Google’s evil plan is simple and not so evil.
Don’t Be Evil
Any successful company is going to draw criticism. Google probably gets more of it than others because of their ‘Don’t Be Evil’ motto. Algorithm changes shuffle branded sites higher and people shout ‘evil!’ Google begins to disintermediate certain verticals and people shout ‘evil!’
Most of the posts about Google’s evil ways focus around these two themes. So much time and energy is spent raging against changes that are simply a reflection of us – the user. When we collectively stop shopping at branded stores over smaller boutiques then we’ll see that reflected in our search results.
And the last time I checked no one was mourning the demise of the milk man or shedding tears over Tower Records or Blockbuster. It sucks if you’re the business getting disintermediated but do you really want to go to another website to get the current weather?
Evil? It’s not Google, it’s you.
Instead of talking about all of these natural business moves and conjuring up some nefarious plot, I want to talk about Google’s real strategy. Here’s the truth. Here’s Google’s plan.
Get people to use the Internet more.
That’s it. The more time people spend on the Internet the more time they’ll engage in revenue generating activities such as viewing and clicking display ads and performing searches.
The way Google executes on this strategy is to improve speed and accessibility to the Internet. Google wants to shorten the distance between any activity and the Internet. Lets look at some of Google’s initiatives with this in mind.
Firefox was doing a bang up job of breaking Internet Explorer’s browser monopoly. Chrome certainly hastened IE’s decline and helped secure more search volume. Yet Chrome developers have long said that their goal isn’t market share but to make the browsing experience faster.
In a very nearsighted way, making browsers faster is the goal. Yet, the faster the web experience, the more page views people rack up and the more searches they’ll perform.
Chrome is about reducing the friction of browsing the Internet.
Google can only do so much with Chrome to speed up the web. Enter SPDY, an open networking protocol, which looks to be the basis for HTTP 2.0.
Its goal is to reduce the latency of web pages.
That’s technical speak for making the web faster. This is what users want. This is what makes users happy. Milliseconds matter when it comes to user satisfaction. And satisfying the user is great for business.
Similar to Chrome, Google saw that users would increasingly access the Internet via phones. They learned from their web browser experience and decided to jump into the vertical early and it’s paid off. Google now commands nearly 54% of the smartphone market.
Android doesn’t have to make money directly. It provides unfettered access to revenue generating activities and allows Google to push the industry forward in terms of speed.
Not content to simply push the envelope with software, Google decided to grab Motorola Mobility and improve on hardware too. The rumors around the Google X phone are increasing.
Long battery life and wireless charging are two of the more tantalizing possibilities These are clearly features that would greatly benefit users but … they also ensure that you’ll nearly always be able to connect to the Internet. See how that works?
Not using the Internet enough? Google Now can help change that by automagically serving up useful cards based on your search history and behavior. Don’t get me wrong. I like Google Now and find it to be more and more valuable as they add more functionality.
But it’s no mystery that predictive search is also about stimulating more Internet activity.
Many seem to think Google is crazy to pursue fiber. It’s massive. It’s expensive. But it’s also exactly in line with their goal of increasing Internet usage. In fact, they’re pretty clear in the messaging on the Google Fiber page.
Google Fiber starts with a connection speed 100 times faster than today’s broadband. Instant downloads. Crystal clear high definition TV. And endless possibilities. It’s not cable. And it’s not just Internet. It’s Google Fiber.
It’s not that Google would control the transmission (though that’s a nice side benefit), it’s that the friction to using the Internet would be nearly zero.
Google already provides free WiFi in Mountain View, wanted to do it in San Francisco as far back as 2005 until it was torpedoed by politics and paranoia. Now Google provides free WiFi in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York. In addition, Google has been futzing with white space and a super-dense LTE network.
Can it be any more clear? Google wants ubiquitous Internet access.
I often see people argue that the cloud is Google’s big picture strategy. I think that’s still missing the point. The cloud is a means to an end.
Giving people the ability to access files from anywhere simply keeps them online longer. You don’t have the browser off working on your document, instead your online editing and saving your document. You’re searching for those documents.
You’re just a browser tab away from areas of the Internet where Google makes money. In short, Google Drive shortens the distance between work and activities that produce revenue for Google.
Taken to the extreme, Chromebook is essentially a computer that runs off the Internet and cloud. Everything is done online.
A new type of computer designed to help you get things done faster and easier.
Faster. There’s that word again. And easier is just a friendly way of saying ‘reduce friction’. At $199 and $249 Google is hoping that this new type of computer will start to find a market. This strikes me as the ultimate lock-in.
So what about Google+? At first blush, it doesn’t seem to fit.
I still believe a substantial reason for building Google+ was to develop better social signals and increase search personalization. However, I think the time spent in places where Google couldn’t reach (aka Facebook) was troubling.
Google needed to break the stranglehold Facebook had on social attention. They’ve certainly made inroads there and that’s really all they needed to do to ensure attention didn’t pool and persist in a Google dead zone.
Self Driving Cars
I’m shocked that people don’t see the brilliance of a self-driving car. The average commute time in the US is 25 minutes (pdf). So that’s nearly an hour each day that people can’t be actively on the Internet. Yet, they obviously want to be.
If you play Ingress (like I do) you can see where XM (roughly phone usage) is highest. It’s super high in parks and doctor’s offices and movie theaters. But it’s also concentrated at intersections. A red light and we’re diving for our phones.
Now imagine a self-driving car and how much more time you’d have to … be on the Internet. I’m just talking about commuting which is less than 20% of the driving done in this country!
A self driving car unlocks a vast amount of time that could be spent on the Internet.
I know the latest big thing is Sergey on the Subway but to me his skydive was more transformative. The message? Even if you’re falling out of the sky you can still use the Internet.
Google Glass could be the ultimate way to keep you connected to the Internet.
Perhaps we’ll reach a point where much of our consciousness is actually online. Why waste your time remembering useless things when you can simply retrieve them from your personal cloud? Sometimes the future in Charles Stross’ Accelerando seems almost inevitable.
Mind you, at times I feel the urge to live in a cabin in the woods but it’s usually quickly followed with a caveat of ‘with good satellite coverage or Internet access.’
I think YouTube was initially thought to be the future of TV. The problem is that we’re very entrenched in traditional TV and inertia (and a lack of proper execution by Google TV) has allowed traditional TV to catch up.
This is the one place where Google is behind. Maybe Google TV picks up steam, or Google Fiber is the wedge into homes or Google acquires someone big like TiVo or Netflix.
Twitter is also both a major rival and potential acquisition target because of their position as the glue between screens.
Share of Time
I’m surprised that no one has compared Google’s strategy to Coke’s now abandoned ‘share of stomach‘ strategy. Google wants people to spend more of their time on the Internet. Think about that.
Once again it comes down to the ‘Don’t Be Evil’ motto. Coke didn’t care if they were creating a health epidemic as they rang up profits. Google, on the other hand, believes their services can improve our lives.
That kind of belief is what the tin foil hat conspiracy folks should really be worried about. It’s not any small tactical gaffe that could be chalked up in the evil column. It’s that Google believes they’re doing good. I sort of think so too.
Google’s strategy is to get people to use the Internet more. The more time people spend on the Internet the more time they’ll engage in revenue generating activities. As such, nearly every Google effort is focused on increasing Internet speed and access with the goal to shorten the distance between any activity and the Internet.