Whats It All About, Google?

Opinion: The search behemoth is moving in many different directions at once while shedding no light on its intentions and leaving us all to guess about where it's really headed.

When thinking about Google, I am reminded of a story told by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Its about how when Kissinger was negotiating the end of the Vietnam war with the North Vietnamese he would play up Richard Nixons reputation as a rabid anti-communist.

Kissinger would tell his Viet Cong counterparts that it was all he could do to keep Nixon in check and that, if pressed, Nixon "might do anything" to end the war. The not-so-subtle reference being to even more conventional bombing of the north and, if that didnt work, making Hanoi the next Hiroshima.

Im not sure the ploy (was it a ploy?) brought the war to an end any sooner, but it makes a useful story when I want to talk about a company that has truckloads of money and has shared no specific strategic plan that Ive been able to find.

It is Kissingers concept of "might do anything" that makes me think of Google. Why? Because if you are a competitor, Google just might swing into your space and drop more money than the market segment has ever seen. No, its not nuclear, but Googles new competitors—what would be left of them—could certainly be hit hard.

/zimages/6/28571.gifGoogle turns seven and thumps its chest. Click here to read more.

Of course, theres another reason: When someone asks, "What is Google going to do?" My answer is "Might do anything." In a business sense, Google has so much money and smarts that it seems to view the world as its future conquest.

Right now, Google is a media company that uses technology to create vehicles for generating user click-throughs that it can sell to advertisers. Google does not charge consumers for its services, at least right now, and it seems capable of selling all the click-throughs it can generate.

It also has billions of dollars lying around and could finance almost anything it wants to do. Thats why every Google rumor is taken seriously, especially the ones supported by even the tiniest shred of evidence.

Depending on where you look for information, Google is doing a Web browser, an Office suite, a free Wi-Fi service, the ultimate public library, a VOIP service, a social networking service, and a bunch of other things. Some of these are actually happening, but the impression I get is that rich kid Google doesnt know what it wants to be when it grows up.

It doesnt help that Google isnt the most forthcoming of all companies. This creates the impression of a company going in all directions at once, hoping that some new initiative will actually turn into a business, yet nothing really has. Everything at Google seems to be in an endless beta cycle.

Some of these rumors/business plans are a little fantastic to be taken seriously. Like the idea that Google is going to offer free Wi-Fi to every city, town and village in America.

While I agree with my colleague Chris Nolan that such an offering could change the political, social, and economic fabric of America, I am reminded that "free" dial-up Internet access was supposed to do the same thing.

And since nothing is really free, I have to wonder what Google would have to do in order to make money off a free Wi-Fi service. How much advertising would users be exposed to in order to pay for the "free" service? Would Google be parsing even more content to deliver the "right" ads, Gmail style?

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read more about Googles Wi-Fi initiative.

Maybe Google will offer some free hotspots in selected markets or even try to blanket reasonably-sized areas, but I dont expect Google to bring free Wi-Fi to every hamlet on the continent, which is what it would take to really change things in the manner Nolan describes. Still, there are enough people who are ga-ga for Google that anything the company does will, for now, generate a following.

I wish Google would call us in, sit us down, and offer a clear idea of what the company is trying to do and where it will invest its money. How do all these projects that Google is (or is supposed to be) doing fit-together? Is there a plan here?

Right now, looking at Google I get the overwhelming sense of a company thats looking for its next big thing and doesnt seem to be finding it.

Contributing editor David Coursey has spent two decades writing about hardware, software and communications for business customers. He can be reached at david_coursey@ziffdavis.com.

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