Is Google Spreading Itself Too Thin?

I just read an article entitled Is Google Spreading Itself Too Thin? over at ReadWriteWeb. It repeats the endless canard that Google hasn’t built another business yet to rival its initial search franchise.

How dumb is that? No one has built another business on the web to equal Google’s initial search franchise. It was a once-in-a-technology-generation business. Not only that, in order to create that initial business, Google had three great successes: the search engine itself, the Adwords ad auction, and Adsense.

Meanwhile, Google is a strong #2 in maps (and growing), handily beating out Yahoo! and Microsoft’s offerings, and gaining steadily on market leader Mapquest (which created the category three years before Google was even created). Google’s got about 30% share to Mapquest’s 50% or so, last time I looked. Not only that, Google is totally dominant in mapping mashups and is the leading mapping application on the iPhone.

And I don’t know what planet the author of the piece is living on, but it seems to me that Google’s office apps are very strong. No, they don’t challenge Microsoft head-to-head yet, but I get far fewer word and excel files via email than I used to, and a lot more invitations to Google docs and spreadsheets. The article’s claim that Zoho is giving Google a run for its money seems extremely unlikely, given that both Quantcast and Compete show Zoho with only a few hundred thousand visitors a month. I have yet to receive an invitation to share a Zoho document. And yes, Gmail still trails Yahoo! Mail and Hotmail, but it’s doing quite well, thank you, given their ten year head start. At Science Foo Camp, I asked how many people had a gmail account, and virtually every hand in the room went up.

YouTube – yes, they haven’t monetized it well yet, but that’s because of Google’s caution in creating user-unfriendly advertising, a philosophy that has served them well in the past. Far better that than junking it up in search of premature monetization.

And as for Knol, whose reported lack of success was the trigger for this thin piece of analysis, well, I agree that it was a bad idea. In fact, I said so from the first. And to the extent that some of Google’s moves seem to be attempts to copy other successful sites, they likely will fail. But to read into this the idea that Google doesn’t have the capability to act strategically, or to win in new markets, is just silly.

I’m happy to criticize Google for shallow attempts to capitalize on opportunities created by others, and am very concerned about an increasing tendency to favor Google’s own content sites rather than distributing attention to others. But Google is a long way from eating their own children, as Microsoft eventually did. Both Android and Chrome demonstrate true strategic thinking, focusing on how to grow the market for everyone rather than just finding advantage for Google. They still seem intent on creating more value than they capture.

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