Watch the Google anthill move toward social and real time

This week is a key moment in Google’s life. It is being challenged by a change in the ecosystem. We’ve seen this happen with other companies before. Remember Microsoft in 1994-1996? It responded to the changes in how we exchange information by turning the company hard toward the Internet. Too hard, actually. Bill Gates steered his battleship right into the DOJ’s iceberg. The water it took on from the gash in its side slowed it down for eight years already.

This week Google is having its I/O conference. Executives there told me to be there to witness the shift. They’ve also given me a small look at some of what’s coming. One even told me that it’ll be like the first Microsoft NT developer’s conference in its importance of what gets shown.

I remember that conference, back in 1994. Jim Fawcette and I were sitting there in one of the first rows and he elbowed me and said “Gates just announced Chicago and Cairo.” That was Windows 95 and what was supposed to be the next version of NT, which never really shipped, although what was important about that was Microsoft was about to see the most significant switch in Operating System usage the world has seen up to that point, or since. We were moving from command lines to GUIs. It’s one of those times when you can see tech industry history shifting all around you. In the back rooms at that conference, though, the real shifts were happening. The geeks were restless about this thing called the Internet. Within a year of that conference Gates had to admit that something was happening and told the geeks to shift direction and focus more energy on the Internet. When Windows 95 shipped in late 1995 it had an Internet stack and a Web browser.

But now back to Google. I thought about using a metaphor of a battle ship, like what worked with Gates, but, see, Google is more like an ant farm. Which is why I put this video (hosted on Google’s YouTube, of course) up front and center.

Google is much more decentralized than Microsoft was, and is (and Microsoft was much more decentralized than IBM or other companies that came before it, which is what made it so dangerous when Gates said “turn, turn, turn toward the Internet” to his troops).

Google is more like an ant hill. One powered by 20% time which is how the ants find out where the food is. Heck, enough of Google’s ants have left to join Facebook, Twitter, and friendfeed, that it should be clear by now there’s some new tasty food bits that they aren’t yet munching on. Heck, friendfeed should be a major embarrassment to Google since that 14-person team has at least five Google superstars on it (the guy who came up with the idea for Google not to be evil started the company. That’s Paul Buchheit and he also ran the Gmail team. Also on the friendfeed team is the guy who ran the Google Talk team, the guy who ran Google Maps team, the designer for a whole bunch of Googley products, and the guy who ran the backend team on Gmail). Over at Facebook and Twitter I keep running into people who used to work at Google too.

And now Google’s own founders are admitting that they need to get into real time.

The ants are moving!

They have already made some significant moves recently you might have missed. First, they are now putting profiles onto the search pages. Here, search Google for “Robert Scoble” and look at the bottom of the page. See my picture and my profile? That’s Google making moves toward the real time and social webs. Big time moves.

Notice what else you see on that search for me: a Twitter profile is there. A friendfeed profile is there. What isn’t there? My Facebook profile. Even though I made it public, it isn’t there. Why is that? Is that Google heading toward troubles with the DOJ like Microsoft got in trouble when they competed unfairly with Netscape? Be careful there Larry and Sergey!

What other moves have Google been making? Friend Connect. This lets bloggers and businesses add a social network. Look for Google to expand this week on Friend Connect. You’ll see that this is a major source of food for Google’s ants to carry back to the mother ship. I’ve already added it to my blog and in about a week 511 people have added their faces to that component, despite the fact that it really doesn’t do much yet. Wait until there’s some real value there, you’ll see these numbers move up big time.

Other places Google will make big moves? In support of the open web. Open Social for applications. Already used on millions of profiles, Open Social is how Google will ship a new set of applications that are better integrated into mobile platforms (Google is on Apple’s iPhone’s front page, Facebook and Twitter are not and Google controls its own mobile platform in Android, too).

Add all this together, along with other fun demos you’ll see this week, and you’ll see that Google is making some pretty damn impressive moves. Is Google perfect? No. If it were it would have been earlier. It wouldn’t have killed Dodgeball and effectively scorned Jaiku, which enabled Twitter and friendfeed to happen. But now that enough of the ants are seeing that they need to move toward the source of new food, it’s a scary sight and one that will become obvious this week.

