It is well known that one of Google’s informal mottos is “don’t be evil”, so comparing them to the Axis powers during World War II might be a bit of an odd analogy. Other than the whole evil bit, however, it is a fairly apt comparison. Google has worked to dominate the online and digital space in basically every aspect, and own as much of people’s time online as possible, and have essentially done so. As the digital space has moved in different directions, primarily social and mobile, Google has been forced to spread themselves quite thin, and has not been able to put in their full resources to own any single area, similar to Germany’s downfall towards the end of WWII. Let’s take a look at some of the different battles Google is fighting, their opponents, and the latest developments in the war for online attention.
The Western Front: Mobile
Consider Apple and the iPhone the Allied powers in Western Europe. Strong and established, with great support from most of the western world, and Google’s entrance into the space with Android was an act of all out war. As Steve Jobs put it, “We did not enter the search business. They entered the phone business. Make no mistake they want to kill the iPhone. We won’t let them … This don’t be evil mantra: It’s bullshit.”
And Google has made some serious inroads with Android. The growth metrics are staggering, with 500,000 new Android devices being activated each day. This has been Google’s most successful conquest outside of their core search business to date; consider it their occupation of France. By releasing the OS on a huge number of different devices they have been able to grow at an incredibly fast rate, but the question is whether or not they will be able to retain their share of the mobile market with all of the fragmentation across devices. Apple has the solidarity and loyalty to repel Google and severely hurt Google’s position in the market, perhaps the rumored release of the iPhone 5 could be Apple’s D-Day.
The Eastern Front: Social
The social space, on the other hand, has been a much larger struggle for Google. Social giant Facebook, and others such as Twitter and LinkedIn, have become accustomed to the harsh conditions of the social world, and Google has been unprepared for the challenges they would face when trying to break into social. The harsh winters on the eastern front were a huge advantage for Russia in WWII, and helped them repel the Nazi’s, who were in no way prepared to face the challenges that this would bring.
To me, Google seems to be in the same situation with social currently. They want to fight, but they did not bring the proper clothing and equipment, and are destined to lose as a result. They have tried multiple times before to enter social in a meaningful way, with Wave and Buzz, and now are making what looks like their biggest attempt yet with Google +. In my opinion, this attempt will be in vain, as other networks (specifically Facebook) have such a stranglehold on social, and Google + will end up being too little too late. It will be interesting to see over the next six months or so to see whether Google is able to break through and win the hearts and minds of social users.
Online ads are Google’s stronghold, their main source of revenue and core competency, but they are starting to feel the pressure. From the expanding advertising platforms on social networks Facebook and LinkedIn, to Yahoo and Microsoft’s search partnership (which is fittingly called the Search Alliance), Google has competitors closing in on them from a few different directions and making them sweat.
Google knows they need to keep innovating and staying one step ahead in order to repel their aggressors, which is why I believe they have been working to beef up their ad serving options through AdWords. There have been many new additions to the platform over the past 18 months or so, from new ad types, to an emphasis on remarketing, to stronger and more relevant targeting options for the Display Network. In line with the WW2 analogy, it is the Eastern forces (social),that are infringing the most on Google’s turf, similar to the Soviet forces moving towards Berlin in 1945. However, I think we are a pretty long ways off from Google seriously losing a hold on the ad space, especially if they are able to continue driving innovation in the space and providing strong tools for advertisers.
The future is uncertain for Google right now, as they continue to fight the online war on many different fronts. I don’t see them going anywhere soon, as their core business is so strong and their brand is ubiquitously ingrained in the public conscious, but they are going to have to fight long and hard to continue to be relevant as the digital space continues to expand and evolve.