Thursday, July 17, 2008

A few thoughts on Google's strategy

As most frequent readers of this blog know, I'm very interested in what Google is doing. That's partially because Google has a big influence on other players in the sector, partly because I use their products extensively, but mostly because while other players have focused on enterprise or consumer sectors, Google has been exploring ways to tap latent markets of small businesses and federations.

One example is Google Docs. As I've argued elsewhere, comparing GDocs with MS Office misses the point: Although MS Office is usable by broad swathes of the public, it is crafted with large companies and enterprises in mind, and that has influenced its features and positioning. Microsoft knows that enterprises have a lot of value locked inside them, like oil fields, and so Microsoft goes to the most promising oil fields to drill. Microsoft doesn't drill eveywhere; that would not be cost effective. In fact, small businesses, sole proprietorships, and casual groups are a bit of a drag on Microsoft: They tend to pirate software like Office, or skirt agreements in other ways (ex: students graduate but still use their student version of Office).

On the other hand, Google has crafted GDocs in a way that does not necessarily work that well in enterprise settings, but that works wonderfully for small businesses, sole proprietorships, and casual groups. And especially in emergent federations of contractors and subcontractors, in coworking, and in similarly dispersed, loose affiliations of workers. That's a latent market, one that Microsoft can't tap and hasn't been eager to recognize up to this point. Metaphorically speaking, whereas Microsoft is looking for oil fields, Google is deploying solar panels to recover low amounts of energy everywhere. And this works mainly because Google has the infrastructure to do that deploying.

All right. Keep that in mind as we turn to Android, the Google-initiated and backed OS for mobile devices. I know I've been talking about Android a lot, and partially that's because since it hasn't been released yet, I'm free to project my hopes and wishes onto it. But there's enough information that we can also do some speculating about strategy.

Analysts have been speculating lately about what market Android is trying to crack. Is it going after the corporate market, competing with RIM and MS Windows Mobile? Or is it going after the consumer market, including Apple's iPhone?

I suggest that, just as with Google Docs, the niche is neither. Google is going to use Android to facilitate latent connections among emergent organizations and organizational forms, such as federations and coworking. It's not focusing on a tightly controlled consumer experience, like the iPhone, or a tightly controlled corporate infrastructure, like the Blackberry or WinMobile devices. It's going to focus on the many small businesses that have to do B2B collaboration, the professionals who have to be increasingly mobile while facilitating face-to-face meetings, the loose collaboration that is increasingly characterizing knowledge work.

A linchpin in this strategy, I think, is going to be Jaiku. For those of you who may not remember, Jaiku is a Finnish startup that emerged as a Twitter competitor before Google bought in fall 2007. Since then it's been closed to new registrations as Google works to scale it. Jaiku is mobile phone centric and includes short messages (like Twitter), feed aggregation (like FriendFeed), and location awareness (like BrightKite). It's being moved onto Google Apps Engine. And we keep hearing about how that move will "soon" be complete. I strongly suspect that the move includes integrating Jaiku and GMail's address list (continuing Google's de facto social network of contacts), Jaiku and OpenSocial, Jaiku and SocialStream, Jaiku and Google Maps.

Like Twitter, FriendFeed, and BrightKite, Jaiku would be good at serving the latent market for loose recombinant organizations, but it will do this in a much more coherent and focused way. And it might or might not launch in October, but it almost certainly will be hyped to coincide with the first release of Android phones from T-Mobile in October. Look for a Jaiku icon on every Android desktop out of the box.

1 comment:

Clay Spinuzzi said...

Sadly, this prediction about Jaiku turned out to be wildly incorrect.