I have been convinced lately that the current development strategy of Google will ultimately lead to it's demise. While I do not have anything with it, it is interesting to analyze the key elements that brought Google to where it is now, and how do those elements stand today.
In the beginning...
End of 1990's were very interesting times to be on the Internet. Big players were being born (you can see how the first major websites looked like back then) and the rules for Internet just being written.
First two major search engine players were Altavista and Yahoo. Some still remember when Altavista switched from altavista.com to av.com meaning the search was now quicker to execute. Yahoo started up well but then decided that the best way to search internet was to make one directory of all interesting sites by categories. This grew up to a giant directory known today as the Yahoo dir.
I have a need, a need for speed
Then Google appeared and offered what I call instant knowledge. This is defined as access to any information in an instant. Different from Yahoo who offered general knowledge through their directory, a detailed information about a general topic. Yahoo also had instant knowledge technology but it was hindered by Yahoo's complicated and slow loading user interface. Google started smart, they set a goal of presenting search results to a user in no longer then 0.5 seconds. This apparently was a very good decision and launched Google to where it is today. For many years Google was a synonym for fast, sleek and usable services. It grew up to one of the biggest companies in the world. But this is about to change.
I am assuming that if the speed, relevance and usability were the key elements that brought Google to where it is now, the lack of same elements would lead to it's demise.
Typing a keyword today on Google will still return you a page with results in less then 0.5 seconds which is rather impressive considering the huge number of pages indexed.
But the problem now is you have a lot more results offering websites of very low relevance, often called the spam. The art of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) has become one of the most wanted and payed skills in the world today. It allows anyone to "manipulate" search engine results and push their site higher up in search results then it would be without any SEO work done. SEO was first defined by Google and it presented a set of rules they used to rank the page relevancy for given topic. It was a very carefully thought design, that worked great, until people learned about it and started using it to their advantage.
What happens now, is that even if you get a search result page in 0.5 seconds it will often take you few minutes to find a page that has information relevant to your search. This is incredible leap backwards to were we were couple of years ago and this is going to be even worse. Google has some brilliant people like Matt Cutts and his team working on the issue, but the problem is there are about 100 brilliant people in Google against 10,000 brilliant people from the whole world or even more. And the latter number exponentially grows. To make matters worse Google people are bound in corporate shackles while their "adversaries" have all the freedom of the world to experiment.
Who is that Jeniffer Lopez anyway
Second problem comes with quality of search algorithm. While algorithm was revolutionary when it appeared, it still works in the same way today. Put it simple, it is a brute-force representation of information found on the web. There is complete lack of intelligent parsing of the available data in order to connect the gathered information and present it in a usable form to the user. For example if you want to know "How to open a coconut?" you will easily find the result on Google. If you want to know "Is Jennifer Lopez Single?" you will have very hard time finding the answer using Google, although the question is very easy and answered on thousands of websites.
There are some steps in general knowledge area with sites like Wikipedia and Mahalo which could easily offer that kind of information. They also offer spam free and relevant information (at the time!) but to be fair, the problem is they lack instant knowledge capabilities. When an earthquake happens somewhere in the world you will probably be able to find information on Google in few minutes and those sites will take few hours to few days.
Adsense is from Mars and Adwords is from Jupiter
Let's return to analysis of Google. Second key point of Google's success was usability of their service. While this was certainly a shining point in the past, I learned about few examples that made me wonder where are they heading now.
I started using Adsense and Adwords which are two very used services that Google invented and made available. Basically, Adsense allows you to earn money from people visiting your website, and Adwords allows you to pay money to have people visit your website. If you can make it that you pay less money to bring the visitors then what you earn from them you have a winning formula, and Google profits in either way.
Now, if you want to perform a very simple action of transferring money from your Adsense account to fund your Adwords account you amazingly can't! You need to wait about a month for Google to send you a check by snail-mail, then you need to cash it in, transfer funds to your credit card and then transfer back to Google. Not only you lose money in the process but you also lose a lot of time.
I contacted Google about it and to my amazement the answer was those are two different services. Yes, Adsense is from Mars and Adwords from Jupiter. What happened to usability spirit of Google?
Blogger comments galore
Google is the owner of Blogger, which is one of the largest blogging services in the world. Everyday millions of people use Blogger to read and write blogs. Did you notice that Blogger blogs receive a lot less user comments then for example WordPress blogs? Want to know why?
On Blogger, in order to send a comment you need to browse away from the page of the post you are commenting, then log in if you manage to figure out how and then write a comment without seeing the actual post. This is the most complicated and frustrating user interface design ever invented. Google has been owning Blogger two years now I think, and they never bothered to fix this despite numerous complaints of Blogger users.
Everyone knows pigs can't jump
Google is failing at things that made it famous. I am not a business expert but that sounds to me like a bad plan. I am seeing Google being eaten by a huge, lazy corporate beast, like so many companies in the world.
I do not know if demise is really going to happen and when, it is a large company after all, but I think a lot can be learned from Google's example. At least if you make a plan and the plan proves successful, then try to stick to it and don't wander away.
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Posted in: Debate, SEO, Startups
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