Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Walking on Thin Air: Time for a Google Correction?

paidContent.org offers a nice wrapup of recent Google headlines, including an observation by Merrill Lynch analyst Lauren Rich Fine: "The current valuation seems to presume a new revenue stream; soon would be good." Point taken. Google is throwing out new features faster than a luggage conveyor belt at the airport, which all seem to give the sense of momentum but many of which are just pokes in the dark from a revenue perspective. Will Google be able to deliver a mature, reliable marketplace for goods similar to eBay any time soon? Given the rawness of Google Base and the rawness of the content that it's attracting, I am not sure that "soon" is the answer to this question. Will Google Print actually prove to be profitable any time soon? Lots of content coming into place and lots of potential, but the ecommerce aspects are a huge question mark.

Google is in a mindshare battle as much as a market share battle, trying fill the cracks of journalism with developing products in somewhat the same way as Microsoft became adept at sucking the market momentum out of a space simply by announcing their intent to deliver products into it. One important difference in Google's scenario is that they deliver bits to play with while evolving their strategy, but it's the same game: keep the spotlight on the brand so that it's perceived strength can discourage substitutes from being taken seriously. Thus far Google is becoming the new master of this technique. No wonder Silicon Valley types discredit Google for being Microsoft-like.

There is bound to be some investor disappointment and stock price pullback as some of these initiatives mature at their own pace, but the only thing that has really changed is investors' expectations. Google has always evolved its capabilities at a fairly leisurely and careful pace: it's just that the stakes are so much higher to deliver finished goods that the marketplace will absorb quickly. Google continues to teach us new things about how to market content services, but some more traditional forethought may be needed to build market share and self-sustaining revenues against established competitors in market segments that are new to Google. Time has been on Google's side for quite a while, but perhaps not forever if they become laden with too many features still in search of a plan for productization and profitability.
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