The Demise of Google, Part 1

Within the next 5-10 years, I believe that we will see the end of Google as a major player in the technology industry.

This is the first article in an 8-part series that I have written analyzing Google’s business practices and strategy, and arguing that these will lead to Google’s eventual demise.

All articles here are my own personal opinion and not related to or endorsed by my company, Renkara Media Group.

The Good Old Days

There was a time when I was Google’s biggest fan, a time when I despised Apple products and software. I couldn’t imagine using a Macintosh computer for doing any serious work. I refused to buy anything from iTunes and specifically avoided buying an early iPod. In those days, my brands of choice were Microsoft, Dell, and Sony and I looked forward to a time when all of my software was powered by Google apps and all of my data was safely stored in Google’s cloud. My wife and I even looked at the possibility of Google employment when she, with her doctorate in computer science focused on personalized search and recommendation, was flown out to California and interviewed at Google at Google’s invitation and expense.

Today I own a company which makes educational software used by almost 10,000,000 people that runs exclusively on Apple’s iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch devices. I do all of my work on Apple’s Macintosh computers. I buy music, TV shows, and movies on iTunes and enjoy them via one of the four Apple TVs in my house. I do most of my reading on my iPad. There is rarely a time when an Apple product isn’t carried on my person or within arm’s reach. I live in a house constantly blanketed by a Wifi network powered by an Apple Airport Extreme router. Most people would call me an Apple “fanboy”.

The story of how I ended up using Apple computers and the iPhone will be told another time but even after I became a “switcher”, I still used Google for searching the web, Gmail for sending, receiving, and storing email, Google Docs for content creation and keeping notes, Google Voice for internet phone calls, Google Calendar for tracking events and appointments, Google Reader for reading blogs and RSS feeds, Google Analytics for tracking visitors to my websites, and Google News for finding out what’s going on in the world. I was 100% dependent on the Google ecosystem and recommended it to everyone.

Customer or Product?

Over time I’ve stopped using almost everything that Google offers and the reason is that I realized that I’m not Google’s customer - I’m Google’s product.

It’s a fundamental shift in thinking about Google. With most software products in the world, the user of the software is the customer. You would think that even with “free” software like Gmail, you’re still a customer using a product in exchange for “payment”, the payment being your permission to have ads displayed in the product and the attention you give to those ads.

However, the reality is that Google’s product is actually you: your permission, attention, and the deep personal knowledge about you that Google derives from indexing your email content, documents, and tracking your use of Google software. Google sells this product to its true customer: the advertiser.

When I realized this, I began to look at Google in a new light. What I see is a once-revered technology leader making poor strategic investments and short-sighted tactical decisions. Today’s Google is not unlike a glamorous Las Vegas hotel with its gleaming, romantic facade masking the creepy underlying reality of a business that requires the customer to lose slighly more often than they win.

The rest of this series will go over these shortcomings and consider how they will likely lead to the downfall of Google.

My realization of the “customer vs. product” relationship is not new and has been nicely documented here and here if you are interested in a more in-depth discussion.