Will Success Spoil Google?

Google is one of my favorite sites, like Yahoo was in 1995. It’s fast, reliable, and easy to use. It’s everything I want in a search engine — it’s a find engine.

But on all good things a little sun must shine. Yahoo became a “media company,” although since it owns very little content, it should more properly be called a “branded advertising medium.”

Google has added advertising subtly (on top of keyword results, carefully labeled), and it has recently reached the stage where it can buy other companies.

This being the “dot-calm,” it’s buying distressed merchandise, specifically the newsgroup search engine Deja.com.

So far, I smell another Yahoo Google has scrapped Deja’s old home page for a beta version of its own look and feel and has begun reindexing the catalog. Deja’s people, its heritage, and its name seem to have gone on the scrap heap, which is just what Yahoo did with its acquisitions. Searches of the old Deja database now pop up in Google’s format, which, for someone interested in posting to news, isn’t very helpful.

I asked spokesman David Krane about all this. His basic response: Wait just a minute. “We’re calling the beta service ‘groups.google.com’ for now… but we haven’t made any final decisions about naming, the look of the interface, etc. We hope to have these details hammered out in the next 90 days.”

Krane said that all Google has really gotten is a huge database, but Deja was a lot more. In its heyday, Deja was a Web interface for using and contributing to news, which has faded in importance since spammers learned to harvest its email addresses.

“Google will soon provide improved browsing capabilities and newsgroup posting,” Krane’s press release said. But we shall see. If a way can be found to reawaken news as a medium, and make some money from the effort, it will prove Google’s worth as a real business.

In his note to me, Krane hinted at what the future might hold. “Google has proven that we can build a successful business by deriving revenue from two main sources — technology licensing and online advertising.” Google is looking to Deja for additional keyword advertising inventory and traffic, he said.

I feel about Google much as I do about my daughter, who turns 13 in a few days. I know they have to grow up, I know it means a lot of changes, but I’m already mourning what was.

In the case of a business, of course, there’s either success or failure. (Real life is more ambiguous.) Deja failed, and there’s no glory in that. Yahoo succeeded and that’s not all good, either.

Fortunately, an Internet business approaching maturity today is hemmed in by financial restrictions the way teenagers in our time are hemmed in by higher drinking ages, legal curfews, and the “Just say no” culture. Google won’t grow up to be like those 20th-century Internet businesses, any more than my daughter will become a 1960s-style flower child. But what will they become?

Stay tuned.

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