Opinion - Does Google really rule the web?

15th Aug 2011

Opinion - Does Google really rule the web?

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In mid-July several tech websites ran a story about socl.com, which for a brief while contained a landing page for a service called Tulalip, owned by Microsoft, allowing you to “find and share whatever you need to know”, allowing access through Facebook and Twitter. Microsoft took this down and replaced it with a message saying it was just “an internal design project from a team in Microsoft Research which was mistakenly published to the web”, but perhaps more interesting was why we felt slightly surprised that Microsoft was trying to do this? Would we have been surprised if Google did it?

Riding on the crest of Google+, the new social network from Google, there’s been a lot of talk about Google+ reaching the 25 million accounts quicker than previous social network , the imminent demise of Facebook and what Google is going to do when it owns the social universe and then the internet. We have also seen in August a deal by Google to acquire Motorola Mobility, allowing it to "supercharge" Android and get a stronger foothold in tablet and mobile. Google’s cool, it’s the poster boy of the user-friendly internet and has built itself on being clutter-free and easy of use.

We expect things of Google and their suite of systems and reputation for innovation and launches, from Google itself to Gmail, Google Maps, Street View, Analytics, Goggles, Alerts, Finance and so on. But in all of this I think we’re forgetting something: the competition. To start with, eBay and Yahoo! are both massive players in these spaces.

eBay is not only the world’s largest auction and shopping website, but owns virtually all of its competition, including Craigslist and Gumtree and various other large and well-known websites. It also owns PayPal, the e-commerce site that is featured on eBay and a host of other sites, and is used by 100 million people across 190 different markets.

Yahoo! is the world’s second largest email provider and offers various other social functions, through the likes of Flickr and Yahoo! Messenger. But the company that people often fail to mention, or even appreciate is in this space, is Microsoft. People think of Microsoft and they think of PCs, they think of Office and Windows and various pieces of hardware. What people often overlook is that this is one of the classic house of brands / branded house situations. The generic term for web searching may be Googling, but the most commonly used term for web-based email is still ‘a Hotmail address’. As well as Hotmail, Microsoft also has Windows Live Messenger, Skydrive, Bing, Cloud, Windows Phone and of course, the mighty Internet Explorer.

In addition, Microsoft now also has Skype and is one of the largest shareholders in Facebook.  And it’s these two that are the most interesting as they illustrate really well what Microsoft is doing.  As you may have seen, the latest version of Skype, released at the end of July, offered the use of Facebook functionality within Skype, and Skype within Facebook.  For a while now Hotmail has been under the Windows Live umbrella and included Skydrive and Windows Live Messenger, which can in turn be found on the Xbox 360.

It was reported in March that Bing, Microsoft’s search engine that features in (and is no longer very easy to remove from, by the way) Microsoft’s market leading Internet Explorer, accounted for 30% of all U.S. searches, up almost 6.5% over 6 months, whilst Google had fallen 8% over the same period.  Bing already powers searches in Facebook and Hotmail, and Microsoft even has an agreement to power all of Yahoo!’s searches with Bing, so expect this figure to keep rising.

A similar agreement was reached earlier this year with Nokia agreeing to use the Windows Phone operating system for its smartphones.

Nobody is suggesting that Google is about to collapse under the weight of Microsoft, but it’s important to remember when thinking about the future of the internet that it isn’t the world vs. Google; most of the programs we use are owned by the Microsofts, Yahoo!s, eBays and Googles of this world.

The emergence of Google+ shouldn’t – and hasn’t really – been surprising, but what also shouldn’t be surprising is the linking of social sites that have become key to 21st century life, the incorporation of Skype into Facebook, or even Skype into Hotmail or Xbox 360.  Just look at our phones – the world is becoming simpler, and all devices and systems are congregating into the same place.

Google will continue to grow.  But just because it is growing, and it’s nice and slick and shiny, we shouldn’t take our eyes off the Microsofts of the world.  Otherwise Tulalip 2.0 might come along and catch everyone napping!

 

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