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Is Google a One-Trick Pony? August 5, 2011

Posted by Peter Varhol in Software platforms, Strategy.
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Despite being known principally for its search engine (and accompanying advertising platform business), Google has a remarkable portfolio
of products.  The only way I have a hope of even knowing what all of them are is to start poking around on the website and seeing what I can find that I didn’t know anything about.

But is the company really trying to tie new products back to its search technology?  That’s the assertion Ben Elowitz makes in this article.  His point is that the ability to conceive and deliver products unconstrained by the flagship search business has enabled Google to produce a string of winners, like Google Apps and Gmail.

Ben makes the valid point that this is why Microsoft has not been able to develop new markets over the last decade.  Rather than open itself to new opportunities with entirely new and different products, it forces all new efforts to leverage Windows and Office.  This approach largely constrains the potential customer base to those who are already using those products.

Although it is a different analysis than the one I did a while back, his conclusion is the same.  Microsoft can’t grow its customer base unless it breaks ties with its longstanding core products.  If that damages or even ultimately kills those products, so be it.  That’s how
companies survive over long periods of time.  After all, you don’t see IBM still insisting on building and selling Selectric typewriters.

Elowitz’ concern is that Google is falling into the same trap, forcing Buzz to integrate with Gmail, and Google+ to be tied into search.  That may limit the appeal of those products to those who already have invested in a relationship with Google.

Both Google and Microsoft have some of the smartest and most capable people around.  It’s certainly possible, even probable, that those people can come up with the best ideas, and develop those ideas into really compelling products.

Microsoft, for the reasons noted here or for others, has consistently failed at that goal over the last decade.  It would be a shame for the same thing to happen to Google.

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