Let’s compare notes later in the week and see if I’m right about the Google anthill moves.


  1. The lack of a Facebook profile on the first page is easy — fewer links pointing to it because most people have their profiles hidden.

    Google sees all of the Twitter profiles and counts those thousands of links. Google doesn't see Facebook profiles for many people, thus killing the number of inbound links it thinks that page has. This is more of a problem with Facebook than with Google, I would think.

  2. Google will announce $100-$200 laptops based on Android 2.0 OS to be released in the next few months. All the laptop manufacturers are making them, Acer, HP, Dell, Asus, MSI, Quanta, they have all announced Android ARM laptops under construction. That is one of the biggest things Google should unveil in my opinion.

    2. Sure it might be kind of embarrassing for Google that friendfeed is built by ex-Googlers, though one giant awesome company like Google can't just release things like that even in Labs without a huge amount of preparation to back it up.

    Friendfeed although it's cool, is only used by a few tens of thousands of people regularly, and most current friendfeed users use it only to test it out, not as a really useful tool.

    When Google plans to launch real-time features, it will be to be used by tens of millions of people and it has to be really useful and built in a way that makes sense.

    Though, I wouldn't want to defend Google, I think that Google is way too slow at releasing new features, although they develop new awesome things faster than anyone else. Still I think Google has the responsibility to make everything work immediately. Especially the way Youtube is monetized yet, there I think Google is far from doing enough to make it work.

  3. I couldn't agree more. Not only are they positioning to dominate the social web but Google Apps is getting more robust by the day. I have completely replaced all other office applications with Google Apps. They are the operating system of the future and there is nobody else even close to competing with them. But just like Windows made personal desktop computing more affordable and accessible to the masses Google is making collaborative computing more accessible. The obvious difference between the two players is the Open API framework, the dynamics of which have changed the game in ways we're only beginning to see. Despite the concerns about their far reaching dominance I for one am excited to see what the future brings.

  4. I agree with Mike. I think that the effort Google has put into Google Apps and the convergence of Chrome + Google App Engine + GData is about to pay off and drive a deep and long term transformation in the enterprise productivity/collaboration market. At least that is what gets me excited.

  5. There's definitely a lot going on here and the ant hill analogy is spot on. All of Google's properties seem to get more connected and interesting on a weekly basis. They just don't talk much about the connections because, as Chris Lang puts it, they don't want SEOs to easily figure out how Google is using its properties to help determine SERPS.

    They are though. Big time!

  6. “Executives there told me to be there to witness the shift.”

    Smart developers have pen and paper and are patenting as much of the shift as humanly possible before it happens.

    What if you could have patented web browsing? Or patented RSS?

    Now is the time. Google can't pre-empt every utility surrounding this. It's first come, first serve.

  7. I'm driving up Tuesday after work to SF for I/O. I will see “Jay Leno” on the big movie screen announcing their windows95 shift. But then again I already know what it is. They've been repeating it for ever. Blizzard was repeating it too.

    This and Android's cupcake.

  8. I agreed partly because Google is still beginning to catch up with real-time search. Real-time search is much depending on users who want to take part in distributing the information right now that Googlebot can record right now. Twitter is practicing real-time communication among Twitterers despite it doesn't have any powerful search yet. Should Google go ahead and put a powerful search with a real-time communication. That is going to be robust.

  9. Microsoft did, in fact, ship Cairo, and I'll bet that many of your readers are using it today.

    The Greek letters Chi (pronounced “Kai”) and Rho are represented by the modern letters X and P. So, Cairo = Chi Rho = XP.

  10. Moving to real-time will be difficult as it will be a culture shock for the company. Google has been into documenting the past with Search, Maps, Earth, Streetview. All rather static data.
    Now their way of thinking and building need to move into real-time.
    Good luck.

  11. The problem with Google is the problem every company have. As soon as you reach critical mass, you no longer understand what the market wants or needs.
    How much downtime has google had in the last 2 months??

