Strong opinions, weakly held

Google is a big company now

Fred Wilson has some interesting thoughts on Google:

Google is a different company than it was even a year ago. It’s still got the world’s best search engine and I use it maybe a hundred times a day and really can’t think of not using it. It’s like firefox, a fundamental part of my daily web experience, a starting point for most anything and everything. Search for Google is like Windows for Microsoft, it’s the product that pays the bills for everything else and is ubiquitous.

That said, YouTube was the beginning of the end of old Google and the beginning of new Google. I personally love that Google bought YouTube, because I love YouTube and everything it’s about. But that was the line in the sand that Google crossed with the media owners. Google is now public enemy number one with content owners of all kinds. Witness Sam Zell saying that “Google steals newspaper’s content”. That is just not true. But the claim that YouTube (ie Google) steals Viacom’s content rings a bit truer (I also don’t agree with that statement). Google is big, powerful, and rich, but it’s also now in the same shoes as Microsoft was in the 1990s. They are the big powerful company that everyone hates (not me).

Google in some ways strikes me as the new Netscape. Google is infinitely more successful than Netscape ever was, and will probably be around forever, but there’s a certain vibe there that makes it impossible for me to get past the comparison. When Netscape was on the rise, people saw Netscape the same way that people now see Google. They were hiring tons of smart people, they were acquiring all sorts of companies, and they let the products they acquired gather dust and put the engineers on other projects. Business magazines wrote articles about how Netscape was changing the entire business landscape by pushing product out the door at such a blinding rate of speed.

This is not to say that I’m forecasting bad things for Google. Google builds outstanding products and they have a business model that is working extremely well. But we’re finally seeing them slowly transform from a company that everyone admires and envies to a company that lots of people resent. What will be interesting to see is whether Google goes from a company that hires the actual best and brightest to a company that hires people who just regard themselves as the best and the brightest. It’s happened to plenty of other firms in the software business. It’s extremely difficult to keep bringing in top notch hires when you’re growing as fast as Google is.


  1. It is really tempting to compare Google to Netscape. Visiting the campus is like a timewarp back to the bubble days. It feels like a cross between a mid-90’s-era Netscape and a college when you visit at lunchtime.

    The difference being, of course, Google has relatively infinite cash compared to Netscape, a viable business model, and is not going away any time soon.

  2. I think there’s probably going to be a point where comparisons between Microsoft and Google become more common and, well, more accurate.

    I remember when Microsoft was the scrappy little underdog against big bad IBM, and I’m not that old. It’s not just that success breeds resentment, but that success also breeds stupidity as almost an inevitable byproduct, even if you start out from an unusually non-stupid starting point, as Google has. And it only takes a few incidents of Really Stupid to do serious damage to your upstart credibility. Of course I’d like them to be the rising tech star that somehow avoids the stupid/evil misstep, but I wouldn’t bet my life on it.

    Mind you I also think the Youtube purchase was, if not a mistake, something that’s quite dangerous. Youtube is based around mass piracy of video content. Now, I happen to think mass piracy of video content isn’t really all that dangerous, just like mass piracy of music isn’t all that dangerous, and just like for music it’s also inevitable, unstoppable, and something the media industry will need to adjust to. However: as the music industry has shown, the intransigence of the content industry can do serious damage to companies whose business model rests on piracy, even if in the end it would be better for them to work with them. There’s no guarantee that Youtube won’t be the next Napster (i.e. worthless junk) and that the ITMS for video won’t be someone else entirely; just as with music distribution, the interface design & technology for online video isn’t particularly difficult, especially when someone else has already done it. If I was Google, I would’ve just done a feature-for-feature copy of Youtube and grafted it onto the Google Video engine. Essentially Google paid $1.5 billion for a bunch of users and a brand name, and, well, that’s a lot of money for that kind of stuff. I think the community aspects of Youtube are largely worthless, and as Napster shows, Web brand names don’t hold much long-term value even if they’re wildly popular at some point.

    Doubleclick is a more interesting deal. Actually I think there the problem is anticompetitive, which brings up the question: why has Google not successfully competed with Doubleclick? Because of their focus on text ads? Technology? Personal relationships? I don’t know, but you’d think that Google was capable of competing successfully given their ability to direct talent and their enormous success in text ads.

    Another one is Picasa. Why does Google have no real competition for Flickr?

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