Is Google in danger of following the Microsoft path?

Corporate history shows that whilst concquering one industry is very much doable, going from there to concquer a second industry is often incredibly difficult.  Microsoft provide a famous example of a company that completely dominated the personal computing industry for decades.  However when the Internet came along it kinda passed them by.  Sure they've had some successes.  Hotmail was very popular for a long time and (sadly) Internet Explorer was the most used browser for many years.  Here however Microsoft hit sticky ground legally as a case was brought against them for unfair practice after they bundled IE with sales of the Windows operating system, thereby giving them an unfair advantage over competitors such as Netscape and Opera.

Are Google in danger of following a similar path?  They have undoubtably dominated the search engine market and have equally undoubtably been a force for tremendous good on the web.  I'm a big fan of them and use many of their products on a daily basis, from Analytics to Google Reader (although I wish they hadn't done the latest redesign – yuck).  However the social media landscape has largely passed them by with first Myspace and now Facebook (with to a lesser extent Twitter) taking the dominant position in this sector.

Lets face it, it hasn't been for the want of trying by Google.  Orkut became very popular in Brazil but not really anywhere else.  Both Wave and Buzz arrived to great fanfare before departing with a wimper, before Google+ hit our browsers earlier this year.  I should probably declare at this point that I'm not really a fan of Google+.  I have nothing really against it as a platform, it seems ok, just nothing special enough to warrant the effort of shifting my attention from other platforms that deliver greater bang for my buck such as Facebook and LinkedIn.

All of which would be great, except Google are beginning to push it in ways that seem to draw comparisons for me with the way Microsoft behaved in order to dominate the browser market.  The revamped Google Reader for instance has lost its sharing feature, forcing you instead to use Google+ if you want to share something with a contact.  Likewise Google News now shows the number of circles a writer appears in and lets you add them to your own.  It only seems a matter of time before they start using the number of +'s a page has as part of its ranking algorithm, if it doesn't already.

Is that sound competitive behaviour or is that Google taking advantage of their dominance in one market to gain unfair advantage in another?  What are your thoughts?


22 thoughts on “Is Google in danger of following the Microsoft path?

  1. I'm fine with them being the force they are in search, it's when they try and use that dominant position to muscle in on social that I think they're crossing the line.

    ps thanks for the reminder lol

  2. But if you were in Google's shoes, would you not do the same? ie. try to conquer other markets (not necessarily social). You could argue they've done it successfully with email and browsers, for instance.

    As a business, it's surely sensible to try to expand and to not have all their eggs in one basket (search). What they've got to be very careful about is expanding at the expense of taking their eye off areas they already have a stranglehold.

    • I think there are some distinctions though. Whilst they have advertised Chrome and Gmail, they haven't made it quite so prominent. For instance you can have a Google account without needing Gmail, and Chrome has now browsing preferences when using Google properties.

      This week they announced that journalists G+ account will be shown next to their entries on Google News, even though many will no doubt rather they went to their employers biog page or their Twitter account. That's not really on as it's not benefiting the user to do so.

      Likewise the change to Google Reader benefits Google rather than the user. Whilst those are not great, the killer could be if they use G+ to influence search ranking. If they do that then I'd imagine Facebook et al would kick up an almighty stink.

  3. I'm not sure that anybody is forced to use Google+ in order to share items from feeds in Reader. I'm still sending mine from Reeder to Instapaper. But taken as a whole, yes the big G are starting to worry more and more people. The great think about the net though, is if anybody starts to take over too much, the basic infrastructure is still there in place so we can just connect our devices together in new ways and reinvent it as many times as necessary.

    • Thanks for posting Andy. Hopefully you're right and the customer will still come out on top in the battle for social supremacy.

  4. I think if anything it shows just how worried Google are about Facebook. After all, Buzz and Wave both flopped badly, and even Google+ seems to have waned after the initial launch excitement. That they're having to push it quite so openly shows just how much ground they still need to make up on Facebook.

  5. ShopCity has joined the list of companies who claim Google is unfairly demoting their content in favor of its own. In response to these alleged anti-competitive practices, ShopCity – a site that describes itself as providing "all the tools independent businesses need to connect with customers and succeed online – in a single, simple-to-use system" – has filed a complaint with the FTC.

  6. Facebook isn't planning to challenge Google's dominance of the search market, says Citigroup analyst Mark Mahaney. Based on conversations with Facebook managers, Mahaney says that the social network has soured on search after a deal with Bing yielded unimpressive results. "Based on discussions with management over the year, we believe Facebook has no intention of getting into the search business," Mahaney says.

  7. Interesting post here at the Wharton site

    "Microsoft's great fear was always that it would turn into IBM, which it viewed as a bureaucratic organization living off of past glories," says Kevin Werbach, a professor of legal studies and business ethics at Wharton. "Google's fear is that it will become Microsoft, which it views as a company that wins through bullying rather than technical prowess. Microsoft became what it feared. Google's challenge is to remain open and innovative after achieving Microsoft-like domination of its core market."

  8. The way I see it is they are pouring resources in Google+. Now, we'll see if it's gonna payoff.

    IMHO, I feel its some kind of double edged sword, they can either add value to google+, or reduce value on their existing business.

    Google is never gonna be in the same monopolistic position as Microsoft because the web is open. Nothing prevents you to go to another website/search engine. Should google abuse their position, the backlash will be felt quickly. Microsoft had a lock-in advantage, so it took much, much longer for them to feel the consequences (I'll say much of the development on the mobile scene are consequences from the old days).

    Now I know they can use their position to advertise their own business, but that better be good. I personally found the google+ promotion a little annoying. I feel they advertised it a little bit too much. On another hand, the author's google+ links in the news is an interesting feature.

    They are no anti-competitive problems in a "perfect market" and that's what the web is.

    • I think you're right Alex. So far I've not done anything at all on Google+ because it simply doesn't interest me at all, so it's been pretty easy to ignore any of the promotional stuff Google have done for the site.

  9. Are social networks a perfect market though? I'd say they're probably the least free of all websites because you invest so much more into your presence on your site of choice. If I want to shop somewhere else then it's as easy as taking my credit card elsewhere. If I want to network somewhere else though I have to move my profile over + build up my network on that site. That is a pretty significant means of locking someone in, even if in a fairly soft way.

    Metcalfe's Law doesn't apply as written ( but the network effect is still powerful if people are well connected and engaged. That's the battle G+ will face imo because people left MySpace for Facebook because they weren't happy at MySpace so that motivated them to go to all that effort. Right now I'm not sure people are very unhappy with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn et al. The only reason people are using G+ is that they don't want to miss out.

    The interesting point will be how desperate Google get if that situation continues. You'd have to think after they've ditched Wave and Buzz that if G+ were to fall that'd be the end of their adventures into social. They're just not gonna let this one wither away.

  10. Google could face legal ramifications over its decision to exclude Facebook and Twitter from its social-search system, some experts say. There's no law specifically saying Google has to include other companies' social signals, but by favoring its own products, Google leaves itself open to an antitrust challenge, Jeff Roberts writes. "Google may have fueled another wave of paranoia and regulatory attention," he writes.

    • Hmm indeed. You'd have to think the EU are fairly confident of getting a win here if they're willing to go after such a big company so publicly.

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  12. Pingback: Facebook to revamp its search engine? | Adi Gaskell says...

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