Chaos by design is a Fortune cover story on Google, covering the company’s
fast-paced, seemingly disorganized approach to products and exploring if it can
come up with a "second act" to please investors:
There’s nothing to suggest that its growth engine — ad-supported search —
is in trouble. But it’s clear from Google’s tentative lurches into new forms of
advertising and its spaghetti method of product development (toss against wall,
see if sticks) that the company is searching for ways to grow beyond that
What vexed Galaxy is precisely Google’s challenge today. For all its new
products — depending on how you count, Google has released at least 83
full-fledged and test-stage products — none has altered the Web landscape the
way Google.com did. Additions like the photo site Picasa, Google Finance, and
Google Blog Search belie Google’s ardent claim that it doesn’t do me-too
products. Often new services lack a stunningly obvious feature.
Much-hyped projects like the comparison-shopping site Froogle (nearly four
years in beta and counting) and Google’s video-sharing site have been far less
popular than the competition. One of Google’s biggest misses is its
social-networking site, Orkut, which is a hit only in Brazil and — as Marissa
Mayer, Google’s 31-year-old vice president of search products and user
experience, says with an impressively straight face — is "very strong in Iran."
In case you’ve missed it, the entire Google-needs-a-hit-like-web-search
theme/meme has been strong this year. I tend to view those expectations as
unrealistic. I agree, it’s been some time since Google’s come out with an "oh
wow" product similar to Gmail or Google Maps, where people get very buzzed about
it being so different or new or unique. But then again, I haven’t exactly been
"oh wowed" that much by stuff out of Yahoo or Microsoft or Ask, either.
For me, personally, Yahoo’s Flickr has become a category killer in photo
sharing. I use it all
the time. But it wasn’t home grown. Yahoo Answers is more of a homegrown wow —
perhaps not so much with me, but with others certainly.
Microsoft’s Windows Live Local rocks for how anyone can create custom
collections, and the
search interface is wonderful. Both get wows or "cools" out of me.
Ask has been doing great stuff with its maps and smart answers — the
smart answer like you see
here is the
latest and something I totally would have gone to Ask for last month during a
small Bay Area quake I felt.
Still, Google’s got plenty of good stuff as well. I don’t know that any of
these players are going to roll out a major "second act" that blows away
everything before. Instead, it’s more likely we’re going to see a steady growth
of products, with all of them having some gains and plenty of products that
simply won’t catch on.