1. ActualAI. Probably the biggest factor of the downfall of Google was the emergence of high quality search results as a commodity. When the AAI hacker group in 2012 released to the public domain their idea for a distributed artificial intelligence representing the global brain consciousness, and when that AI spread like wildfire around the globe in the form of peer-to-peer clients, all of a sudden any company could easily tap and then serve working search results. Among the biggest winners were more experimental search companies, but also the big Google competitors Yahoo and Microsoft. When in 2015 even Google switched to ActualAI because the relevancy difference became too enormous to ignore, it was admitting defeat for a company that once considered search its core.
2. The Microsoft-Yahoo merger. Around 2008, Yahoo’s search results were already incredibly close to Google’s in terms of quality. Still, there was a noticeable difference. When Microsoft increased its Yahoo acquisition offer once again in 2010 and snapped up the company for the galactic price of $120 billion, later putting all its strength in both improving results, and utilizing Yahoo.com as a platform to popularize their offerings, the advantage of Google’s multi-year jump start in search was reduced dramatically.
3. Windows Free. Microsoft was often accused of reacting slowly and not “getting” the web... but boy, when they finally did get it, they had it spot on. The release of Windows Free marked a milestone here: a light-weight, completely free, high usability, open-source, partly-Linux-based (of all things!), redistributable-by-anyone version of a Microsoft operating system that would serve as nothing but a window to the web – plus incredibly tight integration into the simultaneously released Microsoft Web Office Free program suite – might be nothing special for some of you today. For us back in 2013, it was a huge deal. Microsoft changed for good, and by now we have reason to believe that all the time in which they let Google take a lead online, they were just playing with them – a cat letting the mouse escape for a bit to double the fun catching it later (confirmed in further detail by Bill Gates in his book “Looking Back On the Road That Was Ahead”, where he argued he ordered Steve Ballmer to make intentionally bad business decisions in order to cure Bill’s depression).
4. The Google monopoly court case. When Google was split up into Search vs Apps vs Rest following the antitrust case filed by the United States Department of Justice, it dealt an immense blow to the company’s cross-integration efforts that previously helped boost applications including Google Docs, Gmail, and OpenChrome (that browser which Microsoft later sped up by a factor of 9 during their legendary 1-year Barbados hackathon). No more linking to their offerings from their search engine results; no more using special features in Google’s Blogger that would lead people to AdSense; no more “open document in Google Docs” in Gmail; no more homepage promotions sending people towards their unheard-of products. When Google’s application production line was forced to make it on its own merits, Apps had to downscale dramatically. Layoffs and product cancellations became the rule, and even those who did prefer Google Docs started switching away to the offers by all those competitors who finally had a realistic chance to succeed in the market. It was probably this event more than any other which turned the Zoho CEO into the partying billionaire and owner of Taipei 101 he’s known as today.
5. The departure of Eric, Marissa, Matt and Sergey. There were many people responsible for Google’s more successful early years. But who would’ve thought how easily the strategic direction of the company would lead from riches to rags... when just a few key people in the upper levels leave? As a recap for those who only started following the Google events in recent years: Eric departed for health reasons likely due to general burn out after his 24/7 work shift, and while the exit party – in which legendary ex-chef Charlie Ayers returned to cook the world’s largest lasagna – was awe-inspiring, the aftermath wasn’t. Marissa left for Microsoft, and clutter continued to creep in and subsequently ruin the Google homepage. Matt Cutts switched to become an independent blogger covering tech news after the events of the historic Gmail User Account Privacy Vulnerability Scandal (which in itself played a major role in people losing trust – imagine how for 12 hours, everyone was able to read everyone else’s emails! – and also triggered the simultaneous quitting of 252 other Google employees out of solidarity to Matt). And Sergey Brin bought, then redesigned Russian Yandex. Some of us described the exit of these four as the exit of strategy, interface, dialogue and culture, in that order. Larry Page made an OK CEO, but Google would never be the same again.
6. Google being down more and more. At first it was impossible to imagine; in 2008, Google.com used to be the site you’d check when you weren’t sure you had internet (if even Google is down, it was surely your internet connection that was broken!). Things changed quite a bit since then. But when the World Senate forced Google Inc. to make available 90% of their server farm for the public good and progress of humanity, their speed and availability suffered. When people worldwide went online en-masse to research the green glow in the skies after the Even Larger Hadron Collider experiment in 2011, Google.com wasn’t available – and people started looking for alternative ways to access news. Google became available again days later, but some users would never return. (Besides organic downtimes, there was also immense user drain due to the legally forced shutdowns of Google search history, Google Maps Street View and other services after the 2016 Privacy Protection Statutes were passed.)
7. Real Net Neutrality. When Real Net Neutrality laws started to throttle the internet traffic of bigger services in order to give smaller companies a chance in the market once more, the loss for the biggest companies like Google and FriendFeed was understandably high.
8. The black Monday of 2013, and the ad slump that followed. For a company whose main income are ad revenues, this Wall Street crash was the ultimate nightmare. Not only did GOOG start a free fall, but when in the following months advertisers stopped their budget and started consolidating their business, it was clear there was no parachute available either.
9. The Chinese contender. The Chinese internet market overtook the US several years ago already, but that wasn’t the end of growth by far. When strong local contenders started beating Google due to better understanding of the market as well as more business connections and licenses, a domino effect was started. Sure enough, if half the world’s internet users start sending around Baidu Text Docs instead of Google Docs, and you just can’t open the darn thing without creating a Baidu account, it’s the kind of promotion you can’t beat.
10. The Government Information Transparency Act of 2015. Three years ago, when for the first time in history the public was able to inspect all government orders which had secretly polled Google for information as part of the US Patriot Act in the years around 2008, we were stunned. After the first moment of shock, we knew we needed alternatives, diversification, and an even stronger influence by the World Senate. Things didn’t get any better for Google when it became known just what kind of government backchannels Google had set up in other countries like China, Germany, and India. Today kids ask us why we didn’t always have a world senate serving the people at large in transparent ways; wether it didn’t really complicate things to need a visa if you wanted to work in another country; if it wasn’t immensely complicated to learn new languages instead of having autotranslators; and how, by and large, we were able to get along at all. Whenever I try to explain to the younger generation just why we had all those odd n’ quirky things that made global communication and exchange harder and how we allowed governments to serve their interests instead of ours, I pause, and, looking for words, I know that whatever I say probably won’t be a convincing answer.
>> More posts