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September 25, 2006

What Will Be Google’s Second Act?

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A recent Fortune article gives what they call “the inside story of disorder, disarray and uncertainty at Google” as it tries to paint Google as a presumptuous one hit wonder struggling to come up with their “next big thing”. Another cover story hailing the demise of Google if they can’t come up with something that surpasses (or at least rivals) its search capabilities? Awesome.

Let’s be honest. There’s a very small chance that Google will ever release something that will rival the success of its search engine. But that’s the curse Google has placed on itself after hitting the ball so far out of the first time. The bar is now so high the only way to see it is to start up Google Earth (sorry…).

The Google engine takes a lot of hits, but you have to remember that when Google first launched it was so far ahead of its competition that many users viewed it as pure perfection. As a result, it’s likely Google will never be able to beat what it has already accomplished, just like a child actor who wins an Oscar at age seven will never peak beyond that moment. However, to call Google a one hit wonder just seems completely ridiculous and untrue.

If there was one line that irked me in author Adam Lashkinky’s 4,000+ word googley essay it was this:

“To believe that Google will find its second act, you have to accept the hubris and the chaos, and that the brainiacs who got lucky once will do so again.”

First, I think it’s insulting to presume that the Google brains are suffering from hubris. If that were true, they’d be resting on their laurels, not throwing out test products at speeds that give bloggers carpal tunnel. Second, it’s also insulting (and presumptuous and out-right wrong) to insist that Google merely got “lucky” with the success of its search engine. Google’s success had little, if anything, to do with luck.

From the outside looking in, Google’s operation does not appear chaotic to me. It’s inspired innovation. There is no lack of talent and ideas at Google and perhaps the “chaos” that Adam found was instead Google’s version of freedom. Instead of being chained to their desks, employees are encouraged to be innovative and use 20 percent of their time to foster their own creatively. At times that can perhaps look chaotic when you’re dealing with the type of brain power found at Google.

But there’s a method to Google’s madness. Just look at who Google chooses to align itself with – MySpace, Intuit, dMarc, Viacom – none of those partnerships seem chaotic to me. In fact, they seem very smart.

Adam asks several times throughout his article what Google’s new breakout service will be and he never really answers or attempts to answer his question. If you’re looking for an answer, ZDNet’s Ryan Stewart has it:

“If Google wants to deliver applications to main stream users, they need to adopt a Rich Internet Application strategy. They need to use their talent and their web knowledge to build applications that bridge the gap between web and desktop. People want experience, and they want to access information wherever they are, regardless of an internet connection.”

I think RIAs will be Google’s second act. These apps give users the control they’ve grown accustomed to and provide Google with another way to capitalize on its bread-and-butter advertising model. An example of this in action: Google Earth – a service that has downloaded more than 100 million times and makes money through advertising and by offering the Google Toolbar to users.

RIAs may not have that “wow” factor that Google’s first act did, but is there ever a sequel as good as the original? When’s the last time Yahoo/Microsoft/Ask.com really wow’d you? Maybe people are just harder to wow these days. We’ve grown jaded in our Web 2.0’ness

There’s plenty of quality stuff coming out of Google today. I realize Google is top-dog and it’s fun to take shots when we can, but I think calling them a one hit wonder is just a tad unfair. And even without a wow-worthy sequel, Google will dominate. They have the money and the good-will to burn at their leisure.

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