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Summary:

Google is rumored to be launching an online storage drive, long after companies like Dropbox and Microsoft have launched their own offerings. The late rollout is a sign that Google is devoting too much energy to being social and less focus on enhancing Android OS.

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Google, if the Wall Street Journal is to believed, is about to launch an online storage service. When I read the news, the first question that ran across my mind was not that they are going to offer the service, but instead could Google be any later to the party? I mean Microsoft, a company known to follow the pack, has already released its own online offering. Apple, not exactly an Internet powerhouse, has come up with iCloud (and its predecessor iDisk that launched in 2001), which despite its track record, actually works. And then there is Dropbox and dozens of other small companies that offer similar services.

Like Dropbox, Google’s storage service, called Drive, is a response to the growth of Internet-connected mobile devices like smartphones and tablets and the rise of “cloud computing,” or storing files online so that they can be retrieved from multiple devices, these people said.

Drive allows people to store photos, documents and videos on Google’s servers so that they could be accessible from any Web-connected device and allows them to easily share the files with others, these people said. If a person wants to email a video shot from a smartphone, for instance, he can upload it to the Web through the Drive mobile app and email people a link to the video rather than a bulky file. [The Wall Street Journal.]

The question we should all be asking: How is it that Google, with its vast army of smart people and billions of dollars, couldn’t build a cloud storage drive over past five years? Why did it fail in its previous attempts and how is it that a company whose core competency includes “infrastructure” has failed to build this very basic cloud offering? And most importantly, how can a company that is intimate with the concept of cloud and owns Android, the mobile computing platform, not be able to understand the strategic importance of an “online storage drive”?

What’s Wrong With Google?

The answer for those questions lies in what I see is a growing problem at the Mountain View, Calif.-based search giant — me-too-ism. Saying that won’t win me any fans — certainly not amongst the Google faithful — but the fact remains that with the exception of “search & advertising” & “communication” — its two areas of core expertise, Google has been unable to predict where technologies are going to lead the society (and yes that does include business.) Android? That came through an acquisition and that too at the insistence of one of Google’s founders.

Where Google does have a stellar track record is web infrastructure and innovations in network design and architecture. And that is because, infrastructure is Google’s DNA. The companies, I have always maintained, have a DNA and it is what makes the companies self-aware, which in turn defines how they view the world, how they compete, hire people and most importantly build products. Google has spent a lot of its corporate energy chasing Facebook instead of focusing on what was really important — not only its present, but its future.

Social as it stands today is a battle between two companies — Facebook and Twitter. Google’s quest to become social is making it do some unnatural things. Instead, Google should have been figuring out ways to use its infrastructure and delivering magic on the Android phones. Some good examples include Google Voice on Android or Google Mail on Android.

The reason they are so impressive are because they leverage Google’s awesome infrastructure. A virtual online storage drive should have been top priority for the company. Why? Because it would have enhanced company’s Android experience. Many of Google’s customers — handset makers like HTC who are using Android are turning to Dropbox to add more space to the phone.  In an interview  Dropbox co-founder and CEO Drew Houston told us:

Dropbox can help deliver on the “connected anywhere” promises that have been around for years, but that he doesn’t think have truly materialized with regard to data. But once consumers experience having their “stuff” with them wherever they are, it will be “like the first day of the rest of your life,” he explained, like when we first were able to boost productivity by using e-mail and other applications on our phones.

A month later, when Houston and I chatted on stage at our GigaOM RoadMap conference in November 2011, Drew hinted that the company was looking beyond what was simply storage.

Dropbox will also be able to store not only a person’s photos but the metadata about that photo, the location information. “All of these things become possible. We can index all that metadata in the pictures and then tell you where the picture is taken, and maybe give you all the pictures taken within ten mile radius.” This sounds like a lot more than storage.

Google, too, should have been looking at its “drive” from the perspective as Dropbox long before now. It would have allowed the company to get better traction with app developers and at the same time differentiate from its biggest mobile rival, Apple.

Google is really good at finding information and using the “drive” as a hub to connect to various services, and then finding information on top of that should have been a primary focus for the company. Instead, it went chasing Facebook and social. Much like Microsoft kept chasing and chasing and chasing opportunities in search and advertising.

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  1. I would like to mention that the concept of drive was already available with Google long back when users are able to use his Gmail space as a drive via an extension (though closed by Google in 2002 or sometimes around).

    Yeah its a fault from Google that they couldn’t make their cloud offerings that much pronounced already before others (MS and Apple are only other players around) but the reason lies in the core model of business that been based of ad revenue. Almost all of Google Services giving their due to ad business in one way or another, so till the moment Google doesn’t decide to use Cloud separately from their ad business, it would be hard for them to make a dedicated cloud offering.

  2. Google already controls so much mindshare of Internet users with search. They have all these products like Google Voice, Google Talk, GMail which are good. However, combining all those products together with Android would make the suite of products much more value. Unification is the core reason why Apple has been so successful and Google has not. It’s just sad to see a company made of brilliant people miss such an obvious problem. They just don’t understand the consumer market.

    1. All those products already are integrated with Android, and the Chrome beta is another step in unifying their products from Android to the desktop (at least when it’s not just for Android 4.0). I think in the past the company didn’t understand the consumer market, but are finally showing the fruits of paying attention to the people that use their products instead of just the data they provide. It will be a long transition, though.

