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Google Has A History of Agonizing. Will This Be a Chapter, or A Conclusion?

By - August 09, 2010

The Wall St. Journal has a compelling story about Google executives, including Page and Brin, struggling with the vast amount of actionable data available to the company, and what to do about it, even before Facebook pretty much forced the Internet giant to play their hand. A must read.

If any of you recall Google’s agony over China, its entry and then its withdrawal, this will certainly sound familiar.

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Google Takes One More Step Away From China

By - June 29, 2010

Google today announced another step in its protracted divorce from China – to satisfy regulatory and license requirements, it’s no longer directly serving results from its Hong Kong based (and uncensored) engine onto its site. Instead, it’s directing users to the Hong Kong site, in essence, creating one more click for users to go through before accessing its service.

And there’s no certainty that service will be allowed inside China, as the regime is clearly not pleased with Google’s failure to roll over. Google’s license to do business inside the country apparently expires tomorrow. This move was clearly intended to convince China that Google is living by the letter of Chinese law. I’m not sure that matters, and it may effect Google’s other businesses – Maps, for example.

Meanwhile, Google’s main competition, Baidu, which as a homegrown company has no such issues, has gained marketshare at Google’s expense. CEO Robin Li will be at Web 2 this Fall, a rare appearance and one certain to be newsworthy.

Here’s Google’s blog post.

It's Official – Apple Kicking Google Out of iWorld

By - June 09, 2010

I’cover5_06.gifve written extensively about iAds here and here, and one question I raised has to do with Apple’s policies with regard to third party data and ad networks, in particular AdMob.

As All Things Digital notes today, Apple this week “clarified” its policy with regard to third party networks, and it’s hard to read it as anything other than a direct declaration of war with Google. In short, third party ad networks can run in AppWorld, but only if they are “independent”. Put another way, sorry AdMob, you’re not welcome here. (I interviewed AdMob CEO at the CM Summit Monday, and asked him about this. This was before the policy was clarified, but he seemed pretty certain Apple would do this.)

I think this is shortsighted and wrong. I also think it’s classic Apple. It’s a re run of the Us vs. The World mentality that forced the Mac into a corner back in the late 1980s. This time, Google plays the role of Microsoft, but it really doesn’t matter. Apple won’t let anyone play in their iWorld who might pose a competitive threat.

This is all we need now – a major platform war, with marketers and developers having to pick sides, cost of development, ad serving, analytics, and marketing services at least tripled (one process for Android, one for iPhone/Pad/Touch, one for Microsoft or Palm/HP or…. ). That’s not what the web is about. It’s disheartening.

AdMob’s response is here. From it: “This change threatens to decrease – or even eliminate – revenue that helps to support tens of thousands of developers. The terms hurt both large and small developers by severely limiting their choice of how best to make money. And because advertising funds a huge number of free and low cost apps, these terms are bad for consumers as well.

Let’s be clear. This change is not in the best interests of users or developers. In the history of technology and innovation, it’s clear that competition delivers the best outcome. Artificial barriers to competition hurt users and developers and, in the long run, stall technological progress.”

What do you think?

Google's New Mission? "To Organize the World's information (Unless It Starts With "i") ….."

By - May 13, 2010

googmission.pngI had a good call today with Dennis Woodside, who runs North American Sales for Google, and Susan Wojcicki, who runs products. Both are long timers at Google, Susan is pretty much a llfer – she joined in 1999.

Both are joining me on stage at the CM Summit next month, a first for Google to have ad products and sales represented in one onstage interview. We had a great catchup and prep for the conversation, which I think will be enlightening.

After we hung up, I contemplated my earlier posts about Google’s brand, and realized I had forgotten to talk to them about one question that’s lingered in my mind for some time. In essence, it’s this: “What is Google’s brand to you? To your customers?” Then I imagined their response – something along the lines of “our mission hasn’t changed – we’re still focused on organizing the world’s information, and making it universally accessible.”

True – that mission certainly covers most of what Google does today (though it’s a mouthful for the average consumer to grok). But then something struck me – and its name was Apple.

Allow me to explain. Earlier in the day I was in the offices of Adobe, meeting with various folks and talking business. Apple was very much on everyone’s minds given Adobe had just launched its “We (Heart) Apple” and “We (Heart) Open” campaign (see my post here).

All this was stewing in my head as I contemplated Google’s mission on the drive home. And it struck me – Google was born back in the late 1990s, when it seemed inevitable that everything – all the world’s knowledge – was going to be on the web, eventually. It was just presumed that the web would swallow the world – and for ten years, it largely did.

But in the past year, that world has fractured, and increasingly, a new planet has emerged, one that is best represented by Apple. It’s the Planet of the Apps, and while it’s rich in experience, data, and information, it’s largely sealed off from Google’s (or anyone else’s) search spiders.

