The Writely Raspberry

Check out Memeorandum on Google’s Writely acquisition. If you expand the discussion area, pretty much the entire first page becomes Google-bought-Writely nattering. To my subjective way of looking at things, Writely is officially the most buzzed-about story in recent blog-o-sphere history.

But why?

It isn’t the size of the deal. ‘Cause I’m hearing that Google did the deed for less than $10-million, all in. They bought, what, four developers?

And it isn’t the size of the installed base. No numbers have been announced, but if it’s more than 50,000 active users you could knock me over with a USB key.

About the only thing you can point to is that it seems juicily disrespectful to Microsoft. Hey, to that way of thinking, here’s Google going after the heart of Microsoft’s business.

Really though? As analyst Rick Sherlund points out in a note today, this represents, optimistically, maybe 6% of Microsoft revenues. Buying Writely seems more about wistful Google-hoping for the return of collaboration than a real shot across Microsoft’s bow. But collaboration is more of a business thing than a consumer thing, and it’s hard to imagine enterprise customers getting very worked up about Writely. No workflow, no local backup, no easy in-house tracking … even if you ignore the gaping feature disparity, this is not an enterprise replacement for Microsoft Word.

No, all the buzz seems more brrrrzzzzt. A great big raspberry. As the saying goes, “My enemy’s enemy is my friend”, and while bloggers may be uneasy about Google, they demonstrably dislike Microsoft even more. So they positively love it when someone blows Microsoft a big wet one.


  1. fartikus says:

    why so obsessed with “taking out” microsoft? maybe google is trying to create something new. or maybe they are just gobbling up anything that looks interesting. still, i see potential here.

  2. Eric Schiller says:

    I think it was more about aquiring the team than sticking it to MS.

  3. I think its early to compare Microsoft office and Google offerings. MS Office is matured product while Google is just moving in the game. But what is positive for Google is that it can along with OpenOffice can overtake market by making things available both online and offline with GDrive as the storage place. If that happens, I think it will certainly make MS office run for life.

  4. jme giffo says:

    Paul thats what got me interested, that a small number of developers made an app and got bought by google,
    google is using this peusdo anti-microsoft stance to their advantage, are you telling me that google counldnt have created this app in 2 weeks (maybe even 2 days), they are playing the lets be popular game by allowing the public to believe that they are going after microsoft

  5. I think this acquisition is much more about Google’s own product vision and addressing the lameness of their Pages product.
    With it, they get a structure for a file management system, an offline output mechanism and a nice collaborative control environment for Pages.
    Also they get the team to execute on the vision.
    More about this on my blog post

  6. Remember, buying companies to hire talent was practially patented by Microsoft in the ’90s.
    Four proven AJAX developers for less than $10M plus warning shot buzz is probably fair for Google.

  7. Interesting post and comments here, maybe it is as much of a PR move as anything. I’m also puzzled why Google didn’t just build it themselves if it’s so important to their business — they already have a few good ajax doc editors, and maybe they even have some backend systems expertise in-house, you think? But look at all the we-love-google buzz this created: not only has it been fantasized as a blow to Microsoft, even by normally-level-headed guys like Om, but it’s such a pleasant fairy tale to imagine being a Writely programmer who won the lottery this week. Speculating: I don’t see how this helps Google sell ads anytime soon, it will be a far less effective ad-driver than gmail is, otherwise it would have been important enough to write and release their own doc editor 6 months ago.
    Another possible factor is Google management realized their in-house app efforts are very hit-and-miss, so they bought something that already gets good reviews. This is the most disturbing possibility, because I want to believe (along with Wall Street) that all the talent in the Googleplex can and will rock our worlds when they are good and ready.

  8. How many people buy Office because they have to have Word? I do not have Office on this laptop and Writely helped me avoid the $300 for Office.
    Also, if you haven’t tried Writely, you have no idea how nice it is.

  9. If it’s this hard to rationalize/justify this buyout, then I think that says a lot.
    Google is scrambling to diversify without a real plan to monetize. People don’t seem to want to ask: even if it’s hit, now what??

  10. Paul,
    You’re absolutely right in one respect. This isn’t is simply not worth the attention its getting relative to Microsoft. But where this purchase IS germane, in my opinion, is further evidence of the struggle VCs with current vintage funds are undergoing as a result of the excess capital, the willingness of Google, Microsoft, Yahoo! et al…to buy startups, and the ability of founders to bootstrap their way to acquisition.

  11. Paul:
    Fwiw, your estimates of their user success and economic success are WAY low. Consider yourself knocked over with a USB key several months ago.

  12. Hey Peter — Do share!

  13. I think you’re all missing the point. By purchasing Writely, Google has effectively legitimized online (AJAXy) software. Certainly there are a number of useful programs out there that have allowed people to do new stuff (, flickr, youtube, myspace), but Writely takes one of computing’s core apps, word processing, and makes it available online regardless of OS or computer. With the Google brand behind it, people are taking notice.
    Previously, most people couldn’t see web applications completely killing the PC space. “It can’t do spreadsheets and powerpoint presentations and word processing.” Well, now it can do one of those, and the Web 2.0 sites offering spreadsheet apps, etc. will soon find themselves fending off GYM with a stick and looking for the best deal. Microsoft should be scared, even if it’s not Google that manages to make Writely the killer app. Expect Open to come back in the near future with competition.