Is Google Too Powerful?
Posted by: Rob Hof on March 29, 2007
That’s what the BW cover story this week is asking—or more accurately, my story examines the deeper meaning behind complaints about Google’s power and influence online. Those complaints are not new, by any means, but the fear they represent seems to have gotten more intense very recently—especially since Google bought YouTube and its designs on the broader advertising and media world forced a response from folks in Hollywood and beyond.
Of course, whether Google is too powerful depends on where you’re sitting—next to Google or in its way. Advertisers and small Web publishers in its AdSense program mostly love Google’s power; ad agencies, Hollywood studios, some Web search startups, not so much. So I think Google CEO Eric Schmidt, in a conversation I had with him, had a good answer when I put the question to him: “Too powerful relative to what?”
I have a fear myself, by the way: that the infamous magazine cover curse could bite us. That’s the notion that when a company appears on a cover, when editors have deemed far enough along for a broad audience, you know it’s past its prime. No doubt some folks will take this as just such a sign.
But actually, that dynamic is part of the story, too. It’s not just the impact of Google’s power on the markets it’s competing in, it’s whether the company now might have too much power, or perceived power, for its own good. As Geoff Moore says, markets are like biological systems: When something gets too big, the ecosystem battles back. (Already, some folks are outright suggesting people do just that.) You just know that at some point, Google will stumble, fail to see a technology that changes the game, or even just run into the law of large numbers. Happens every time.
The big question I can’t answer yet is whether Google has reached the point where the forces it has riled up are really going to slow it down. Other writers who asked if Google peaked as long ago as 2005 don’t look so smart right now, following a year in which Google’s sales grew 73%. My gut feeling, which may mean nothing, is that Google’s still got awhile to run. But you can tell me I’m wrong below. Or you can vote yourself on our poll.
Oh, and don’t forget to weigh in on what you think of the cover image, for which I can take neither credit nor blame, depending on your point of view. When I asked a young colleague here what he thought of putting Fay Wray of King Kong fame on the cover, he said, “Who?” Uh-oh. Maybe Naomi Watts would have been better? Or not.