 2011

Sponsored by, publisher of The New Landscape of Enterprise Search.


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