Riding the Wave of Google’s business model

Written on 04 June, 2009 by Jonathan Crossfield
Categories: Marketing, Search Engine Optimisation | Tags: google

Anyone waiting for the backlash against Google’s continuing and irresistible rise to universal dominance may have a while longer to wait. The previews last week of Google Wave have demonstrated that – yet again – Google is shaping the web instead of merely using it and why that is the best business model in this brave new online world.

Yet, in order to shape the web, Google needs an ally. The user has more power over the evolution of the internet than any single corporation, including the primary-coloured monster. The public are in control – and Google knows it.

“That is the essential rule of the new age,” writes Jeff Jarvis in his new book “What Would Google Do?“, which unpicks how Google tapped into the entirely different business environment of the web. “Previously, the powerful – companies, institutions, and governments – believed they were in control, and they were. But no more. Now the internet allows us to speak to the world, to organise ourselves, to find and spread information, to challenge old ways, to retake control.”

Many business leaders are tired of hearing how wonderful Google are, criticising the huge influence the search engine has over the success or failure of a website. But as Jarvis points out, such criticism is misdirected.

“That’s like newspapers saying to a newsstand operator, “How dare you make a penny distributing my product? Give my papers back or I’ll sue!” Google is their newsstand.”

Resenting Google for being so successful in driving traffic to websites, and choosing to extract some profit from that free service, seems rather petulant if not extremely misguided.

Google’s success is not because they have an immensely effective website – although that was the start. Google understands the importance of distributing their services and technology throughout the web, embedded on websites and blogs and in browsers as widgets, AdSense, search bars, maps, YouTube videos, images and more. A huge proportion of websites in someway provide Google interactivity for the user, whether they realise it or not, passing back that influence to Google. The people have spread Google throughout the web like a benevolent virus; one where the symptoms actually improve the user experience. And that user experience focus is key. Instead of telling people what to do, how much to pay and where to get it, Google provides the tools for users to answer those questions themselves in an incredible number of increasingly relevant ways.

With the announcement of Google Wave, we are most likely going to see the brand enter into even more areas of our online interactivity. Google Wave was developed by the Sydney-based Google team that created Google Maps, used by millions of people worldwide. Led by Lars and Jens Rasmussen and operating as a remote start-up within Google, under the codename “Walkabout”, the Aussie team focused on improving the way communication and collaboration works for users on the web.

Google Wave is equal parts conversation and document, allowing people to communicate and work together with richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more.

The significance of Wave may not seem immediately apparent when looking at a screenshot or two. Surely, you might think, it looks like any other email or messenger program. But if you watch the full presentation given to developers at the Google I/O conference in San Francisco last week, possibilities start to combine with imagination to generate some extremely interesting opportunities. Online support could become far quicker, more efficient and deal with multiple clients at once. Online collaboration on projects becomes a breeze. Email conversations become non-linear instead of continually referencing and attaching previous paragraphs or buried quotes.

Yet again, Google has developed a service that has the potential to shape and transform the way we behave online. Eventually, it will be released to the public, who will no doubt stretch the concept further and mould Wave to their own needs. And that is the beauty of the web. The most successful startups – and Twitter is a prime example of this – create tools that users can then adapt and evolve in even more imaginative ways, unrestricted by the developer’s initial intentions or grab for profit. Instead of creating products and then controlling distribution of those products in order to charge a premium, they develop adaptable and interchangeable services that users can take and use within their own online spaces. This allows for immense and rapid growth, which in turn presents alternative possibilities for monetisation from that massively increased influence and user-base.

What Google knows is that online business is about passing control to the user for free and extracting benefits in other ways, rather than limiting use within a website and charging for the privilege. The user is in control of the internet. Google isn’t alone. When eBay opened up API access to their database, sales increased by 86%. Why? Because customers were now able to access eBay auctions through widgets and applications hosted on other websites and platforms. eBay broke out of the website and spread across the web, carried by the users.

To quote Jarvis one final time;

“Give the people control and we will use it. Don’t and you will lose us.”