Rumours of Google’s demise have been greatly exaggerated

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Recently, Eric Jackson at Forbes, wrote an article that suggests that Google and Facebook will struggle to maintain their market dominance as technology increasingly shifts toward mobile computing.

Jackson makes the point that many of the companies that started at the birth of the Web (Web 1.0) struggled to survive as social networking (Web 2.0) began to emerge. Now, he thinks that we are entering a new technical phase, where the Web is no longer relevant and mobile is king. While Jackson does make some interesting points, I think he’s completely wrong. Not because I think Google and Facebook have an easy road ahead of them, but because I think that the distinctions that he makes are simply false.

Firstly, not every Web 1.0 company is struggling. In fact, Google, itself, while adopting many Web 2.0 features, is still doing perfectly well. Amazon and eBay are still thriving. While social networking and many of the other Web 2.0 technologies have changed the way in which many things are done, I would hardly leap forward to say that it entirely dwarfed everything that existed before it. Sure, Facebook is a great success story, but many of the other social networks have proved to be a complete failure in the longer run. Mobile is only just gaining ground. But realistically, it has limited application. Sure, it has lots of potential, but not as a technology that is going to replace the Web.

To begin with, nearly every mobile application worth its salt, still relies on HTTP to function properly. While many websites are trying to become more accommodating to mobile devices, a large majority aren’t even bothering. This is because in order for mobile to really take off, it needs to be able to interface well with the Web to begin with. Most devices now include pretty standard web browsers that work well. Sure, Jackson makes the point that a few mobile devices can do search using voice, but underneath all of that is the Web. Furthermore, sites like Google have already accommodated voice activated search. Siri is pretty amazing, but it’s not the be-all and end-all of the Internet.

The truth of the matter is that Google doesn’t just build toys and gadgets. Many of the applications that are being built by Google are fairly mainstream in what they achieve. Email, word processing, spreadsheets, databases and file storage are not new in any sense of the word. The fact that they are online (or in the cloud) and accessible from anywhere is certainly a major selling point. The truth of the matter is that all of these types of applications aren’t going to disappear just because people use mobile devices. Ian Lurie, agrees and provides a very eloquent attack on Jackson following this very line of thinking.

The Google-bashing doesn’t stop with Eric Jackson, Nicholas Pell questions whether Google will end up being the new Microsoft in the sense that much of its activity may lead it toward a huge antitrust suite due to its monolithic nature. Ian Lurie suggests that this might be a possibility. Since most of Google’s services are online, anybody is open to compete with Google. Its licensing does not prevent users taking advantage of one service from using an alternate competing service, so it seems difficult to see how Google could get itself into antitrust water. That said, Google has been under investigation
for manipulating search results using whitelists since early last year, and the case has heated up.

But could an antitrust suite actually destroy Google? I have serious doubts about this. Even after Microsoft went through its own legal battles over Internet Explorer back in the 1990s, it is still going strong. In fact, with this in mind, Jackson’s argument seems less plausible by the minute. Microsoft has dominated the computing industry for decades. It hasn’t just disappeared as technology has shifted and changed. Sure, in recent years we have seen quite a power shift in the industry, but I would hardly say that Microsoft has been unable to keep up with the changes.

The idea that Google (or even Facebook) is about to collapse just because we have some new technology on the market is simply ludicrous. If anything Google’s greatest hurdles in the future are likely to be legal, and will relate to either patenting or how it handles user data and privacy issues. While I have my own issues with Google, largely centered around privacy and identity control, much of the fear, uncertainty and doubt that seems to be appearing in the blogosphere simply seems ungrounded. Fortunately, Jackson has stepped up a notch and is giving Google five years to fail. That’s not too long to wait, but I guess I will have forgotten Jackson’s article by then, because it will more than likely seem irrelevant.

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