Innovation & Design

Google Organizes the Globe


Over the past eight years, Google has quietly and steadily assembled an impressive suite of products and services (yes, their capabilities span far beyond the realm of "I'm Feeling Lucky"). All the while, critics argue that at a time when it is essential for the promise of the Google brand be clear to all, the evolution of Google and its sub-branded properties only makes its promise more elusive.

The Google-gloomy-Gus circle contends that the company has by no means created a suite, but rather has simply cobbled together a number of disparate products and services that do nothing to bring cohesion to the brand. They claim that Search, AdSense, Local/Maps/Earth, Froogle, Gmail, Base, Mini/Search Appliance, Google Pack, Video Store, Blogger, and Google Talk are about as much a nuclear family as Joan Crawford's was.

They are wrong.

What naysayers don't understand is that the DNA of the Google brand is unlike anything ever seen in the modern market landscape. Google is actually the first company with a brand that is built entirely of stem cells: able to grow and develop into whatever form it sees fit. In the future, many a company will learn the hard way that Google's mission statement, "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful," is the anthem behind Google becoming a jack-of-all-trades... and master of all.

The following are a handful of examples of how Google's genetic composition is poised to transform in the not-too-distant future. In most cases, the transformation has already begun.

Google Communications? This is a genetic no-brainer. Google Talk (its IM and VoIP service) is going head-to-head with eBay's Skype as well as AOL, Microsoft, and Vonage. As part of its Gmail suite, Google Talk gives users a tremendously integrated voice/text experience, featuring its trademark user-friendly interface. With major cities around the world on the verge of offering free Wi-Fi (including a Google-financed San Francisco wireless system), it's easy to imagine the telephony of tomorrow taking place over Google Talk. Oh, and for those who don't want to be tied to their laptops to call Mom, fear not: Google Talk engineers are hinting at new mobile versions of the software in the months ahead.

Google Marketplace? Clearinghouses, such as craigslist and eBay, beware; Google Base is lurking in the cyber-shadows. The stem-cell speculation about the enigmatic Google Base includes everything from a comprehensive classifieds site like craigslist to a Google-managed currency system, which some have dubbed "Google Money." While eBay was busy spending US$ 1.5 billion on its acquisition of PayPal, Google may be circumventing the entire process by inventing a legal tender of its own.

Google Entertainment? Yeah, its DNA can do that. In January of this year, Google announced that it is collaborating with Intel to "give consumers an easy way to search, manage, and consume the huge amount of video information available on the Internet from the comfort of their couch," according to a company release. The Google Video Store currently competes with Apple's iTunes, which for the time being is more user-friendly and has a substantially larger market-share. But given Google's distribution network either through Froogle or its Google Base the market-share gap could narrow in a hurry.

Google Hardware? Genetic mission accomplished. A year ago, Google launched the Mini, a scaled-down, blue version of Google's bright yellow Search Appliance, which is essentially a rack-mounted server that businesses can integrate into their network infrastructure for searching shared files and web pages. In this space, Google takes on IBM, Thunderstone, and the UK-based Autonomy. The stem-cell question for prospective consumers is, Where would you prefer to buy this hardware from IBM, or a company that can give you 5,093,127 results for "enterprise servers" in 0.41 seconds?

Google Everywhere? You read it right: everywhere. Maybe you've tinkered with Google Earth and used Google Maps or Google Local. It's only the beginning. Zagat, Michelin, et al., are shaking in their culinary boots as they watch young foodies downloading the Google Local for mobile beta application to cellphones and conducting geography-specific searches for restaurants, markets, entertainment, etc. with instant links to their locations and directions, as necessary. At present, even though search results contain no specific ratings information associated with them, the democratic mathematics of Google is itself a ratings proxy: When a restaurant/store/nightclub is prompted for you, it is because other searchers found that suggestion to be useful, valid, and accurate.

HBO and Nike have already teamed up with Google Maps to enhance their entertainment and products, respectively. HBO integrated a Google Maps tool into HBO.com to support the return of "The Sopranos," refreshing viewers' memories of where key characters were whacked, bludgeoned, and buried (along with the relevant video clips associated with the respective swamps, warehouses, and waste disposal sites of New Jersey). Aspiring Steve Prefontaines can use Nike's RouteFinder, a feature on www.runlondon.com, which lets users work the magic of Google Maps to plot jogging routes around Hyde Park, through Buckingham Palace, and into 10 Downing Street (well, almost).

Closer to home, although Google Local trails Yahoo!, according to Nielsen Net Ratings, Google's decision to make an open software interface has skyrocketed its popularity and given rise to an entire culture of Local/Maps/Earth "mashups." (How about a virtual hip-hop tour, featuring a bird's-eye view of where Tupac Shakur was shot and where Kanye West's mama lives?) Many experts predict that the local-search market will be worth just under US$ 4 billion by 2009. With those kinds of numbers at work, it's easy to understand why Google wants to be here, there, and everywhere.

In all, then, with a brand promise that can deliver in communications, entertainment, marketplaces, hardware, and most everywhere else, it's clear that Google is on the verge of achieving the holy grail of branding: stem cells that can be all things to all markets. Of course, the obvious question remains: In the spirit of parity, will President Bush cap Google's eligibility at 78 stem cell lines, or will he allow the company limitless access to the vast and vulnerable marketplace? Stay tuned.


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