Google Chrome: Where’s the Strategy?
Posted by Bob Warfield on September 2, 2008
Buy now everyone will have heard that Google is releasing yet another browser. The overwhelming majority of folks I talk to offline registered a collectively negative sigh at the news. Developers see it as one more potentially incompatible browser to be tested. Pundits I talk to see it as more tilting at windmills that may or may not result in any net motion forward. In general, the reaction is simply that the world didn’t need another browser.
Online, the news is not too different. Dennis Howlett ruminates that another protracted Google beta product is irrelevant for business, which can’t adopt beta software anyway due to SOX compliance and other governance and risk aversion issues. The money quote is:
Despite their mantra of ‘release early and iterate‘ Google doesn’t live up to its own words except in fits and starts.
Dennis is not alone, at least among the Enterprise Irregulars. Larry Dignan sums it up thus:
the consensus seems to be that Google will make a splash for two months or so and then developers will see what the catch is with Chrome. From there we’ll find out if Google’s Chrome browser is worth much.
There are some in the opposite camp. This camp says that there is a method to the madness, and that Chrome is not simply “Yet Another Browser We Didn’t Need.” Nicholas Carr (natch!) has said:
(Google) knows that its future, both as a business and as an idea (and Google’s always been both), hinges on the continued rapid expansion of the usefulness of the Internet, which in turn hinges on the continued rapid expansion of the capabilities of web apps, which in turn hinges on rapid improvements in the workings of web browsers.
In essence, Google must build a browser in order to realize a full vision of Cloud Computing. On this, Nicholas is right, and Fred Wilson is also tracking closely. The pace of browser development as an application platform has been glacial. And yet, I am reminded that platforms that change too rapidly are not stable foundations. Typically it is not the role of the platform to change radically, except perhaps in its first incarnation.
I came across another interesting, if somewhat sinister, write up in the Cap Gemini blog. Recall that these folks have been partnered with Google in attempting to get Google Apps into the Enterprise. The post, titled “World Domination is Near“, talks about the incredible amount of information Google already collects about what you and I are doing online. Owning the browser completes that picture in an seamless way because it gives Google visibility right at the source.
For myself, I hunger for a Google strategy. It has seemed like Google dabbles in just about everything remotely related to the web, but that they are almost never deeply successful at it. They certainly release early, but the iterations are very slow and the evolution seems minimal.
I’m not surprised they’re adding a browser to the list, but I am not impressed either. Strategy is essential for all organizations. My favorite definition of the word is that Strategy makes winning easy. How does a new browser make winning easy for Google? How do most of the web products Google has rolled out make winning easy?
Google is a company that in some ways has not had to think about strategy. Their dual search and advertising franchises have powered unlimited growth and the opportunities to dabble that go along with that. But they’re nearing the limits of the envelope. They’re regressing to grow at the mean market growth of those areas, which is a lot slower growth than they’re used to. Inevitably Wall Street follows up slowing growth with tremendous profitability pressure which they seem ill-equipped to address.
What could real strategy mean to Google? Microsoft had real strategy in its critical formative years from Bill Gates and used it to parlay one monopoly into several. But how about an easier to grasp example. Jack Welch insisted General Electric only focus on markets where it could be #1 or #2. Look at the plethora of Google offerings. How many are #1 or #2? Does their new browser have a shot in our lifetime (hey, I’m older!) of being #1 or #2?
Where’s the strategy behind it all? Yes, we can put together some kooky notion of how anything Google is doing leads to world domination. But is Google really just, “a freak of a company, the best advertising business ever built is funding the largest collection of mad scientists ever assembled?”
Or is there a deep strategy we just haven’t groked yet?