The month of July has been horrible for Google. The Silicon Valley giant has suddenly become the Rodney Dangerfield of technology, and simply can’t get any respect.
Bill Gates says “Google’s honeymoon is coming to an end.” Forbes.com columnist Lee Gomes warns that “Google won’t last forever.” And San Jose Mercury News columnist Chris O’Brien suggests that Google is suffering from an “identify crisis.”
What’s behind the sudden hate-tsunami hitting the world’s biggest search engine company and washing away its aura of invincibility?
Well, for starters, Google found itself at the wrong end of two big stories this week. The first, of course, is the big Microhoo deal between Microsoft and Yahoo, which is broadly viewed as an effort to “ding Google with Bing.”
The second is that two major iPhone apps lovingly crafted by Google were rejected by Apple — well after all the costs and effort of development. Google’s Voice app for iPhone and Google Latitude, a mapping program, were good to go when Apple said no.
Earlier this month, Google removed the “beta” label from several of its web properties to a chorus of scorn and ridicule. Critics had suggested for years (five years, in the case of Gmail) that the label was purely arbitrary, to which Google responded that “beta” was a very meaningful term based on secret internal metrics. But then Google removed the “beta” tag simply because some corporate customers didn’t like the idea of using “beta” software. It turns out profit is the only internal metric.
A French company is suing Google, accusing the company of competing unfairly with its Google Maps service. The company, called Bottin Cartographes, is trying to sell a range of mapping services that Google gives away free. “Google is ruining the market,” said a lawyer for Bottin.
A language-learning software company called Rosetta Stone filed a lawsuit against Google for trademark infringement.
A story broke this month that Twitter had been hacked, and documents stolen. Then it turned out that in fact Google had been hacked — a Twitter employee’s Google Apps account was compromised, which was the source of the leaked documents. That event prompted wide-ranging questions about the security of the “cloud” in general, and Google Apps in particular.
The executive director of a Christian-oriented ISP called MassResistance slamed Google for being “anti-family.”
Advertisers have been unkind as well. The company reported this month slowing sales during the second quarter of the year.
Meanwhile, reporters keep harping away at Google about exactly how much money they’re losing on YouTube.
Thirteen Google executives face prosecution in India for Google’s failure to delete on the Blogger blogging service and on YouTube content found to be offensive to practitioners of the Atharva Vedic religion.
Meanwhile, Google had to shut its offices in Hyderabad, India, out of swine flu fears.
Google is also engaged in a public spat with what seems like the entire newspaper industry. Newspapers are calling for Google to share some of the ad revenue it gets for its News site. Google’s response: Use a robot.txt file to block our spiders. In other words, if newspapers don’t like what Google does with displaying search results, newspapers can choose to become totally invisible via Google searches and face the inevitable loss of most of their Web traffic. Ouch!
Not everybody is hating Google. It turns out that “spammers and scammers” love the service because it’s the best way to identify emerging topics that will fool people into clicking on links and downloading malicious payloads.
All this pain has gone down for Google in the month of July. What’s behind it all?
Well, several things, actually. First and foremost is Google’s success, which has resulted in industry jealousy, public schadenfreude and zero sympathy for whatever ails the company.
Success has also led to Google’s ubiquity. For example, everyone uses Google to search for news, so it’s Google the newspapers come after when they feel entitled to search revenue. Google is the place everyone goes to be offended, hacked and honked off. And Google is worldwide, which means it is subject to the whims of despotic regimes, global pandemics and the violation of local norms and sensibilities.
And finally, Google may be finally overextending itself. The company takes a scattershot approach to new businesses, throwing everything against the wall to see what sticks. As a result, Google is losing its image as the minimalist company, and gaining a reputation as the everything, everywhere-all-the-time company. That may prove a risky strategy in the long term, as company executives find themselves spending more time fending off threats and attacks, and less time dominating new markets.
I think to a very large extent Bill Gates is right. Google’s “honeymoon” is probably over. They’re becoming a real company with real accountability, and the horrid month of July may be a taste of things to come.