Google’s Master Plan(?)

Recently, there’s been a whole lot of speculation about what Google’s master plan is. It’s sort of fun to play around with conspiracy theories and the Google roadmap is a juicy one.

In my opinion, Google is sort of a fishabowl example of what happened in the late 90’s with the whole dot-com debacle. If we liken Google itself to the Internet back then, then all of Google’s mini-projects (Talk, Desktop, Earth, etc.), are really attempts at backing in to the lofty growth expectations that have been imposed upon it by both investors and the public.
You see all these free services roll out, and they’re sort of neat and impressive, yet they don’t make any money. Google’s core revenue comes from search advertising. Almost all of the “toys” they’ve put out are free (as of today). Maybe Google actually has a plan that will one day turn all of these services into money makers. The startups back then also had a plan (or so they thought they did).
I was personally involved in one of these startups way back when. It was a strange time. Enormous amounts of money and energy were thrown at ideas that simply didn’t make money. There was a “we’ll figure that part out later” mindset that permeated. I’m assumng that Google is committing an impressive amount of talent and money to build and deploy these services. I’d also assume that these various efforts have to translate into money at some point.
A lot has been made of the “GoogleOS.” The theory goes that Google is actually working towards rendering your local desktop operating system irrelevant. Your information and the applications you use to manage it will all be on the web. While it’s part of Google’s strategy to inject itself into more and more of our computing experience, I think the leap to an “Internet OS” is outlandish.
I think part of Google’s strategy to survive and thrive is to end its relegation inside your browser. It wants in on your desktop experience. I think this transition, both critical and very dangerous for Google, will prove to be Google’s most difficult evolutionary step. First off, the arena they’re forced to head towards isn’t their own. It’s Microsoft’s. And while you can do some impressive things with executable installs that people can download, you’ll always be a step behind. Imagine a sport where the home team can change the rules of the game and understands the nuances of the arena better than any visiting team ever will.
Secondly, by leaving the browser, Google as “destination” starts to disintegrate. The destination is important for two reasons: (1) branding and (2) it’s a place to put ads. As services start to get interspersed throughout the desktop experience, the brand relevancy of Google will diminish. More importantly, where do you put the ads – Google’s bread and butter revenue generator? Experience shows that once you breach the desktop, the tolerance level goes way down. The desktop is personal. It’s the user’s own private space.
Which I think leads to what may prove to be the fatal blow for the “GoogleOS.” While we’re all enjoying the increasing power of the Internet, we don’t want it overtaking our lives. The browser is a clear line of demarcation. ALso, from a business or enterprise perspective, any sort of Internet OS is not only intrusive but downright dangerous (or at least perceived as such).
In the end, I don’t think there is a master plan. Just as you had start-ups for just about any idea in the late 90’s, Google’s going to roll the dice on a wide array of efforts. They’ve got the cash and the brand to do it and the expectations are so high that they pretty much have to. Either way, it’ll be interesting to watch (and play) as all this unfolds.

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