Indexing & Search Engine: What CEO Larry Page Should Do to Improve Google
Curb the Dark Matter
In its efforts to be everything to everyone online, Google has added some things best left to others, or perhaps even left alone. Take Google Health. Despite Google's claims that cultivating online personal health records takes time, the market does not wait for these things. Google may have made $29 billion last year, but efforts like Google Health may eventually drag on the bottom line. Page has asked management to "email him about their projects to potentially winnow them down," according to The Wall Street Journal. Why not start with shaving off Google Health? Even Google Buzz, the controversial social conversation service has some foothold in Google's evolving social strategy. Health appears sick at sea. (Couldn't resist the pun, sorry.) Here is the last we've heard of it... since September. So much for iterating.
Bolting On Social Just to Be Social
After months of speculation that Google was making some magical +1 button to fight Facebook in social, we saw +1 for the first time last week that it's the Facebook Like recommendation button, paired with Google's Social Search engine. This feature comes more than two months after Page's long-time partner, Sergey Brin, said the search engine has only "touched 1 percent" of what social can lend to search. We agree, but making Google Profiles a requirement for social connections isn't working out too well either. We appreciate the monetization effort, but adding a button only a fraction of your massive user base can use is like clapping with one hand. In other words, we're still waiting for Google to unveil something meaningful to the social network realm. It falls to you, Messrs. Page and Brin.
Give Up on Google Books (The Way It Was Intended)
The New York Court District Court dealt a crushing blow to Google's hopes for its Books portal in striking down the company's last settlement for being anti-competitive. Google can't appeal, so short of reworking the settlement to make it opt-in would leave huge gaps in the product's portfolio regarding orphan works, or those out-of-print works whose copyright holders are unknown. And frankly, we doubt the viability of Google's commercial eBookstore offering, which launched in January but has been largely silent versus the more popular Kindle bookstore and Apple's iBookstore. Maybe Google should come up with a Nexus-branded electronic reading device akin to the Kindle or Apple iPad. We don't pretend to have a solution for Google's current digital book quandaries, but we do know the current version isn't reaching its potential, given the search engine's scope, scale and resources.
Support Do Not Track Me
We've already noted how Brin has to cotton to the notion that Google must prostrate itself in front of federal regulators to avoid vilification before Congress. To atone for Schmidt's privacy blunders, which were highlighted by the Google Buzz and Google WiSpy fiascos, Google could take an aggressive stance to support the "Do Not Track Me" plan outlined in the SB 761 bill introduced by Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, and sponsored by Consumer Watchdog April 4. Modeled after the federal plan, the feature would allow any Internet user in California to send Websites the message that they do not want their online activity monitored. Start local, think global when it comes to privacy. Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court and John M. Simpson, director of the nonprofit, nonpartisan public interest groups Privacy Project, wrote in a letter to Page: "Eric Schmidt's tenure as CEO was marked by a series of privacy gaffes. We hope yours will begin with a landmark endorsement of a new privacy right for consumers online that shows freedom of information and personal privacy are not incompatible." Okay, this suggestion has a snowball's chance in hell of resonating with Page, who is no doubt thinking about how to trim Google's busting waistline, but it would get privacy advocates off of its back for a spell.
Beat Apple to that Awesome Killer App
While Google and Apple are slugging it out in the smartphone wars, startups are flirting with the next great paradigm: the intersection of mobile, social and local. Color in particular is doing this with mobile photo-sharing based on location, though the use case might be limited in the early going. Page should put a laser focus on these types of applications. We're not saying Google needs to buy Color, but it should build something like it.
Accelerate contextual discovery, which could include some combination of the Color application with local business deals, so that when a user gets within a certain distance of a business, he or she receives Groupon-like offers, deals or even alerts to tell them what's going on. This would fall under the contextual discovery work Google's Marissa Mayer is overseeing now.
Beef Up the Patent Portfolio
Oracle's lawsuit against Google for Java copyright infringement highlighted just how weak Google's patent portfolio ishence, why the company April 4 announced its intention to pay $900 million for 6,000 Nortel patents! Google could get outbid, but this is a great start to beef up its defense versus patent trolls and other competitors.
Settle the Oracle Lawsuit
This is serious. If your search business is your indomitable fortress, your Android platform is one of the moats you can use to protect it, as you use Android to extend Google's desktop search dominance to mobile. Don't risk losing the Android opportunity, especially when 70 million Android smartphones shipped last year. Also think of the tablets, Google TVs and refrigerators based on the platform. Protect it, even if it means licensing Java code from Oracle for a hefty sum, or spending a year rewriting the code to work without infringing (if that's even possible). Our guess is Google will pay to license the Java code or rewrite it for Android. Neither course of action is pleasant, but it's better than getting beat in court and watching Android and its smartphone, tablet and TV users suffer.
A lot is being made about bringing Google back to its startup roots. Steve Slacy, who worked at Google from 2005 to 2010 as tech lead of the video-streaming and storage team (among other things), captured it best when he wrote: "I saw the company go from a place where engineers were seen as violent disruptors and innovators, to a place where doing things "The Google Way" was king, and where thinking outside the box was discouraged and even chastised." For example, Google engineers spend too much time compiling & fixing other people's code, which is a "huge problem for the C++ developers at Google."
Better Apps, Not Automated Cars
Self-driving cars? Really? Is that how one of the world's leading Web companies should spend its time? We appreciate the value this could provide, fewer drunk drivers and all. Let's keep the eye on the big threat, which is Facebook. Steven Levy, a senior writer at Wired and author of the new book "In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives," told NPR: "Google is in Facebook panic right now, because their biggest fear is that Facebook, which is going to approach a billion users eventually, will be creating and sharing information that Google cannot get a hold of in its indexes." He suggests Google needs to get Facebook to share its information. We can't see how Facebook would see value in this right now as it continues to grow and extend its own tendrils online. What Google should do is see around the corners to improve the user experience for its 1 billion searchers. That mobile, social and local nexus is the answer, in our opinion. Google needs to crack the code, not to beat Facebook, but to coexist in a way so that it isn't constantly living in fear that Facebook will become the next Google and that Google becomes the next Yahoo, Page has his work cut out for him.