Category Archives: Google

Is Google a Media Company? In a Word, Yes.

The New York Times ran a story today entitled Is Google a Media Company? In my estimation the answer is simple: Yes, Virginia, Google is a media company and in reality always has been.

The Times story is about knols, Google’s “unit of knowledge,” about which I’ve previously written in (one of my more cleverly titled posts, if I do say so myself): Google as Publisher, The Grassy Knol.

It all comes down to buttermilk pancakes. When you phrase search “buttermilk pancakes” in Google, hit #3 is a knol by Scott Jenson.

Hey — wait a minute — who the hell is Scott Jenson and why is his pancake recipe #3 on Google? The answer: Scott Jenson is “a user interface designer for Google … avid cook and traveler.”

Oh. That explains it.

Now you might like your pancake recipes to come from Google user interface designers (and I’m sure they look pretty), but I have trouble believing that mainstream society wants recipes that way. If they did, I suppose we’d be watching UI designers all day on the Food Network, instead of Bobby Flay, the ever-profane Gordon Ramsay, or Iron Chef Morimoto.

But Scott wrote a knol. And Google can, and probably will, decide to prioritize knols over other content sources, and certainly will, ceteris paribus. Hence the conflict of interest between Google the indexer and Google the content owner. (Do you think it’s an accident I run this blog on blogger? One hopes for whatever advantage one can get.)

Where, for example, do we find the venerable Martha Stewart’s buttermilk pancake recipe?

She comes up, in total obscurity, at #18. And here’s what the co-CEO of her company, Wenda Harris Millard, has to say about it:

Although Martha Stewart’s buttermilk pancake recipe appears lower than the Knol recipe in Google’s rankings, Ms. Millard does not believe that Google unfairly favors pages from Knol. But she said that Google’s dual role as search engine and content site raises an issue of perception. “The question in people’s minds is how unbiased can Google be as it grows and grows and grows,” Ms. Millard said.

I suspect Ms. Millard is so polite because she doesn’t want Martha’s recipe at #180.

Google, predictably weighs in with claims of neutrality:

“When you see Knol pages rank high, they are there because they have earned their position,” said Gabriel Stricker, a spokesman for Google.

Yes, I’m sure. By the way, John Edwards is faithful, the Chinese gymnasts are all 16, and there really is a Santa Claus.

Google can say they are not in the content business, but if they are paying people and distributing and archiving their work, it is getting harder to make that case,” said Jason Calacanis, the chief executive of Mahalo, a search engine that relies on editors to create pages on a variety of subjects. “They are competing for talent, for advertisers and for users.”

The sooner publishers realize that Google already is a media company and becoming more of one every day, the better. Call knols the smoking gun, or the smoking pancake. But realize the inherent conflict between index neutrality and content ownership. Then consider how businesses over history have managed such conflicts.

“If I am a content provider and I depend upon Google as a mechanism to drive traffic to me, should I fear that they may compete with me in the future?” Professor Yoffie asked. “The answer is absolutely, positively yes.”

Cusumano: Microsoft Should Buy SAP, Not Yahoo

I had the pleasure of working with MIT’s Michael Cusumano when I was at Business Objects in Paris in the late 1990s. At the time, he’d just published Microsoft Secrets and we’d hired him to help with defining and improving our software development process.

So I was happy to see he was the force behind the idea that Microsoft is perhaps stalking the wrong prey in this recent New York Times article. Excerpts:

Michael A. Cusumano, who has written several books about the software industry and about Microsoft, is not impressed with Microsoft’s rationale for its Yahoo offer. He said the bid seemed to be a pursuit of “an old-style Internet asset, in decline, and at a premium.”

If Microsoft thinks this is the right time to try a major acquisition on a scale it has never tried before, it should not pursue Yahoo. Rather, it should acquire another major player in business software, merging Microsoft’s strength with that of another. This is more likely to produce a happier outcome than yoking two ailing businesses, Yahoo’s and its own online offerings, and hoping for a miracle. […]

Professor Cusumano has a suggestion: Rather than acquire Yahoo, Microsoft should pursue SAP. […]

If Microsoft is to rededicate its attention to its most valuable assets, business customers, a prerequisite is dropping its ill-advised bid for Yahoo. And to find the best acquisition strategy, ask, “What would Larry do?”

If Microsoft tries to fight Google with wobbly legs, scared witless, it will lose.

Personally, I agree. Microsoft’s essence is a business software company. Given the choice between buying an ailing Internet company that (1) just had its butt kicked by Google and (2) never figured out what to do about it, or a powerhouse in business software to shore-up its position against a Google attack, I’d pick the latter any day.

Thoughts on the Microsoft / Yahoo Deal

The New York Times ran an interesting story today about the impact on Silicon Valley startups of the proposed $45B Microsoft / Yahoo deal. The main thesis is that continuing second-level consolidation might create a dearth of acquirors for the hundreds of startups who have take the $35B in venture capital invested in 2007.

“From a start-up and investor perspective, if there are more companies trying to vie for the same businesses, there are more exits,” said Bismarck Lepe, a former Google employee and now chief executive of Ooyala, a year-old video host and advertising company. “It’s not great for competition if there are only two acquisition targets instead of three.”

I, like many Silicon Valley strategy types wonder if the Microsoft / Yahoo deal is the final salvo in the last war. In many ways, Yahoo’s problem was they couldn’t get past the fact that Google stole Internet search out from under them. So the company was obsessed with re-catching Google, instead of — in classic Silicon Valley style — trying to beat them to next big thing. Most strategy types think Yahoo should have said: “We screwed up. We lost search. Deal with it. Now, let’s go find the next big thing.”

