Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Google: Time for Some Soul-searching?

The world-leader in search should find a way to make innovation pay

The now-famous "Peanut Butter" memo at Yahoo undoubtedly holds lessons for the wider world of business, and one of those lessons is, don't spread yourself thin and thus lose focus. And don't be scared to pull the plug on parts of the business that aren't pulling their weight.

Now Google is, quite possibly, the most innovative and exciting company of our times. But do they need those two lessons? You bet they do.

In a recent interview with Fortune magazine, a senior Google exec was asked how long Google Finance can ignore making money. Her response: "Theoretically, forever" is admirable for its forthrightness, and shows the immense confidence Google has in itself. But the response also smacks very faintly of dot.com-style hubris. In the real world, a product or service can be given only so much time and resources before it's asked to start pulling it's weight on the top- and bottom-line.

Does this mean Google should stay happy being a one-trick pony? Of course not - they must innovate, and are doing a great job of starting new services. Now, all they need to do is figure out how to make sure those new services bring in loads of cash - or shut them down.

For all its admirable innovation prowess, Google is yet to show a really spectacular new product or service after web search. Even those who have no particular liking for Google would surely not want to see it becoming a latter-day version of the fabled Xerox PARC - a poster child for marvelous innovation that never made it to market.

And even in search (or at least making search pay), there are smart and nimble new rivals catching up.

Are the folks at Google listening? Apparently, Yes!

The fact that Google Answers has been discontinued last week shows that the need to make services pay up or pack up has been realized at Google. See what the LA Times news report on this said:

Google admitted this year that its internal audits discovered that the company had been spending too much time on new services to the detriment of its core search engine.

Perhaps not the greatest news for people who had come to like Google Answers, but comforting evidence that the folks at Google have their hearts (and brains) in the right place!