Google Wants to Be a Platform

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Considering the lame redesign and new "features" (they removed the tabs, are testing a personalization scheme that no normal human being will bother activating, and a did couple other insignificant changes — if it was anybody else nobody would even notice), it looks like Google might want to compete as a platform (for online search) with a couple star applications (ad matching) and leave the innovative but relatively niche stuff to other players. After all, Microsoft is still struggling to make real money beyond Windows/Office. And Google has its huge user base for itself (which matters more than having an API, though improving the later wouldn’t hurt).
Sure, the company will launch more betas and lab stuff and whatnot, but those are just showcases to get ISVs and partners thinking, plus they need to look ubiquitous and able to do anything to pump up that IPO. Notice how most of this stuff takes forever to go out of beta, and I’m not referring to just the explicit label, but to the actual quality and usefulness of said sites. Google might for instance spin off Froogle or co-build it with someone who actually understands ecommerce. Taking the partnership with Amazon.com a step further would be an effective strategy against eBay and Yahoo. Hmm, yeah, I like that Google/Amazon story. Likewise, Google Local didn’t launch with any visible advantage versus its competition, to the contrary Yahoo’s effort seems more effective, though who might fix it is less clear to me.
I can’t explain how else Google doesn’t yet support RSS for instance (or Atom for that matter). It’s obvious that the core product stopped improving a while ago, at least the small incremental stuff they’re throwing our way shouldn’t fool anyone (email alerts, give me a break). Since the people at Google are far from stupid, something must be brewing and we didn’t comprehend it yet, because the company is in the middle of a transition it has probably not fully articulated internally itself.
I don’t expect every product launch to work (Microsoft for one has dozens of discontinued products, Bob was far from the sole failure), but for Google it seems expansions come with diminishing returns. Ebay and Amazon successfully grew their breadth (though eBay had to overhaul its Auto site before it got traction, and the jury is still out on some product categories at Amazon), Yahoo is strong in varied markets from movies to finance, likewise Google will need to be more than a generic web search one-trick pony to compete. And it will have to learn to partner for more than just distribution.
04/05/04 update: Rich Skrenta (founder of the ODP and Topix): the secret source of Google’s power.
04/06/04 update: Jason Kottke: GooOS, the Google Operating System.
04/07/04: Battelle, Sullivan. You read it here first!
04/17/04 update: Tim O’Reilly, Jeremy Zawodny (both in the context of Gmail).

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