Regular readers of this blog will know that I think Google regularly latches on to too many projects, half-asses the majority of them, and only really excels at search. Why? Because search makes Google loads of money via their ad sales. Don’t forget this important point.
Now, this morning, as I sit at my desk, sipping on my coffee, I read a blog post by Matt Cutts, the head of the webspam team in Google’s search quality group, about BusinessWeek’s recent articles on Google. Cutts links to all the articles so jump over to his blog if you want to find them. They all focus predominantly on search, because that’s what Google is, more than anything else: a search company.
(A slight digression: take note that Cutts is not the equivalent of what Scoble was to Microsoft; lots of people make that comparison because he’s a vocal blogger for a big company just as Scoble was; however, he actually leads a team for the company. That is far different from Scoble whose sole position with Microsoft was technical evangelist. Cutts’ cheerleading of his company is secondary, not primary to his main job. Also, there’s nothing wrong with cheerleading; I’ve done it regularly for my employers.)
One bit jumped out at me in Cutts’ blog post. He uses the following story to illustrate how people tend to be once bitten twice shy when it comes to search results:
“At the entrance to Google’s main cafe, there’s three doors. Two are normal doors that you pull to open, and they always work. The other door is a spiffy automatic door that slides open for you–except that the automatic door seems to be broken about 5-10% of the time. When the automatic door works, it’s very cool and you’d definitely prefer to use it. But when the door is broken, you’re left standing in front of a glass door and you feel like a dork as you wave your hands, move around, and generally try to get the “automatic” door to open for you. I’ve noticed that many people stopped using the sometimes-broken automatic door and instead always go straight to the reliable doors.
Cutts continues on from this illustration to say: “Search can be kind of like that door in a lot of ways. Spiffy features are great, but if they’re wrong or don’t trigger in some reasonable way that your mind can predict, the failure is worse somehow.”
I’d like to use Cutts’ same story to illustrate a larger point that everyone tends to loose sight of amidst all the hoopla over the arrival of new products from Google like the recent beta release of Google Wave and the promised future arrival of Google Chrome operating system: Google can’t keep a simple automatic door in the main cafe in its Googleplex working. But, C.K., that automatic door isn’t essential to Google, you might argue. It doesn’t have anything to do with search and therefore isn’t a priority for the company. It is just something nice that Google put there for people to use when it works.
And that, my dear friends, is the same description that can be applied to every Google product launched in beta over the past almost-ten years that has failed to receive real attention from the company. Gmail is a mild success (it’s still not being used by the majority of the internet, although the majority of tech-savvy types love it), because, if you hadn’t noticed, it serves a search function, placing context-rich advertisements alongside your email, and therefore makes the company money. But, as we saw several times this summer, Gmail, like that automatic door, can break from time to time. It goes down. Google search doesn’t go down. Also, have you ever had any sort of problem with your Gmail account? Have you tried reaching some sort of support for that problem? It’s not readily available. Google isn’t about support and about helping people. Google is about making better search results and making more money. Period.
What about Google Reader?!, you protest. It doesn’t have any ads and Google still keeps it going. Yes, but it serves a search function. Click on the trends tab of Google Reader. That data collected about your reading habits is undoubtedly being used to help tweak and fine tune search results, just as Google News and Google Blog Search are meant to do. Remember, Google Video? It’s no longer a priority of the company, because Google purchased YouTube and YouTube has become Google’s video search solution. Jaiku? Google Notebooks? They’re no longer being actively worked on. Android? The entire Google Android platform is all about getting more of the mobile search market.
Google Wave and Google Chrome Operating System will only succeed if they succeed as search products or products that enhance Google’s search goals. Repeat this to yourself before you get too excited about new Google products: Google is a search company. Google is a search company. Google is a search company. Whatever new product Google is launching is just another grand experiment serving the search machine. Keep in mind that Google regularly releases things in a perpetual beta where the product just sits there minimally supported until it starts having a positive effect for the company in terms of search. Google also regularly shutters programs by simply letting them continue to run with no attention whatsoever, because why not? The product may eventually some day become useful and return value to search.
UPDATE: I forgot to mention in this post that besides search, the other business that Google invests time, development, and resources towards is anything that can serve as a strategic move in the big chess game Google is always playing with Microsoft. Google Docs, Google Calendar, Gmail, Google Chrome, Google Wave, Google Android, and Google Chrome Operating System all serve the strategic purpose, Google hopes, of sending Microsoft into a panic that will keep the company distracted from progressing on improving its search product to challenge Google’s search product. Unfortunately for Google, Bing’s recent hard press of advertisements and uptick in usage would seem to show that that strategy is failing somewhat. Also, for those of you who thought: what about Blogger?! Blogger is the #1 source of web spam sites online and one of the largest clients of Google Ads online as well, so Google’s making money off of them and that’s why Google doesn’t kill them all dead. Feel free to discuss in the comments below. ;-)