The Long Term Plans For World Domination By Search Giant
This week Google (GOOG) announced the Chrome OS for PC’s, and people
are as confused as ever regarding what the search giant is up to. Pandia
argues that this is not another random innovation from their side, but
part of a long term strategy for the company to continuous domination of
Long term strategy or random innovation?
Google is proud of its 20 percent rule. Its employees may spend 20 percent of their time on their own personal projects, as long as these projects are — in some way or other — relevant to their present or future activities.
The company can only win through this deal, as their employees work more than 100 percent anyway. Many innovations thought up in these 20 percents are subsequently put to the test in their Labs, and some become permanent members of the company’s family.
This may lead people to think that Google is a company focusing on bottom-up innovation, with a strong belief in serendipity: Give the employees enough time and freedom and they will come up with something useful, eventually.
This narrative fits well with Brin and Page’s university background. Pagerank algorithm was, after all, born out of curiosity driven university research.
This story has become a smoke screen covering the real strategy of company, which is a patient, and very long-term plan for continuous domination of the Web. This is a plan that will (if it works) ensure that Yahoo! and Microsoft’s Bing will continue to lag behind, even in ten to twenty years time.
Long term planning
No, we don’t have access to their secret archives. The company’s ability to think long term is out there for all to see.
Here’s an example:
In 2001 Pandia presented a Google innovation called Catalogs.
It didn’t make much of an impression at the time. Google was scanning and indexing American mail order catalogs, letting you search their content using a search engine.
It didn’t make much sense to us at the time. We speculated that they might be thinking of future ad revenue.
This was not the case. Google Catalogs never became a popular search tool and was probably never intended to become one (it was closed down in January).
Indexing all printed material in the world
The real reason for doing this was to develop a technology that made it possible to scan a lot of printed publications and turn their content into searchable text.
Google was as early as in 2001 planning to turn Google from a web search company, to a content search company. They wanted to become nothing less than the primary destination for searching all kinds of content, including all text that has ever been printed.
This may sound like madness, we know, but thanks to the Catalog experiment, The company has been able to develop a technology that makes it possible to scan a large number of books in a very short time.
In 2004 we reported that the company was planning to scan books owned by the libraries of Harvard, Stanford, the University of Michigan, the University of Oxford, and the New York Public Library. Since then the number of libraries have increased dramatically, and They has made complex deals with publishers regarding copyright.
In 2006 we announced that The company has taken over control of the French National Library. It managed to do so buy taking over rights belonging to the French Bourbon family.
The company also plans to scan all the books in the library and make them digitally available through Books Search.
Engineers have announced that there will be an automatic translation service available in Google Books, translating all books into flawless American English.
Although Google Books will not (yet) give you the full content of books that are not in the public domain, they will give you extracts, and you may use Books search to identify the books you want to buy in print or as a file.
Indexing printed material makes a huge difference
Most people are not aware of the importance of this move. So far, most of the debate on Google Books has been dominated by authors worried about their intellectual property rights.
Having nearly all printed material available at your finger tips will, however, completely change the way — for instance — academics search for books and papers.
As soon as they finds a good way of including printed material that is relevant for the regular Joe in regular web search, that will also change the world for the rest of us. The company is already adding magazines to Books search.
Preparing for a world of digital print
Soon the difference between printed and digitalized content will become blurred. Most books are produced as digital XML files today, and when the ebook/ereader revolution takes hold, we will probably read our newspapers and magazines using digital tablets.
At that point company doesn’t have to scan new material, only index it. Thanks to Google Books it will be the only company that has all the legal agreements with publishers in place. They had the right vision and was able to think ahead.
It is important to keep this in mind, when we discuss the importance of Microsoft’s Bing initiative. Bing proves that Microsoft has — in many ways — caught up with company as regards online search.
However, as far as we know, Microsoft does not have a plan for the next phase. In 2008 Microsoft closed down its own book scanning project!
Search content of any language
Here’s another example: The company is spending a lot of money on developing new and better automatic translation algorithms.
Yahoo! has also got a translation service called Babelfish (you may know it as AltaVista’s Babelfish), but Yahoo! does not own the technology used in Babelfish (it is developed by Systran). Google definitely owns Google Translate, and - as for the scanning project - it is part of a larger, long-term strategy.
The company plans to go far beyond Babelfish’s ability to translate paragraphs of text or the web pages you feed into its search field. Their plans to use Translate to include translated content into regular web search results.
This means that if you sit in China and do searches in Mandarin, results may include English language content that has been automatically translated into Chinese. This is not going to make the dictators of the world happy.
Combined with Google Books, this service will break down the language barriers between the English, French, Spanish and Chinese language spheres of science and technology.
