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Thursday, October 6, 2005

Google Losing Focus?

Dave Winer writes:

“Google is repeating Alta Vista’s mistake that allowed Google to become number one in search, they’re diversifying into everything, and neglecting search. It’s as if they have become the executive who told Larry and Sergey: ’As long as we’re 80 percent as good as our competitors, that’s good enough. Our users don’t really care about search.’” (...)

I don’t consider Google invincible in search, not as long as they leave such juicy tidbits around for their competitors, for such vain reasons. They’re too impressed with themselves. More impressed than we are.”

In my opinion, Google is diversifying without neglecting search. When AltaVista was starting to neglect search, you could tell it from their homepage – the search box was but a little part in the grander portal scheme (and every pop-up they opened was another nail in their coffin). When you go to, you can actually see the homepage getting less cluttered over time; the colored tabs have been removed and replaced with more simple links, and recently, the homepage index size bragging has gone as well, leaving the footer with only “©2005 Google”.

In the meantime, Google has pushed Personalized Search, Google Maps, and many other search-related services. So it doesn’t look at all like Google’s losing focus. What I would indeed agree on is that they’re not focusing enough on every new product in terms of quality standards they have with web search. Think of the Google Web Accelerator, a giant Google-owned proxy that – while technically doing the right thing – had some huge problems when it was released (and was pulled, after a while). Or think of Google Talk, clearly a software product that’s been made available in a “release now, improve later” spirit (mind you, I do like Google Talk, and it’s in fact my IM of choice... simply because it’s so uncluttered, and indeed I do have some trust there’s going to be improvement – or at least, it won’t end up becoming more and more cluttered).

Google’s new Blog Search is another example; while I think it’s one of the best blog searches, it’s also relatively late in the game (Technorati has been around for a long time, especially in web years, and I agree with Dave’s suspicion that Google first didn’t fully embrace RSS, and then tried to somewhat undermine it with the “better” Atom format), and this tool simply doesn’t blow away the competition. While Google web search played in a whole different league when it came out (in fact, you could rightfully say it was another type of sport) Google Blog Search is the same league as other available blogspace crawlers. It can do some things better than other blog search tools, and some things aren’t as well (e.g. I can’t find every backlink Technorati offers me, and it feels somewhat crowded with Blogspot spam blogs).

And then, for some services it seems – at least to me, sitting in Germany – like Google’s releasing new stuff faster than they consolidate what they have. Now, admittedly, with different teams working on different things simultaneously, it may not be an either-or situation (Google Inc can focus on consolidation and R&D at the same time). But I want Google Maps with the same level of detail in Europe as the US can see it. I want Google Local here as well. I want German web search results with less spam. (I’m not sure how bad it is for other countries, but I suspect our country’s no exception.) The list goes on – free WiFi in San Francisco, Gmail SMS invitations for just the US, or Google Video playback which was not offered in Germany. Whenever Google’s releasing something for the US only, I think: “Why don’t they start expanding what they got, on a global scale, before giving me even more I can’t use?”

And don’t get me started on slow, slow, and often broken Orkut (which, arguably, is only “in affiliation with Google”).

So is Google losing focus on search? No, clearly not. Is Google putting as much focus on everything else they release? No, unfortunately they don’t. Will they get a grip on things again and start a consolidation and quality improvement phase? Only time will tell.


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