A recent article in the U.K. newspaper The Guardian, covered a conference sponsored by Google called Zeitgeist 06, designed to brief its European partners on its new initiatives. Google co-founder Larry Page and CEO Eric Schmidt focused on an ambitious new project now underway to build true artificial intelligence capabilities into its search product, a prospect they estimate may only be a few years away.
But while Google wanted to talk about artificial intelligence and the future, apparently its partners wanted to talk about the present, particularly about its seemingly scatter-shot approach to new product development, its indulgence of its engineers pursuing pet projects with little coordination, and its seeming lack of support for products when launched, allowing many to languish in the limbo of perpetual beta.
According to the article, Schmidt claimed that Google was starting to spend more time thinking about how to integrate its various offerings into its core search business, while at the same time denying that Google was entering a business consolidation phase.
Schmidt also offered a few words of wisdom to publishers who are seeing their businesses eroded by online rivals. He said usage of traditional media placed online is rising rapidly, but circulations - the revenue generator - are declining. "You don't have a lack of audience problem, you have a business model problem," he said.
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This is one of those pithy comments that on first glance sounds profound, but on closer examination doesn't make much sense. How can circulation be down, yet we as publishers don't have an audience problem? How can we as publishers have a business model problem if we don’t have an audience problem? After all, our audience is our product.
I'd contend that if we have a problem, it's a Google problem. I will grant unreservedly that Google built a better mousetrap with its search engine technology, but the jury is still out in the world of B2B if Google is has created a fundamentally better way to advertise, or if their core innovaton was simply a cheaper way to advertise. Google's new product launches are, in my opinion, the equivalent of fishing with dynamite. Toss it out and see what happens. If it doesnt achieve desirable results, ignore the wreckage you have created and toss some dynamite in another part of the lake.
The Zeitgeist at Google right now is a dangerous mix of excess cash, egos stoked by early success, and as far as any outsiders have been able to determine, not much in terms of a long-range plan or strategy. Add in a "fishing with dynamite" approach to new product development that roils existing markets, consistently creating new enemies without consistently creating new profits, and you have a company that's damaging a lot of existing business models without offering one worth emulating.