I know how Google will die. I’m not a psychic, just an old dog who has seen this cycle before. But before I get into the specifics, let me share a story with you.
It was the summer of 1992 and I was working at my job as at the Fortune 500 I was lucky to be at. We were all sitting around with a pretty big retail client, brainstorming on ways to improve the cycle of customer satisfaction, experience, etc, etc. with the service delivery. These were the early days of “partnership” when it was in vogue to include your vendors as “partners” rather than companies you called and barked “do this!” to. In hindsight, we were all pretty new at the game.
About the middle of the meeting, it became somewhat apparent that the client was getting frustrated that he was not quite getting the result he was looking for. We were trying to build value for our services and he was trying to manipulate us into thinking we were the ones “discovering” what he needed done.
In a moment of uncontrollable frustration, he blurted out, “who is the damn customer, here anyway?”
He knew what he had just done. For the rest of the meeting, nothing really got talked about. We had turned from partner vendors into robot order-takers. Yes, sir, yes sir. The client got exactly what he wanted and not a bit of effort beyond that. We all pretty much knew our place.
From that day, everyone in sales worked hard to replace the retailer with programs that valued our head skills rather than just used us as a pair of hands. We were able to separate from the client a year later. Revenue was one thing; our ability to grow along our mission was something else.
Fast forward to the early days of Google. They were all about cataloging the world’s information, building great search tools, branching out to maps and enterprise apps and useful things that helped users collaborate and make the world a better place. Do no evil, they cried but more importantly, celebrate the human spirit by letting our employees work on cool stuff even if the return was less than certain.
And the stock price soared and the profits kept rolling in. Shareholders kept seeing their returns increase hand-over-fist and their expectations kept rising. If there is one thing rich people always need more of is more money.
Then things started slowing down as they usually do with mature companies. But the expectations did not stop. Google started cutting expenses and “stupid” projects that the shareholders and analysts felt were not making money and never will. Then came a push to consolidate and “own” the user until they now have the User Agreement we were all just sent last week.
“We own your online identity” is the short version of the file. You can read the whole thing if you want, but that is the translation. The push to make us buy stuff through the Google-created channels is becoming apparent. “Who is the damn customer, here anyway?” the shareholders and advertisers are now screaming. “Deliver us buyers or else!”
And Google is buckling.
The shareholders and advertisers will continue to squeeze and squeeze as the users quietly work their way through whatever hold Google has on them now and find a way to replace what Google gives them. It might take a decade or so, but at the end, Google will be left scratching at the floorboards, wondering where it all went.
Google will die because Google got too greedy. It didn’t know when to push and when to coast. Or maybe it did, but like every other company that allows itself to be “owned,” it ran out of leverage to push back.