Cross-posted (with light modification) from ClickZ.
Google. It used to be just a search engine. Then it was the search engine. Then it was the search engine for any and everything – images, news, video, etc.
Today, it is facing scrutiny by the FTC for antitrust activities in a case that looks to be as all-encompassing as the Microsoft trial that lasted throughout the late 1990’s.
It’s still the top search engine by far, but today Google is also:
- A web-based email provider (Gmail)
- An online mapping tool (Google Maps)
- An Internet browser (Google Chrome)
- A content aggregator (iGoogle)
- A purveyor of top online video destination (YouTube)
- A provider of a top blogging service (Blogger)
- The owner of the number one ad server (DoubleClick)
- A smartphone manufacturer (Google Droid / Motorola Acquisition)
- A social network (Google+)
And that’s just a short list of what Google does (and is) today. The full list shows many more offerings.
So is this a good thing? Is this a sign of a company that is constantly innovating, doing what’s in the best interest of its audience? Or is this the sign of a greedy corporation constantly looking for ways to totally dominate the digital space and maximize revenue at any cost?
The reality is probably somewhere in the middle. Yes, Google is in the business of making money (aren’t we all?), but it is also clearly committed to constantly innovating and providing a best-in-class user experience.
Google’s Innovation Engine
Google is touted for enabling its staff to take on side projects and devote a significant portion of their time (one day per week, in fact) to exploring new projects that may be outside of their core duties but that they’re really passionate about. Many high-profile business writers have used Google’s “20% time” concept as proof that autonomy and intrinsic motivation is the key to a successful company. Daniel Pink’s “Drive” is one example.
That said, even though Google’s contributions to the web have no doubt improved its overall utility, many worry that the company owns too much, effectively blocking any chance of competition. And a market with no competition can become a dangerous scenario.
For that reason, Google has several times come under scrutiny by certain industry groups and government organizations, including the Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission.
A new anti-trust investigation on Google’s search and advertising practices was announced earlier this summer. While it is not the first investigation that Google has undergone, it is the first specifically related to its core business (search).
Google clearly has an important battle ahead of it to prove that it’s not breaking any anti-competition laws.
In The New York Times coverage of the situation, “Google Confirms F.T.C. Antitrust Inquiry,” columnist Miguel Helft references Google fellow Amit Singhal’s comments on the case:
At Google, we’ve always focused on putting the user first. No matter what you’re looking for – buying a movie ticket, finding the best burger nearby, or watching a royal wedding – we want to get you the information you want as quickly as possible. Sometimes the best result is a link to another Web site. Other times it’s a news article, sports score, stock quote, a video or a map.
Helft points out that Mr. Singhal “also sought to play down the dominant role that Google had in determining where users went on the Internet.” Singhal stated that Google is a choice – you can go anywhere to find information on the web (including leveraging other search engines and direct navigation).
The reality is, people are simply choosing Google. Should the company really be faulted for this?
Of course, lobby groups fighting against Google’s dominance claim that Google has been undertaking suspicious behaviors that include unauthorized scraping of content sites and favoring of Google’s own properties in its search results. So perhaps Google is at fault after all.
I am trying to reserve judgment until the investigation is complete – let’s see what they find and then make a call.
Regardless of the findings, I know that I have a certain loyalty to Google (at the very least, a hardened habit) so even if some of these allegations turn out to be true, it’s likely not going to stop me from “Googling” anytime soon. As long as Google keeps giving me what I want as a user, and keeps delivering results to my clients, I’ll keep coming back.