> Goolge On A Downward Spiral?

Goolge On A Downward Spiral?

Posted on Sunday, February 6, 2011 | No Comments

Are Google spiralling downward out of control? Since Microsoft launched Bing a couple of years ago, I switched my ‘search’ needs to them; I don’t really know why I did this, more out of curiosity of a new search engine than anything more than likely, but the site with its glossy and interesting background photos has really drawn me in big time over Google’s plain white page.

Functionality wise, I haven’t seen much of a difference at all and search results have been more or less vaguely similar for some time. Whilst everyone mocked Microsoft for calling the service “Bing”, I find myself typing bing.com far more easily than I do typing google.com, perhaps its the four letters verse six thing, but its just that little bit easier.

But my search engine preference is not what I wanted to write about today; today I wanted to write about the war that is erupting between Google and what seems like the world.

Google Vs Apple

Those with a good memory will remember the punch and counter-punch that occurred when Apple decided to block the Google Voice applications/service from its beloved iPhone. At the time I fully supported Google, an application and/or service shouldn’t be blocked simply because Apple felt it didn’t fit with them. Google moved in on the mobile phone market with Android and then the ‘thou shalt not poach employees’ agreement between Google and Apple to be broken and Eric Schmidt to exit stage right from Apple’s board.

Google Vs Apple was definitely on! Rumours that Apple would shortly ditch Google in favour of Microsoft’s Bing were then plastered all over the Internet and with Microsoft’s moved to position Bing as the mobile search engine of choice, as well as writing a few iPhone applications, these rumours were certainly believable.

That’s not where it ends however, Google’s Chrome browser gained a lot of traction, very quickly and it seemed everyone downloaded a copy to replace their current browser. Now, I’m not going to defend Microsoft too much, as it was their own doing that they started to lag behind in browser technology – something they managed to address with IE8 and shortly with HTML5 enabled IE9.

Knowing all of this, Google went in for the kill and wrote a rather cunning, sneaky (‘do no evil’), plug-in for Microsoft Internet Explorer that essentially turned it into Chrome. It was designed for those in the workplace who weren’t able to install or select their own browser software; I’m not sure how popular the plug-in became, but it was a tactical move none-the-less by Google to rile Microsoft.

It seemed that Google was executing a remarkably clever strategy and it was all working for to their advantage. Google Wave, Buzz, newer versions of Chrome and Android were released and even their OS was planned and on its way to ride the netbook hype.

But then something unexpected happened; the Wave crashed with thunderous roar across the Internet, the collaboration suite hadn’t been successful and users weren’t ready or able to understand what it was all about. Buzz failed to match the hype of other casual social networks (read; Twitter). Google had failed to enter the ‘social’ space, the US Government has had them under the spotlight and things were starting to stack up against them as they were off focusing on self-driving cars.


Then came the H.264 issue; for years Google have preached from up high about open source software and employing coding Internet standards – namely HTML5. Apple started the fight with Adobe over Flash and took a fair amount of abuse over it, whilst Google quietly sat back and continued to push forward on a HTML5 mission.

Personally, I don’t have any problem with Flash technology, for years it’s been the underlying lynchpin to the web and jazzing up websites no end with video, animation and the visual appealing functionality it has provided. Similarly, I have no issues with Microsoft Silverlight; their alternative to Flash, its lightweight, clever, brings additional functionality to the web, etc.

HTML5 standards seemed to be gelling nicely and the big three had all managed to agree and get on-board with HTML5, even Microsoft after a bit of a foopar by announcing and then retracting its stand on Silverlight technologies in favour of HTML5.

But then something drastic and totally unexpected happened, Google withdrew its support for the HTML5 video standard known as H.264 in favour of “WebM”, which as far as I can make out from the number of reports I’ve read are partly based on Adobe Flash and therefore not completely open source as they claim. The reason cited by Google for this is that H.264 has some licensing agreements attached to it, but have no closed or active licensing or costs associated to it; which essentially makes it ‘open source’, but not open source enough for Google it seems.

