As of next week, Larry Page will have been in the driver's seat as Google's CEO for a year. And as they almost say in the musical, Rent, "How do you measure a year in the life of a chief executive at Google?"
Some (like me) might say Page's year can be measured in unprofitable choices... and in decisions that leave us wondering what kind of company Google wants to be and what's still possible for this industry leader.
In revisiting the year gone by, I recalled a blog published a year ago on Internet Evolution, in which Ron Miller wrote that Page would be looking to focus on fewer projects, but that a return to the Google of yesterday was highly unlikely:
Page appears to want today's Google to be the company he handed over to Schmidt 10 years ago, and that's simply not possible. Since then, Google has grown fat and happy, not quite as quick on its feet as it was in its salad days, yet still moving along steadily and making oodles of money.
One year later, Google is, for now, still making "oodles of money" off of search and advertising. And, while it is spending billions of dollars on research and engineering projects (many of which appear to be going nowhere), Page has managed to focus the company on specific businesses, like search, advertising, Google+, and Android.
In that sense, he has achieved part of his goals. But where are these businesses going?
"Nowhere profitable" might be the guess of some (me again).
To start, there's Google+ which, regardless of what Robert Scoble would like to believe, is not catching on with the mainstream and -- for that reason -- will not attract precious advertising dollars away from Facebook.
Then there's Android, which is wildly popular but also a drain on resources. In fact, according to analysis by Charles Arthur of The Guardian, based on figures given by Google during the Oracle trial, Google has made a total of $550 million from Android since 2008.
It is, of course, no secret that Android isn't a money-maker for Google, but I question how many businesses Google can continue to run that only cost it money -- particularly in a time when its profitable mainstays, search and advertising, aren't innovating in new ways.
As Facebook continues to gain more and more data, many are speculating it is working on a search tool of its own that could pose a threat to Google. With Google scrambling to make search more "personalized," it's clear the company fears this reality, too.
Yesterday on IE Radio, tech journalist Dan Lyons offered his perception of Google's business problems:
I think Google is at risk of turning into Microsoft. They have a great core business. But search was a business built for the Web as it looked in 1996. In a world of apps and walled gardens (Facebook) Google's search business becomes less and less powerful. They're casting about for a new business but I don't think they've got it yet. I love my Android phone but Android is really just another way to protect search, to keep people using Google search when they move to mobile.
That sums up the situation quite well: As Google searches for new businesses, none of which is catching on, its core business is losing favor in the world of Facebook and mobile computing. With Google+ and Android very unlikely to become money-makers, and traditional search losing relevance by the day, the kind of Google Page is running in another year from now may indeed be a more focused one, but not one focused on many profitable ventures.
— Nicole Ferraro , Editor in Chief, Internet Evolution