The Translation Service has some way to go
At the moment the Google Translate technology is not good enough for this purpose. One company’s representative told us that the service is improving, getting it right some 70 percent of the time. This makes it usable for rough translations, but not for the kind of service we are talking about here.
Still, given the resources company set aside for this project, they are probably going to get there in a few years time.
This is actually an area where Microsoft should be able to compete. They have their own translation technology which is used by Bing.com.
The lesson learnt from these examples is that company has long term strategies, often based on what more timid souls would call megalomaniacs’ dreams of madness.
The fact is, however, that they may actually reach is objective of indexing all content in all languages - in time.
The Chrome OS is part of such a long term strategy.
Microsoft threatening Google’s position
A few years ago there was an intense debate regarding Microsoft’s virtual monopoly as regards operating systems. Microsoft succeeded in crushing the Netscape browser, making its own Internet Explorer browser the most popular browser on the Web.
This combination of operating system and browser was a huge threat to company, as Microsoft could use the default search boxes in these tools to direct searchers to its own search engine. The search giant needed a strategy that could help it face this threat.
As it turned out, Microsoft managed to lose its advantage.
It was completely unable to develop a branding strategy for its search engine (until this year, that is), meaning that it lost many of the searchers it could have gained via Windows and the Explorer.
Nor did it manage to develop a search engine technology that was better than Google’s, thus luring in the tech savvy searchers.
Then the company made the major mistake of not updating the Explorer browser, leaving room for Firefox. Google made deals with Firefox, Opera and Apple (Safari) making them the default search engine of these browsers.
A more conservative company might have left it at that. Google seems to have won the search engine war against Microsoft.
The king of your content
However, there is another side to the battle, one that goes beyond search.
Google is not satisfied with being the king of published content, it wants to become the king of your content as well.
In other words: It will not only index the content of web sites, blogs, books and magazines; it also wants index the content of your emails, letters, memos and spreadsheets.
This is, of course, Microsoft’s turf. Microsoft has another virtual monopoly: the world of Word, Excel and Powerpoint.
From Gmail to Docs
The company started out with developing the free email service. Then it gradually expanded on this service adding an RSS reader, a word processor, a spreadsheet, a presentation package and — soon — a complete content management service called Wave.
The main difference between Microsoft Office and Google Docs is that Google Docs stores data online (in the cloud), while Microsoft Office stores your files on your computer.
Well, there is another difference: Microsoft Office is much better and has many more features than Google Docs. This has, of course, led many to argue that Google Docs can never become a real threat to Microsoft Office.
This is where they are wrong.
Again, remember that Google operates with long term plans - very long term. It is patiently waiting for the moment where Internet connection speeds get fast enough and the price of online storage gets cheap enough to let people stay online all the time.
Some of us are already there. The rest of the world will be there within a short period of time.
All company has to do is to continue to improve Google Docs, and make sure that users can make use of the Microsoft file formats. Then it shouldn’t be too difficult to lure these users over to the bright side (or the dark side, dependent on your point of view). And Google Docs is free while Microsoft Office is not.
The reason company developed the Chrome browser was not to kill Firefox or the other alternatives to Microsoft Explorer. The reason was that they wanted to make a browser technology that could be used of running programs or software on servers in “the cloud”.
In this way they can encourage the development of browser technologies that are safe and stable and that will work on any operating system, being that Windows, Linux or MacOS.
The point is to make Windows superfluous. If you are doing everything inside the browser, you do not need the expensive and bloated Windows software. You can use Google Docs in Chrome.
Then the company will get all the eyeballs it need to deliver ads, and what’s more: it will manage to do what Microsoft failed to do: use the OS to lead users to the search engine.
Chrome is the Windows killer
The Chrome OS for netbooks is a natural continuation of this strategy. Netbooks are cheap laptops you can use to access the web. They do not have the capacity to run big, bloated, software. You do what you have to do online.
Given that none of the free Linux packages out there deliver the same user friendly experience in an operating system that Firefox has provided in the world of browsers, it makes sense for company to make an open source OS that is free, easy to use and that leads users to their services.
If others make use of this technology to develop better alternatives, that’s good too. These variations of the Chrome OS will also be perfect for using Docs.
It will take time for Chrome to weaken Windows
Both companies and users have too much invested in Windows and Microsoft Office to make it die any time soon. Windows will be around for ten years or so as well.
But the company has proven that it has the money and the time needed to be patient. If Microsoft continues to hold on to the old software-in-a-box paradigm, Google will probably win. If Microsoft moves Office into the clouds, who knows what will happen.
If the idea of Microsoft world domination worried you, it is probably time to spend some sleepless nights worrying about them.
Or you may, of course, lean back, enjoy the ride and wait for them to slip up. People always do, eventually.
Note: This is an archived new article, first published on 10 July 2009. Written by Per and Susanne Koch.