BBC article on Google, with interviews.
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BBC news recently ran a pretty good article on Google. It's worth reading mainly because it presents what is a fairly in depth overview of Google's challenges and challengers in 2005.

Most discussion of Google veers off into either starry eyed idolatry or near psychotic hatred. The negative persective, which tends to drift even further from reality than the idealistic one, suffers from several key failures to grasp reality.

This article exposes some of the weaknesses both sides have, without getting into taking one side or the other. Dare we say it? It's a good, fairly objective article.

I'll run through what I consider to the be key points. You can read the whole article here

:: Quote ::
Google's technology may be based on rocket science algorithms, but the secret of its success is simple: Provide the best search engine in the digital world, and surround the results with cleverly selected ads that meet the needs of the user.

This point is absolutely key. Google does not have the user tied to itself like for example Microsoft Windows users are. Users have a choice. They can leave, go to do their search on Yahoo or MSN.

Forgetting this fundamental point when analyzing any Google behavior is essentially insulting the intelligence of every member of the upper echelons of the Google corporations. While clueless webmasters who will whine at every update may not be aware of this, you can rest absolutely assured that Google will not forget this simple fact.

:: Quote ::
Google's internal culture may explain the haphazard approach of getting there.

Whoever comes up with a "smart idea" writes it up, says Mr Arora, and if it strikes a chord, Google's engineers sign up and commit a certain amount of their time....

"And once we got a great product, we will find a business model to go with it."

In most cases, this model revolves around selling adverts.

This point is interesting because it gets to the heart of just why Google is getting so popular with programmers, in terms of them wanting to work for them. This is exactly the environment that bright, creative people like.

Microsoft, with its top heavy, top down direction, Gates/Ballmer -> department heads -> programmers is the antithesis of a creative environment, and this is why Microsoft has essentially only two things to offer prospects: money and ego. Money in terms of long term riches, and ego in terms of working on the world's consumer monopoly OS.

Neither is a creative motivator, and you can see that in almost all of MS's offerings over the years.

:: Quote ::
And whenever Google tweaks its search algorithm, the engineers in Mountain View, California, have to brace themselves for howls of outrage from thousands of small online retailers who drop off the first page of search results.

One interesting thing is if you read the recent Google patent application, 3-31-05, Google is doing more and more live, realtime click through analysis. The purpose of this is to test different combinations of results in the serps. You cannot test user reaction to different results without presenting the user different results. This simple fact seems to completely escape the webmasters who have come to expect the top positions they have.

Clearly, there are several other massive benefits to this type of movement: if you want to appear on Google's search page with a guarantee, you must pay for adwords. As reported in The Register:
:: Quote ::
The Google money making machine stormed through Q3 2005, grossing $1.578bn in revenues and clearing a profit of $381m. That's up from $1.384bn and $342m in Q2, and $1.256bn and $369m in Q1 respectively. Earning per share was $1.32 (diluted), up from $1.19 per share in Q2.

This record income is a direct result of the increasing difficulty website owners are having getting consistent placement of their sites in the top 10 of the results. Here is a more in-depth article on Google's financial picture 2005.

However, whereas some web site owners see a degradation of the natural results, aka the SERPs, in favor of forcing site owners into paying for adwords, it's not that simple. There is one very static reality facing Google at all times, which requires two things (the article continues):

:: Quote ::
"We understand the challenge and do our best to compete," says Mr Arora. "We dedicate 70% of our [research and development budget] on search, about 2,000 engineers are working on nothing else," he says.

When you compare this to what MSN and Yahoo are doing, you can immediately see why Google continues to dominate the search business: they are simply more committed to it longterm. For Yahoo it is an on again off again affair. Yahoo until very recently for example could only handle indexing a small fraction of each site out there. This has improved over the last few months.

MSN, on the other hand, is simply MS's reaction to Google. There is no passion for search in the Microsoft upper management, they simply want to destroy Google, who they see as a long term strategic competitor.

But unlike say their destruction of Netscape by releasing a free Internet Explorer, thus destroying Netscape's business model, Google's search, gmail, etc, are already free. Which means that MSN has to be better than Google. But that's simply not going to happen.

The article closes with this utterly simply, no brainer observation:
:: Quote ::
But Google has a simple problem.

If its engineers fall behind, its rivals are just one click away.

"If consumers see a perceptible quality difference [with rival search engines], they will disappear," admits Mr Arora.

As you can see, Google is completely aware of reality in its internal discussions of this issue, unlike the vast majority of website owners, who seem to think that the Googleplex residents are complete idiots when it comes to business.

Anyway, good food for thought, worth a read, could have been more in depth, but overall a very good overview of a complicated question. Too bad we don't see more reporting of this quality about difficult subjects.

Of course, this is not to say Google is somehow perfect, or able to avoid the types of mistakes most large corporations make. For example, their recent ill advised decision to create illegal copies of books they do not hold the copyright to is one of the stupidest decisions any major company has made in the last few years.

That to me simply signifies the type of narrowing of vision that occurs when you are surrounded by a certain corporate culture and attitude. If the decision to proceed with scanning in the books had been made rationally, they would have stopped until after receving permission to do so from the copyright holders. It is just that simple. Google's failure to approach the matter from this far more common sensical perspective is worrying, to put it mildly.

Again, if there is nothing wrong with the plan, then why not go ahead and ask the copyright holders for permission? The answer is very simple: Google knows perfectly well that they would not receive this permission.

These are the types of weaknesses that can end up bringing a large corporation down. Just look at AOL for example. Or Altavista. Or Apple, who could have dominated the computer world at one point had they just made different decisions.

Things move very fast in computing, and companies can rise or fall very easily. And the events that can cause such rising and falling can be very small. Or very large.
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