This is another way of pointing out what folks have called the SplinterNet or the Fractured Web, but somehow, I found it rather poignant to think that Google’s ambitious mission is, in a very real sense, threatened by Apple’s approach to the world. No longer can we assume that “The Web is the World” – because increasingly, it’s not.

This is due, in part, to Google’s own ambition – had it stayed a pencil – just search – Apple probably would not see the company as a threat. I wondered to myself, as I drove home from San Jose, whether Apple would let a third party search engine, one that was not competing for mobile, location, commerce, media access, etc – crawl its App World and bring it out into the light?

I’m starting a dialog with folks from Apple on Friday. I’ll ask. I’m guessing the answer is no, but it’s worth a shot. One can dream, after all. I’ve been doing just that for 25 years in this industry, and I’m not going to stop now.

Google v. China? No, It's Bigger Than That

By - March 24, 2010

Screen shot 2010-03-24 at 9.33.21 AM.png

Yesterday a crew ambled into my FM offices from ABC News, setting up quite an array of lights and equipment to shoot an interview. The topic was Google and China. Now, I’m a veteran of these situations, as is my staff, and fortunately the commotion was limited to my office, and the 45 minutes or so of set up happened while many of us were in a meeting.  

When they were ready, I sat down for the conversation and enjoyed my talk with the producer, who was piped in via mobile phone. We talked about many of the nuanced issues involved in this particular story. The crew in the room with me also seemed keen to have an informed dialog. I sensed the piece would be pretty intelligent.

But….instead of nuance, we get a story framed as “a battle of titans” – Google v. China, the death match! “Game on!” is how Diane Sawyer opened the piece. “Who will fire the next shot?!” the reporter asks in conclusion. I’m quoted somewhere in the middle, saying that China employs a large number of Internet police, a well-known fact that I mentioned more as a set up to another point. It all begs the question of why they bothered sending the crew in the first place, but …. at least the major networks are paying attention to the story.

And in a way, that’s really the story here. A private company has pushed a very public and political issue into the minds of several significant constituencies. First and foremost, Google’s move has forced China’s hand, and given those inside the country who may disagree with China’s own policies a clear example of their own leadership’s shortcomings. As the NYT points out today:

China also does not acknowledge to its own people that it censors the Internet to exclude a wide range of political and social topics that its leaders believe could lead to instability. It does not release information on the number of censors it employs or the technology it uses for the world’s most sophisticated Internet firewall. Its 350 million Internet users, many with fast broadband connections, are assured they have the same effectively limitless access to information and communications that the rest of the world enjoys.

Google publicly challenged that stance in January, and reinforced its ideological opposition to China’s policies by finally pulling the plug on its mainland search engine after a failed round of talks with Chinese officials. That forced Chinese leaders to defend their control of the Web…

Thanks to Google’s move, thousands, if not millions, of Chinese now understand the extend to which their own government has been duping them. And those who already knew have a new ally, and perhaps additional courage to continue change from within.

A second significant constituency is the US public. To my mind the US has been lured into complacency about China, forgiving China’s violation of core human rights as a cultural matter best swept under the rug. The main reason? Business! Profit! Huge markets! (Oh, and the massive number of US dollars now controlled by our pals in Beijing). It’s a classic conflict of American values: We are society built on freedom of speech and religion, both of which are brutally controlled by the Chinese government. But we are also a society built on capitalism and the profit motive. It’s clear which one had won in the court of US public opinion – until Google made a decision which forced all of us to think about it in a new light.

A third constituency, related to the first two, are the governments of both the US and China, as well as the executives who run major corporations based in the US. As public awareness and opinion unfolds in both countries, I can imagine shifts in both policy as well as practice in both public and private spheres. We now have an administration whose reflexive approach to China’s moral conflict with American values isn’t to sweep it under the rug, for one.

And if you are running a company that competes with Google in the US, chances are you find yourself in a pretty uncomfortable place this morning – answering to employees, shareholders, and consumers this question: Why can Google practice a values-based approach to business, but you cannot?

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Come to think of it, that’s a question that the US government should be asked as well. And inside the government, you can bet it’s already come up.

Meanwhile, news breaks today that Google’s main site was hacked, with its management bio page turned into Chinese characters (see image at left). Hmmm. Petty retaliation? I doubt it. But yet another strange twist to an ongoing tale.

The broadcast is here, you can watch the piece starting at around 9.15. I tried to use Hulu’s vaunted sharing features to embed just a clip, but the company seems to have caved to the TV overlords and disabled it. That’ll be a subject of another rant.

