What will be the Downfall of Google?

Andrew Goodman was recently interviewed by Pandia Search Engine News. One of the things I like about the interview is his discussion about a way that Google could lost it’s stranglehold on the search market. It occurs during his discussion of the increasing focus on personalization by Google.

As Andrew notes “Done right, it’s a natural extension of what search ought to be”. But, there are real potential issues with privacy concerns as well. If it’s not done right, it could create a groundswell of concern that could be really damaging. People may become afraid to search, because their search history will be stored.

And this certainly could be a scenario that could hurt Google with this new initiative. However, I think the likelihood is pretty low – it’s just not a mistake that I think Google will make.

One way to look at a potential Google downfall is to look at recent past history. How did Microsoft lost it’s clear leadership of the technology market? By making their existing products, which are still incredibly important, less relevant. The focus shifted to search, and Microsoft did not get out there with it’s offerings quickly enough.

This is exactly what happened to the railroad companies in the US about a century ago. There is an old business school lesson about this – the railroad companies should have thought of themselves as “transportation companies”. If the railroad companies had thought of themselves in that light, they would have taken an active hand in the automobile revolution that did them in.

It repeated itself in a different way a couple of decades ago when the Japanese car manufacturers were stealing huge amounts of market share in the US auto market because every one was so concerned about gas mileage. While they remain a strong factor in the market, they lost all of their forward momentum, and the US auto manufacturers revived and became strong again.

What happened there? There is another business school lesson that covers this one – if the competitive playing field is stacked against you, change the playing field (or the rules of the game).

With companies as dominant as Microsoft was, and Google now is, changing the landscape is not something you can do by yourself. You need to wait for shifts in technology to happen, and this is something that could really take quite some time to happen. In other words, don’t hold your breath. The challenge for Google will be to remain very nimble, see the broader landscape at all times, and keep the natural arrogance of a market leader in check.

On another note, I really like the way Yahoo! is playing this game right now. While maintaining a solid #2 position in search, they continue to build their destination sites up, and have a huge foothold in the social search space. There is a lot of gold in them thar hills, and they have 3 great properties with del.icio.us, Flickr, and Yahoo Answers.

Yahoo Answers was shown by a Hitwise report to have a whopping 96.10% market share in the Q and A space. Wow.

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