Much as Steve Jobs might have said: “I screwed up . I lost the PC market. Deal with it. Go find the next big thing. (In the “irony can be pretty ironic” department, the iPod is actually dragging Mac sales behind it. So the best way to improve the Mac’s market position was to focus on something else. How’s that for perverse?)

One more example of this “can’t let go” phenomenon because it’s so popular: SPSS. I got to know SPSS pretty well at one point about 6 years ago and I couldn’t help but feel the company had an unhealthy attitude about SAS. For SPSS, the same advice applies: “You screwed up. You lost enterprise stats / analytics to SAS. Deal with it. Let it go. And then figure out how to beat everyone to the next big thing.” (I don’t follow SPSS anymore so I have no idea if they’ve done that in the intervening six years. Hopefully they have.)

Somewhere there’s a probably job opportunity for “corporate strategy therapists” to help companies deal with this sort of anger and loss. But I digress.

Quoting a related Times article:

A Microsoft-Yahoo merger would give Web publishers and online advertisers “a more competitive and compelling No. 2” to Google, thus enhancing competition and consumer welfare, said Bradford L. Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel.

Here’s a good tool for corporate development VPs everywhere: if the best your $45B acquisition can do is create “a more compelling #2” than perhaps you should consider doing a different deal.

The question I have is simple:

  • Will this help Microsoft slow down Google by modestly wounding the advertising engine that provides all the funding for Google’s attack on Microsoft’s core businesses? (Think: the best defense is a good offense.)
  • Or, will this simply enlist Microsoft in Yahoo’s Sisyphean quest to catch Google in Internet search, infecting the acquiror with the acquiree’s disease?

My personal take is if they can execute it correctly it might work, but it needs to be part of a broader strategy. Effort 1: counter-attack Google’s core, not hoping to win, but simply to slow them down. Effort 2: Stop Google Enterprise from attacking Microsoft in on-demand apps and beat them to the cloud computing world of the future.

Ironically, you’ve got two huge companies and neither one is terribly good at selling to the enterprise. Perhaps while the behemoths are duking it out Oracle will step in and steal the enterprise-cloud computing market.

Google and Autonomy Spat, Round II

Autonomy and Google are at it again. Per this InformationWeek story:

For the second time in six months, Google has publicly challenged a white paper from enterprise search rival Autonomy, claiming the latest document contains “significant inaccuracies.”

For customers with demanding needs, the Google appliance lacks the necessary security and connectivity models,” Mike Lynch, chief executive of Autonomy, said in an emailed statement. “It is not possible to make successful high-end enterprise search solutions without mapped security and productized connectors to repositories.”

I’ve not yet had time to dig into the detail of this, so I’m sharing it more as a news item for now and will — if it proves interesting — come back with analysis later.

Google’s rebuttal is here on the Google Enterprise blog.

My free PR advice for Google is to avoid a spat and simply create a low-key white paper that responds to any claims they believe are incorrect. In my experience, in PR wars the big guy never wins. Sometimes the little guy wins. Sometimes both companies lose. So when you’re the leader the best strategy is not to fight. Much as you want to.

Google as Publisher: The Grassy Knol

On December 13th Google took its first step from organizer and indexer of the world’s knowledge to supporting-creator of it with the announcement of a new free tool called “knol” (a cutesy-ism which stands for unit of knowledge).

The folks at publishing industry watcher Outsell were quick to use the announcement as validation of their predictions that Google would eventually enter the publishing market:

While it was debatable in the past whether or not Google’s actions constituted those of a publisher, there can be no doubt about it today.

Outsell takes a broader view of the announcement than most, who generally see it as a clear, direct shot at Wikipedia. (For an example of the consensus viewpoint, see this Newsfactor story entitled Death Knell Sounds for Wikipedia, About.com. I’d add that lesser known and poorly named Freebase seems squarely in the cross-hairs as well.)

Outsell points out that once a large knol-base (phrase coined by me, you heard it here first!) is created, then Google can tweak its search algorithms to favor its content over competing sites such as Wikipedia, which currently enjoys great organic search rankings; About.com, which doesn’t; and Answers.com which was a casualty of an algorithm change in August, resulting in a 28% traffic drop and a nearly 20% drop in their stock price.

There has been plenty written about knol so I won’t add a deep analysis here. For more, I’d go to the official Google blog post that launched knol and scroll down to see the list of blog postings that refer to it.

Techcrunch has a great write-up here:

Google is moving away from simply indexing the worlds content to being a content provider itself. Of course Google in response would argue that it is simply facilitating user generated content (like with Blogger), that ultimately they are the host as opposed to the creator, but it still competes with existing content providers, many of whom rely on Google search results for their living.

If you thought publishers were uncomfortable partners with Google before, things just got a lot frostier.

To me, despite billions of R&D investment and boatloads of hype, Google remains, as Kris Tuttle at Research 2.0 says, “a one-trick pony (but it’s one darn good trick.)” So no new initiative can be presumed successful simply because Google is behind it. Consider the defunct Google Answers, or the perennially weak comparison shopping service, Google Products, nee Froogle.

Is knol a gimme just because Google’s its dad? No way. The poor choice of name will hinder it as will Wikipedia’s entrenched position, positive karma, and what I sense is a growing Google fatigue in the market.

(Like a boyish 40-year-old suffering from Peter Pan Syndrome, I think Google is increasingly out of touch with its perception. They’re not cute and cuddly techies who everybody loves anymore, so they should stop trying to do cute and cuddly things.)

So, should this make publishers uncomfortable? Yes.

Is it (another) warning shot for the information industry? You betcha.

Do I have three words of advice for publishers regarding Google? Watch your back.