The Signal – Instrumenting Our Social Lives

By - March 16, 2010

From my FM column: Tuesday Signal: Get Ready for a Real Conversation About Privacy, Publicy, and Social Media

I’ve long said that I’m a fan of social networks and media, of course, but I’ve also pointed out that most of it is artless and ingenuous in comparison with the sophistication each of us has when it comes to “being social.” So far, our technologies lack the instrumentation each of us employs when interacting in the simplest social situation. We have the benefit of hundreds of thousands of years of social evolution – not to mention millions of years of biological evolution. Yet as social creatures we flock to technologies that allow us to express that fundamental need, even if it fails to truly reflect our nature.
What’s heartening is how our culture has begun to ask interesting questions about what this all means – for our businesses, as marketers, as citizens, and as individuals. As Danah Boyd states in her opening keynote at SXSW: “ChatRoulette may be a fad, but the idea that publicity and privacy will get mashed up in new ways will not be.”
Tens of millions have flocked to ChatRoulette – and while it may well be a fad, the impulse which sent so many to “only connect” is not. Understanding who we are as private and public beings will be a fundamental component of what it means to be literate in a modern society. And marketers who make a practice of understanding this will succeed over those who do not.
I predict a punctuation mark in this conversation over the coming months, in the form of Facebook’s public data firehose. Expected at their F8 developer conference this June, the Facebook firehose will allow developers to create all sorts of unexpected applications and services which leverage Facebook status updates, wall posts, and more. Twitter should get the credit for pushing this open architecture, but Facebook’s implementation of it will be revelatory – and not necessarily in ways that might be positive. I predict one of the first applications created will be a site publishing Really Stupid Pictures You Probably Should Not Have Posted To Facebook, for example. Cue media frenzy and….well you get the picture.

Video Chat on the Plane? Illegal? OK? Legal Gray Area?

By - March 10, 2010

201003101937.jpgI’m writing this at around 36,000 feet, on a United Airlines flight between New York and San Francisco. That’s not so unusual – anymore – Wifi had been on planes for over a year now, and I’ve grown accustomed to the service.

Why? Well, because my family also has Wifi, and my kids can now gather around any one of our home computers, fire up iChat, and BAM! they can see me even as I zip across the Nebraska sky at some 400+ mph.

Except tonight, as I was chatting with my lovely wife and two lovely daughters (much to the amusement of my seat mates, using Bose headphones and my MacBook’s built in microphone), the very nice steward – who I must note brought me extra nuts even though he didn’t have to – told me I had to quit my video chat.

“Security. Cameras not allowed!” was the response. There was clearly no argument.

Screen shot 2010-03-10 at 7.17.08 PM.pngI protested, but not too loudly. I don’t want to end up stripped searched in a cold basement cell below SFO, after all. I told my family I had to quit the video chat. My girls were not pleased – today my oldest got a new bed and REALLY wanted to show it off (and let me tuck her into it from an airplane. I mean, how cool is that?! Isn’t that what Cisco makes the commercials about? Or AT&T back in 1994?! You Will? Until someone tells you that you won’t!). My wife spent three hours putting it together, and she wanted me to see it too. (Well really, she wanted me to see the look on our daughter’s face when I saw it, anyone who’s a parent will understand…)

So what’s a curious guy to do? To the Internet! Which is exactly what I did. Responses starting pouring in. Including one from a pal at the State Department, who echoed my basic goal: To use video chat to tuck my kids into bed isn’t a crime. Or at least, shouldn’t be.

Anyway, this is clearly a wonderful charlie horse. The flight attendant just showed me the United policy manual which prohibits “two way devices” from communicating with the ground. However, the PLANE HAS WIFI. To combat this, not unlike China, United and other airlines have blocked Skype and other known video chat offenders. Apparently, they missed Apple iChat. Oops.

DOH! It’s a conundrum! More on this as it develops. My pal at State is working on it….

At least I can still write a post from 36,000 feet. Kids, you’ll have to wait for the tuck-in…for now. (Despite my son and wife’s attempt at busting me by repeatedly inviting me to new video chats…)
(image credit )
Update: My pal at State says she can’t find any government rule against video chat on a plane. She did point me to this FAA fact memo, which says the reason Skype et al are blocked are to stop chatty folks like me from bumming out their seatmates. Not exactly the same logic used by my otherwise stellar United flight attendants…

Google's Microsoft Moment? European Antitrust Review Looms

By - February 23, 2010

In past writings I’ve intoned that Google was following the path of Microsoft in many ways, and suggested that at some point it may face the same kind of scrutiny – and potential enervation – as Gates&Co did back in the late 1990s with the DOJ. Now comes news from the WSJ that the European Union has decided to open an investigation into the company, though the allegations seem less serious than those which ultimately forced Microsoft to permanently alter its practices. Not surprisingly, one of the complainants is a subsidiary of Microsoft in Europe.

From the piece:

Google Inc. is set to announce later Tuesday that European antitrust authorities have opened a preliminary probe into complaints made against it by three European Internet companies, according to people familiar with the matter. The inquiry into allegations of anticompetitive behavior is at an early, fact-finding stage and may not result in any action. But it appeared to be the first time that European antitrust authorities have examined Google’s conduct outside of a merger review. It also comes at a time of heightened scrutiny of Google in Europe, where the company has an even more dominant position in search advertising than it does in the U.S.