  12. Dear Robert,

    The ants in the ecosystems are using a stigmergic system, a mechanism of spontaneous, indirect coordination between agents or actions, where the trace left in the environment by an action stimulates the performance of a subsequent action, by the same or a different agent. Stigmergy is a form of self-organization. It produces complex, apparently intelligent structures, without need for any planning, control, or even communication between the agents. As such it supports efficient collaboration between extremely simple agents, who lack any memory, intelligence or even awareness of each other.

    You'll find more in Peter Small's stigmergic systems

  13. I certainly agree with you all. I am running my entire business and colaboration between myself and my assistant is done thru Google docs. I share a spreadsheet with one of my business partners and we can both track my distribution of his app. On my latest Windows reformat I did not bother with office. Checkout my other comment on why I am not even using Windows any more down the page.

  14. It's too bad that the original Facebook / Google Friend Connect hook up failed. Combined with Digg as well this would have been a complete package. But you know, $260 million from Microsoft has a way of turning Facebook's head.

    But like I have said before and certainly not the first one to say it, competition is a good thing. The entire Facebook Connect / Google Friend Connect / Microsoft very quiet war only makes them all stronger and more apt to produce their best work and we profit.

  15. I found @Charbax comment real interesting, I have said it would be Unbuntu that would be on the Christmas shelves for less than $200 this Christmas. My Windows install kept overheating due to a fan going south in the middle of a big launch last week and at the same time putting together another deal for another product on the phone.

    No time to be installing fans so I rebooted to Ubuntu and because I use a browser OS I was back in business in two minutes. Most do not even need Windows anymore, they consume everything thru the browser. We are too close to the flame to see that but my best friends are a plumber and a commercial electrician.

    They make great money, are working class guys like me, but when they use a computer they don't need more than a browser and I just made a full time switch to Ubuntu. Now if Chrome would finally release a stable build for Linux I would be all set. Why Chrome, it comes with Google Gears, offline access to your online Google apps.

    Scoble is always ahead of his time here and Charbax, that is would changing news. The web browser OS is just down the road for the masses. Browser because it is not dependent on any OS, all you need to do now is boot a machine, the rest is waiting for you online in many different forms, not at home on your machine.

  16. very interesting concept of google as an ant farm – anywho…. I find the video more interesting though :)….

  17. Google is already on the move to step in real time world like twitter. Google devs are doing hardwork to create a gadget named wave… just like other google gadgets. no matter google's earlier gadget proved to be a big failure but i guess this one would give them a pitch…

  18. I think Google needs to go real time in their searches. If they don't, someone else may find a way to do it. There have been a lot of companies that looked like they were going to be on the top of the mountain forever, but then some upstart does something a little better and everyone falls in love with them instead.

  19. Robert what are you saying about and is Wave going to put Twitter and Friendfeed out of business by moving it all into gmail, or people will ostensibly have their own Wave servers?

  20. [...] Scoble says this: Google is more like an ant hill. One powered by 20% time which is how the ants find out where the food is. Heck, enough of Google’s ants have left to join Facebook, Twitter, and friendfeed, that it should be clear by now there’s some new tasty food bits that they aren’t yet munching on. Heck, friendfeed should be a major embarrassment to Google since that 14-person team has at least five Google superstars on it (the guy who came up with the idea for Google not to be evil started the company. That’s Paul Buchheit and he also ran the Gmail team. Also on the friendfeed team is the guy who ran the Google Talk team, the guy who ran Google Maps team, the designer for a whole bunch of Googley products, and the guy who ran the backend team on Gmail). Over at Facebook and Twitter I keep running into people who used to work at Google too. [...]

  21. Mr. Scoble – LOVE that anthill video. Wonder what well established dot com we can pump full of concrete and excavate around to find the surprising tunnels and interconnected backchannel connections. Let's open it up for nominations. K? Who gets the concrete galoshes gang?

  22. Google doesn't have the fundamentals of a company like Microsoft, it will probably never truly reach the same size in terms of turnover and asset value although artificial non fundamental based hype will elevate its share price beyond justified realms

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