Anyone who attended one of the big media conventions last year could notice how frightened many of the attendees were. A panel at the IFA convention serves as a case in point: executives from big media conglomerates – among them UFA, Fox, Universal, MTV, the Alex Springer publishing house – and a representative from Google Germany debated the question of Google’s dominance. In typical German fashion, full of envy and nitpicking, many of the panelists tried to paint Google as a monopoly-seeking villain who exposed the contents of websites and books for free while trying to generate revenue through ad sales. The Google representative struggled to explain to “the grandparents of tomorrow’s digital natives” the concepts behind Google services such as Adwords and Adsense, or Google’s willingness to negotiate about copyright concerns. Rupert Mordoch displayed a similar shortsightedness when he threatened to exclude his websites from Google’s indexes. The self-proclaimed experts jumped on the opportunity, forecasting crumbling profits for Murdoch’s News Corp if he decided to follow through. But are the media companies raising a legitimate point? Does Google deserve criticism for its virtual monopoly, just like IBM, Intel, or Microsoft did in the past? Or is the screaming and shouting merely a tactic to draw attention away from the failures of the established media outlets to adapt to the digital age?
The Google platform: hardware-independent and free
If we compare Google with the business models of Microsoft or Intel, one aspect is striking: Google’s software and services are independent of specific hardware or web browsers. Competitors exist, and switching from Google’s services to another platform can be achieved without costs and after a few mouse clicks. The second big difference: Google is free. So how did Google manage to become so important? In the beginning, it was the simplicity of the search engine – compared to the cluttered pages of Yahoo, for example – that fascinated internet users. Additionally, Google proved to be not only the most innovative company but also delivered the highest quality of search results with its complex algorithms. People use Google’s products because they are easy to master and deliver good results. The average internet user has over 4000 Google cache entries in the search history of his or her browser for the past five months. Google is making us use the internet more efficiently as well. In a time threatened by information overload, it is hard to overestimate the importance of this statement.
The only way is forward
When Sergey Brin and Larry Page launched Google with the daring vision to provide free web searches and cash in on context-sensitive ads, it was hard to foresee the company’s success. Yet today, Google is making billions every year – and it is still growing. It is hard to imagine that traditional media conglomerates could develop the innovation and speed to pursue such visionary business models. They are forced to be reactive rather than proactive. Yet at the same time, we can see the tides turning against Google as well. Already, the number of websites is growing too quickly for Google’s indexes. Yesterday’s innovator is in danger of becoming the slow tanker in the field of search engines. And a new generation of speed boats are only waiting for their chances to challenge Google. In the end, there is plenty of room for innovation and competition.