Google has the top market share in search. It just bought DoubleClick to take a leading position in banner ad networks. Each time it offers a new free service, it scares another set of companies. Is Google simply too powerful? Read on see what you think.
Google didn’t exist back then, but I wish I had been writing a newsletter in 1995. I remember that day well—Microsoft launched Windows 95. It was a great day for Microsoft. I recall mentioning to colleagues that day that we were witnessing the apex of Microsoft’s power. It was going to be downhill from here. In retrospect, I think I was right. Up until that time, Microsoft was calling the tune for everyone else. Ever since, Microsoft has been trying to keep up with what everyone else has been doing.
But that’s par for the course. No company can have things their own way forever.
Think back to the previous “too powerful” company, IBM. IBM invented the operating system, which changed the computing industry. When IBM started charging separately for programs, the software industry was born. Now that was a powerful company.
But it couldn’t last forever. Taking the mantle from IBM was Microsoft. However, Microsoft was never the force that IBM was across hardware and software (and later services). Microsoft is a software powerhouse, but its scope clearly was less than IBM’s at their respective heights.
And what about Google? Is Google too powerful? Well,what exactly does Google control, anyway? The software industry? No way. The advertising industry? Not even close. The Internet? Uh, nope. I think they are the leading player in search, and a wannabe in lots of other places.
Google is an immensely successful and important company, maybe the one that assumes Microsoft’s former role as the one everyone says is “too powerful.” There’s only one problem with this neat analysis. It’s wrong.
The media, God bless its collective heart, is a sucker for a good story. IBM dominating the industry was a good story. When IBM began to struggle, the real story might have been that there is no dominant company—at least not the same way IBM was. But that’s not a very exciting story, is it?
It’s far more interesting to just make Microsoft the new champ and to ascribe to it the same power that the old one had. The king is dead. Long live the king.
Now, it’s happening again. Microsoft no longer forces the software industry to respond to its initiatives. The biggest changes of the last few years—the commercialization of the Internet, the rise of search, and Web 2.0—have not come from Microsoft. So that means that Microsoft isn’t “too powerful” anymore, I guess.
So the media must crown a new champ. It must be that now Google is too powerful, right? Now, we don’t exactly know what Google controls, but still, we seem to be paying more attention to them to anyone else.
What’s really happening is much more complex. With every passing year, technology pervades more and more industries and becomes more and more important. And it has become bigger than any one company can control, even for a short period of time.
The real pattern is not only that every few years a new champion is crowned. Each new champion is less powerful than the one it succeeded. At some point, we’re all going to have to accept the fact that separating technology news into things that good guys and bad guys do is not terribly edifying.