Google is a behemoth. Throughout history heroes have been drawn to giants and dragons. The challenge of overcoming a monster is exciting. Traditionally the homes of monsters have been surrounded by the bones of unlucky, unfortunate and pathetic heroes. The path to Glory is often a short and final path. This article is an exploration of some possible approaches on how to kill Google.
Giants Need Heroes to Kill Them
Joseph Campbell in his wonderful book The Hero with a Thousand Faces talks about how every culture has its heroes. These heroes all have very similar stories. They are part of what Campbell called the monomyth. In tech and entrepreneurship we see another example of the monomyth. We see entrepreneurial heroes rising up and creating great companies out of the ashes of Schumpeterian destruction. Can a single heroic entrepreneur create so much value? Why do entrepreneurs change the world so much? How can they kill entire industries? Can they kill Google?
Big Companies are Not Eternal
The truth is that giant companies are not eternal. Most people, like most heroes, can trace their family tree back further than the history of most companies. Few famous companies last more than a few decades. Even fewer last a century. The constituent companies of the FTSE 100 and the Fortune 500 have very few of the same members after more than a couple of decades.
Companies like Ford, General Electric, Standard Oil, Union Pacific and US Steel once dominated the economy as well as their own industries. They were hit by a variety of events that meant that they lost their dominance far more quickly than they could have imagined (and their power often lingered on far longer than anyone thought). Reasons for this included anti-trust, bad management, new inventions, new industries and commoditisation of their core value.
The last one is interesting. Louis XIV, the French Sun King once used aluminium plates because they were so rare and valuable. Now they are used in food kitchens and aluminium is used everywhere. The quality of the product has remained the same (increased really). Economic value leaches from products and services as they become integral to an economy
So when we think about how to kill Google these are the sort of things that we need to focus on
- How can the product that Google offers be commoditised?
- Can search be made so ubiquitous that it is a utility?
- How can markets move forward so that search no longer has the sam value that it does today?
If I had great answers here I wouldn’t be writing this article. The aim of writing it to consider what the Economist calls the kill zone around major companies and how to overcome it to kill Google.
When I looked at the Google business model it was clear that Google has massive market dominance and this was mainly through its ability to deliver relevant search results and to place adverts accurately for advertisers. Bing and Duckduckgo have tried to fight Google here. Bing in a direct competitive assault using the power of Microsoft behind it. Duckduckgo has sought to go round the sides and find an under exploited niche based on privacy. These play to Google’s strength. Looking back at the types of power, these both rely too much on brute force.
What’s needed is either to change the way the search industry works, to make it less relevant or to commoditise it.
Dominance is not Forever
The key bargain that Google makes is with website owners.
Let me read everything you own and publish and I will send you readers. That dwill let you make money, have influence , create change or whatever else you care about.
This was a response to the old model where content was curated and served up by portals such as the Kussmaul Encyclopaedia, AOL, Yahoo and others.
How do you disrupt this bargain? It’s hard. It is so good for publishers. At no cost to them people find their website. They don’t even have to do anything. With a little bit of work they get more people. With a lot of SEO work they get floods of people.
Open Sourcing the Google Index and Algorithm
Traditionally libraries and publishers have had to go to a great deal of effort to create an index or catalogue. Google has the same problem. However libraries and book publishers make their index freely available. Look at the back of a book and you’ll find one (unless you read fiction)
Google however hides its index. The index and the database is hidden as it is the source of its competitive strength. What happens if you crowdsource and open source the index? What happens if you opensource the algorithms that deliver search results? This would then allow a community of developers to be building hundreds of specialised search engines off the back of this free data.
That commoditises a great deal of Google’s competitive advantage. For sure there is a tech advantage and the brand still has a great deal of power. It opens up the market and as such it’s very difficult for Google to kill it a community platform in the same way. It also allows providers of search engines off the top to start going after parts of Google’s core market by adopting a niche strategy. Trisearch – the search engine for triathletes? Search engines for anthropology, physics and hotels? A search engine on SEO? Would this include advertising on the search engine in the same way as Google’s business model? Or would there be a different approach to monetization? I don’t know
That’s an approach to killing Google. It may work. It probably won’t. The key point is to understand that a company, even one as dominant as Google in its market is vulnerable to the way that it’s business model works. it is vulnerable to market and environmental changes. Understanding those vulnerabilities is the first step in identifying weaknesses to crack open the marker and usher in another round of wonderful value creating creative destruction.
I don’t want to wait for market changes to make Google obsolete. What should be happening is entrepreneurs clustering around Google, like stainless steel rats, looking for cracks to bring it down. It’s a massive market and one that will grow far bigger if it is not a monopoly.
We must be as stealthy as rats in the wainscoting of their society. It was easier in the old days, of course, and society had more rats when the rules were looser, just as old wooden buildings have more rats than concrete buildings. But there are rats in the building now as well. Now that society is all ferrocrete and stainless steel there are fewer gaps in the joints. It takes a very smart rat indeed to find these openings. Only a stainless steel rat can be at home in this environment…
Harry Harrison – The Stainless Steel Rat
So be a hero. Get out there and stick it to Grendel!