Google celebrates its 10th birthday this month. For a present, I wanted to send it unchallenged domination of the search market, a $130 billion market cap, and some of the greatest executions of Web applications ever, but it seems I checked the gift registry too late. Maybe I’ll just send it a card instead.
As I reflect back on Google’s unparalleled success, I’m most struck by how little time the search engine took it to get where it is. Google opened to the public in 1998, just a few years after the first real, usable Web browser was even developed. The fact that it’s matured so quickly is impressive, which leads me to wonder how far it will actually be able to go. After all, not only did this company bring advances to search engine marketing, but it has made tools, such as Google Analytics, accessible to more people, thus helping marketers better analyze and execute campaigns.
Take television as a metaphor. The first TV broadcast with actual content on a full daily schedule came in 1931. Not many people had televisions (only a few thousand were even produced before World War II), and even if they did, they couldn’t hear anything and they could only see the programming if they lived in a few big cities. It wasn’t even until 1941 that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) allowed anyone to broadcast advertisements.
At its advent, nobody had a clue what would be possible with television. Nobody had a clue how to make money from it. More than 80 years later, a lot has changed as TV grew to be the media of choice for the entire country. On average, there are more than two televisions in every household. And we have tons of mechanisms for businesses to monetize our prolific addiction to television, representing billions of dollars in commerce — DVRs, flat screens, and screen definition so high that you can tell whether quarterback Peyton Manning forgot to shave on Sunday. Thousands of channels for thousands of audiences (there are six different MTVs in the U.S. alone), and, of course, many, many thousands of television ads for everyone.
So while it’s impressive for Google to be so relatively mature (after all, it’s a verb now) at the precocious age of 10, I wonder where it will be in 25 or 50 years — when the Internet has had as much time as TV to make an imprint on the world. If you are the least bit bullish on Google (and it’s hard not to be), your mind boggles to consider the innovations it will bring in the coming years. The reality of the industry, however, forces us to wonder whether Google can continue at the breakneck speed it has demonstrated in its early childhood. We all get a bit slower as we grow up, after all.
I’ll be looking at a few important factors as Google enters young adulthood to see whether and how effectively it will mature with age:
- Commitment to core competency. Google has owned the search market, and with relatively few exceptions it has launched its new products with the aim toward increasing that market share and deriving incremental value from it. As long as Google stays on this course (as it appears to be doing by bringing the potential for better searching to mobile and browser products), I will continue to expect great things. If I start seeing Google Perfume for sale, that could mean trouble.
- Retention of industry leading employees. Google had raised the bar on efforts to retain the super-smart employees who drive its innovation. Top salaries, massive benefits, and the prospect of never having to cook for yourself again have made Google the place to work for top candidates almost since its inception. As other companies work to match those benefits or as smart Googlers get bored (or rich) and leave to start their own gigs, brain drain could emerge as a factor that hampers its long-term potential.
- Do no evil. Even the best kid in the world tends to act out as a teenager. The question is whether acting out means getting detention at school or hotwiring a police car and driving it through the local Wal-Mart. Continued adherence to the Google corporate motto will be an important factor in ensuring its continued achievement. With relatively few exceptions, Google has a squeaky clean reputation, both from everyday users (who appreciate fantastic free products) as well as from the hardcore development and search engine optimization/marketing worlds. The inevitable slipups will occur (such as when Google removed dissident content at the request of the Chinese government), but it can’t afford to do anything evil enough to alienate its base without risking defection.
What’s noteworthy about the advice for Google is how relevant it feels to every business or application on the Internet (even if yours doesn’t happen to have a $130 billion market cap). We’re all relative novices in a medium that’s just barely emerging and is changing constantly. Keeping your business goals focused, retaining your best people, and managing your reputation are key strategies we should all take to heart.
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