Today’s Assignment: Disrupting Google

When I see quotes like the following from senior scientists at Google I am reminded why it is inevitable that one day the company will be caught unawares by someone much smaller and nimbler:

“Every time, they have maybe one small lever that they suspect is huge.
They don’t realise that [all] they have [is] a better door latch on a
[Boeing] 747. Now all they have to do is build a 747. None of those
ideas I’ve seen are compelling.”

It is often said that the rival that will overthrow Google is only a
click away. [Google’s Louis] Monier is sceptical. “It’s very difficult to innovate on
the scale that we do,” he said. “You need a really radical idea, and
need to execute it well.”

Right, thanks for the reminder Louis. What rivals need to do is stop trying to build 747s and recognize that Google is the Boeing of search. It is big, it is fond of opportunities that require infrastructure and engineering scale, and it is increasingly unattuned to other ways of doing things. There remain, however, plenty of ways to travel, most of which that don’t require you to be a world expert at building jumbo jets.


  1. For a time I dreamt of working for GOOG, but as time goes on, the infatuation wanes, and their true colors show.
    I am disgusted by his hubris.

  2. Ohadi Langis says:

    I don’t think Boeing is the right metaphor. Google is a service company that stores and forwards information. It doesn’t manufactur anything.
    So, an alternative metaphor might be American Airlines. The “nimble competitor” is NetJets tha tis skimming off the cream of business travelers who are not price sensitive and purchase point-to-point air services on a “just-in-time” basis rather than hub-to-hub based on scheduled service. Plus, their fractional ownership of the planes services debt/lease payments even if the planes aren’t 100% in revenue service.
    It follows that Google’s most dangerous competitor is one that disaggregates monster search results into categories, somewhat like NorthernLight, and gives you a “first page” of search results by plausible category rather than 10 pages of mixed results. If someone can monetize this and charge a permium for it in terms of targeting advertising, Google’s first response should be to acquire the firm as fast as possible. NB: I do not work for such a firm.

  3. The new Snap Preview and the similar feature on its result pages is an intriguing door latch waiting for the rest of the plane.
    It’s actually more than a doorlatch but it remains to be seen if it’s on a 787, or even an A320…
    I’ve installed the Snap Preview on my home pages–it works great and doesn’t seem to slow things down like many widgets do.
    (I’m assuming that someone from Google is reading this comment and will quickly provide me with a superior G-Preview.)

  4. It seems that Google is definitely able to be overtaken, but it’s easier said than done.
    For example, their search is extremely general, and overridden many times by those that use the system against its purpose for their own rankings.
    Other than the endless taking down of domains and others rising up in spite of it, there doesn’t seem much they can do about it at this time.
    Still, until someone does come up with something that can really target results, they have a pretty strong moat build around their search castle.

  5. A bit of context you might have overlooked: Louis Monier was the founder of Altavista. We’ll find out in a few years whether he’s right or this quote is just painfully ironic.

  6. “One man’s margin is another man’s opportunity”
    As long as Google has exceptional margins, there will be continual attempts to break into the business, or disrupt it. And they can easily find themselves in a game where every move will be margin lowering, and therefore stock pummeling. Today, Google is well north of $1 million per employee in gross profit.
    An example, Gates ominously hinted about rewarding the customers who do the search, though he didn’t follow through with it because he had margins to defend too.