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.
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.