Sunday, April 15, 2012

Google, Its Future, and the Business Cycle


I read an article titled "The Education of Larry Page" by Brad Stone in the Bloomberg Businessweek magazine that made me think about two things:  the future of Google, and the business cycle.

For people like me who use Gmail, Blogger, and Google Search, the future of Google matters.  Larry Page came back to lead the company he co-founded with Sergey Brin, and it's interesting to see how his vision for this industry giant will play out.

Under Page, Google has reorganized itself into seven divisions:  Search, Ads, YouTube, Android, Chrome, Commerce, and Social Networking.  To some degree, these correlate with what you see on the Google start page--above the search window and the button to download the Chrome navigator, you see You+, Search, Images, Maps, Play, YouTube, News, Gmail, Documents, Calendar, and More.

Since 50% of smartphones use the Android operating system, Google appears to be doing well in the phone arena.  Also, they're trying to buy Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion, probably for the many patents that deal would bring.  Google is also still the dominant search engine, which means their Advertisements division is making them lots of money.

In other areas, the giant has staggered.  While their Google+ social network already has 100 million members, those members only spend 3 to 4 minutes per month on the service.  Whereas Facebook members spend 7.5 hours a month, and Facebook has 850 million users.

There is also controversy--Google's move to combine results from their search engine with Google+ content raised concerns at the US Federal Trade Commission.  In both Europe and the US, there are questions on whether their search engine results favors their own content, which may pose an anti-trust problem.  Even their Street View cars have become suspect because these roving vehicles may have gathered data from the wireless home networks they pass.

If you go to the More section of the Google start page and click "Even More," you'll see all sorts of interesting products and services, many of which are Google versions of other popular applications.  As a company with a lot of smart people (30,000 employees) backed by a lot of money, they can afford to experiment with all sorts of things.  But just because you can doesn't mean you necessarily should.  It's funny that on their "What we believe" page, number 2 on their list of maxims is, "It’s best to do one thing really, really well."  And yet over the last several years, it appears they've tried to do 50 different things well.

All of this leads me to a question:  Are the cycles of business like the lives of animals (including humans)? Is there a predictable cycle of birth, growth, stability (and perhaps even dominance), then decline, replacement and death?

Companies grow so fast now.  In the late 1990s, Google was the cool new search engine that only hard core techies knew about.  Now it's a corporate colossus facing tough competition, and the suspicion of governments and privacy advocates.  Has the entire cycle sped up in the Information Age? In the 1800s if someone built a railroad empire or a shipping company, it took time, and some day their grandchildren would end up running it.  Now companies rise fast, but do they fall fast, too?

(The Bloomberg magazine is the April 9 to 15 issue.  The pic is from maasaimara.com, and yes, I used Google Images to search for it.)

2 comments:

  1. I think it is a valid question. The most fascinating thing about economics to me is how much human psychology influences it, especially microeconomics. It may be that part of the reason companies rise and fall so quickly is because we expect them too. It used to be that people wanted to invest in "tried and true" companies. Now everyone is looking for the next new thing and as soon as it hits big everyone wants out before the bubble bursts. I do think that the nature of goods being highly technological gives them a much shorter shelf life as well. Technology is constantly changing which gives tech stocks their fruit-fly life span.

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  2. Akopp, you make a good point about everyone looking for the next big thing. I wonder how much of this is driven by the expansion of the stock market, including many people who trade stocks on their own without using an advisor. I read an article a few days ago where the author said they were glad Apple wasn't included in the Dow because the highs and lows of that one company would throw off the entire average. It seems tech companies are more volatile, and often short lived.

    Thanks for commenting!

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