Microsoft and Apple continue to support the H.264 video standard and have stated that they will continue to support it. This puts Google in an isolated, yet interesting position; YouTube (which is Google owned), is undoubtedly still the biggest and wildly used video site on the Internet and is where most users will go to view video content online. Is it likely that an alternative could take over this mantle? I’d say no, but then looking at how video online is changing; streaming media and content sites such as Hulu, NetFlix and LOVEFiLM, the video landscape could very well change and be dictated by these players rather than Google.

My favourite part of this story is that Microsoft, perhaps as a revenge tactic against the Chrome plug-in for Internet Explorer, has written a plug-in for Chrome which re-enabled H.264 video encoding. It’s the perfect counter-punch reply if that’s what was intended.

Google Vs Microsoft: hiybbprqag

Few days ago Google, Microsoft and search engine Blekko were at attend the conference; “Farsight 2011: Beyond the Search Box”, to talk about the next generation of search (http://techcrunch.com/2011/02/03/how-google-ambushed-microsoft-and-changed-the-subject).

What happened though was something very different; Google chose this moment to out and out attack/accuse Microsoft of copying their search results within Bing (‘Do no Evil’). A supposed sting operation had been set up by Google on the random search term “hiybbprqag”; Google would bring back a certain set of sites and confirmed that Bing brought back a different set. They then did the same test a month later and lo-and-behold, the returned results from Bing magically matched those from Google.

Microsoft’s explanation for this was that from searches performed via Internet Explorer and their Bing toolbars for users who had opted into sharing such data, they were able to tweak the returned results for searches for “hiybbprqag”. Hence, Bing is able to improve its search results directly from users finding the results that they expected and ranking the more successful ones near to the top, etc, etc. Much like Google does with their own secret algorithm “PageRank”, learning from user’s clicks and feedbacks.

For Google to so publicly announce/accuse Bing of plagiarism is in my mind, out and out wrong especially for a company so intent on not doing any evil; the quick repost from Microsoft on how these results are generated seems to verify their story (I don’t think anyone could have came up with that explanation, under the pressure of the stage lights, if it wasn’t true).

The whole incident has divided the Internet though; those in the Google camp who accuse Microsoft of continuing to play with questionable tactics (of old), and those in the Bing camp who claim that what Microsoft do with the data they collect from their users and leads to ‘better’ search results then so be it; lots of Internet companies collect statistics and behaviours of their users, its hardly anything new and Google employee the same practices (their entire ‘Adwords’ platform is dependent upon it!).

Is this Google in a bit of a panic or on the defensive on search? Has a trend reversed and they are feeling a little bit of pressure from Microsoft in their own back yard on their core search product? I don’t know, but it’s certainly fun to think about.

CEO Change

Also, quite recently Google shocked the world with the announcement that CEO Eric Schmidt would be stepping down as CEO, to be replaced by co-founder Serge Brin. It was an unexpected turn of events, especially as Schmidt has headed the company for the past decade. Whilst I don’t want to make too much out of it, after all Schmidt has stepped up as Chairman and is still very much a part of the company, it’s a worthy enough change to talk about.

I do believe that this change was always planned and to be expected, the Google co-founders never really wanted a CEO and only really appointed Schmidt to be a figure head and leader when they took the company public.

But the old adage “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” comes to mind here. Why move Schmidt and Brin’s role around if there wasn’t any reason to change them – especially as Google has grown a lot over the past decade from search into this company with projects in pretty much as many aspects and businesses as they dare venture into.

Brin isn’t due to take the CEO role until April I believe, but with the sudden course-corrections in H.264 and the public accusations of plagiarism; has Brin taken over or influenced these decisions and actions to be taken earlier than many expected. Has the rot started to show at Google, has the pressure got to them, are the tides about to turn and change is on the horizon?

We’ve seen it many times before; the success of Microsoft only for them to fade, same with Apple and it was only a matter of time before Google fell into the same downturn cycle. Watch out Facebook, your time will come…

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