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November 9, 2006

Was Google’s Revised Core Search Focus Just a Ruse?

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The latest product news over at Google is that a public test of their radio ads may appear as early as the end of this year – which if you haven’t been paying attention, is less than two months away (Huzzah!).

The release has Gary Price wondering if Google was really serious when they declared they would be put their focus back on core search and stop releasing new products, or if perhaps it was just lip service to appease an angry user base.

Gary notes that since announcing that they would stop throwing out meaningless products, Google has shelled out $1.65 billion for YouTube (and made all necessary music deals), released Google Custom Search and started ‘a new push towards radio’.

Obviously, product releases take time so it’s possible that at least some of the deals Google announced after their Oct. 6 statement were planned far before, but were all of them? Not likely.

I think Gary touches on something important, though I don’t think it’s an automatic sign that Google is reneging on what they promised us. I think its Google recognizing there needs to be a balance.

The deals Gary mentioned don’t really bother me. Depending on how you define "core search" (just traditional organic search or the complete Google engine), I think that YouTube fits right in and you could probably make a case for the custom search, as well. That stuff doesn’t raise red flags, it’s about search and that’s what Google promised us – more concentration on improving core search and bettering existing products.

I’m a fan of the Google engine, but no engine is perfect and there are always tweaks to be made. I would love to see Google make grand-scale improvements to their search engine, improvements that would enhance rankings for sites using trusted tactics and obliterate cheating spammers. However, Google is already demolishing its competition in this area. Its market share far outranks any other engine in the market and to concentrate solely on search would put Google at a disadvantage compared to its competitors.

In my eyes, search should always be Google’s top objective, but that may be na├»ve. Google is after all a business.

Because Google is a business they also have to think about increasing their reach and creating competitive services. Last month Google released stronger version of its Mobile application and recently users got a better mobile Gmail. These releases have nothing to do with search, but they were important for Google.

If Google stops releasing products they make themselves vulnerable to its competitors and opens up a window to be passed by. Had Google not released enhanced mobile applications it would have given Yahoo, Ask and Microsoft a chance to capitalize on their lack of presence. Not pushing out their audio ads opens the door for someone else to do it first.

In order to stay competitive, Google has chosen to make it a priority to enter all aspects of your life and figure out how to place ads there. Does that mission statement go against the return to basics approach they promised? Not if the releases are smarter.

I didn’t take Google’s statement as they wouldn’t release another product until their engine was perfect. I took it that we wouldn’t get anymore half-releases. No more spreadsheet applications that lack basic capabilities like chart creation. And to their credit, I think the "upgraded" Google Docs & Spreadsheet release was the only product to not meet that smarter release standard thus far.

That being said, what does bring up red flags for me is all the other stuff they’ve been doing. Like buying JotSpot, entering political debates, and of course there was that whole buying a spaceship thing. This is the stuff that makes me raise an eyebrow – or at least it would if I was physically able to perform such a crafty maneuver. [I'm learning how. Once I do, I'll do it for you. --Susan]
It bothers me, but at the same time, I accept it as long as I continue to see search being improved. I don’t think Google attempted to mislead users by announcing that would focus on search, I think they realize that for them to thrive there needs to be a healthy combination of both.

We don’t know what Google is doing behind the scenes. It’s possible that the Google engineers have been strapped to their desks in the Googleplex for weeks while they make improvements to the engines. We don’t know what’s coming. Google’s return to basis promise came just over a month ago so we probably haven’t seen the full weight of it. Give it time. If we start to see more weak acquisitions and fluffy releases, then it’s time to storm the gate. I’ll keep my torch handy.





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