      1. Good comment. Like how you are thinking. Now I hope Google is thinking along those lines.

  3. I use Google storage because it is the cheapest per GB (25 cents) compared to other services like iCloud, Amazon, Dropbox, Box.net, Sugarsync, etc. What really annoys me that it should have been a piece of cake for Google to offer a storage service that doesn’t rely completely on a web-based interface many years ago. Google’s insistence on doing everything using the browser instead of providing simple desktop/tablet/mobile apps (like Dropbox does) that are easy to use is puzzling to say the least. I think a cloud based storage for a laptop/tablet is a great concept but forcing a web based interface to access it is the wrong way to go about it. I think that’s the main reason why a good concept like Chrome OS is not gaining any traction (besides lousy hardware and price points from Samsung and Acer). Google, please think outside the browser.

  4. Google is now definitely the newest Copycat walking the town. Microsoft is the most innovative at software and UI end as of now. Windows is now everwhere despite of the device chocie. may it be tablet, notebook, phone or desktop. Windows just rocks. So is their Windows Live and Skydrive.

    1. And yet, Google has always been a me-too company. Apple has over the past decade been pretty much the same. Search existed long before Google. Mail too. Mobile OSes, Productivity software, all existed well before Google took the plunge. Google Earth and Maps were perhaps more of a market creator than most other Google products. And those were brought in from outside.

    2. Microsoft is and still will the copycat master. period. tell me what they innovate lately? Kinect? they bought those.

  5. And now that they’re apparently getting into the CE business, a place where they have little experience, virtually no support structure (both logistics and end-user sales/support), they’d better be ready for a steep and potentially expensive learning curve. And honestly, I don’t see how it fits in to their knowledge based business plan. I hate to say this, but the past couple years it feels they’ve been throwing a bunch of stuff at the wall, hoping something sticks and can be a big success like their search business. But it may be that their culture won’t allow them successfully identify, innovate and transition to new areas of business. Which is unfortunate because Apple needs an innovative competitor to keep them from getting lazy.

    1. In the last ten years, has there been any sign that Apple is (or has been) lazy? I keep hearing this as why we need android and a variety of others. It’s a straw horse in my opinion.

      1. Well said PXLated.

      2. For the most part I agree. Apple has been very innovatve on their own with the help of an incredibly strong leader and laser like focus on the customer experience but one example is iOS notifications. They were not very good. I think Android pushed Apple to improve them.

        Personally I believe Apple will need some competition to keep them on their toes. Especially now that Jobs is gone. They don’t have the same DNA, but Microsoft dominated the PC era and then initially fell off their game when it came to the Internet and now mobile. Competition forced Microsoft to get better.

      3. I agree, Apple seems to have a goal or mission, they don’t have all the details. But they know where they want to go and now have the money to get there. If it takes time or new development of more AI they wait and buy the services long before Google or MS even know what’s going on. I don’t think they need competition, they seem more wait and buy what fits long before Google/MS.

      4. Android released many features which iPhone copied – multitasking, notificiations etc. Without Android, Apple would never think about innovating,

  6. I think the idea of a gDrive was floated as early as 2005. They did make something, but apparently it sucked, so they killed it. anyway they’re just giving what users have been asking for for years.

    Google needs social, whether it’s in their genes or not. I think their DNA contains a lot more things than infrastructure which is excellent and it’s excellent because they believed cloud is the future from the very beginning. The rise of mobile fits into that vision perfectly, and you say mobile is not in google’s DNA?

    Core competences are bullshit, if companies believe DNA are destiny, there wouldn’t be companies like IBM which survived several revolutions, transformed itself and continue to be successful.

    1. IBM survived because of changes in management. Google won’t change their stripes until management and old, entrenched employees are gone. They’re a one idea, one trick pony.

      1. Exactly, PXLated, IBM is an exception and the focus is “long-term-ism” not “me-too-ism”. See Kevin Kelly (2011): http://www.kk.org/thetechnium/archives/2011/07/corporate_long-.php And the innovation-disruption cycle is much shorter these days, which means you can’t wait until folks retire to change course.

      2. I’ve never heard anyone refer to Google as a “one trick pony”. I adamantly disagree with that; I think they are proving to be trendsetters in the Cloud landscape (baffled by the lack of mentioning Google Apps in this article). Even if you were right about them having one trick in their bag… it’s a pretty damn nice trick. And that one trick is worth enough money to fund all of Google’s forays. To discount Google Apps, Android, Gmail and Drive is pretty foolish.

  7. The easiest way to predict the future is to invent it. Or something like that.
    Metric operations are by design based on the past. I also don’t think a simple drive with file “metapher” will cut it, that’s pretty much desktop. Apps have left that already in the dust, but something based on fragments would be interesting. Add personal data circles, where data can be replicated depending on context of circle and we are really talking and having some fun with FB at the same time.

    But it will be drive F: [see metric operations].

  8. Not sure I agree or understand what your talking about. Photos go to picasa, videos go to youtube and email stays in Gmail. However they added it several years back IIRC where you can upload just about anything to the Documents service. So why do i need drop box again?

  9. Why does one need Gdrive if they have Google docs where they can upload anything? Please explain

    1. DropBox integrates seamlessly with my iPhone/iPad apps — as others have pointed out, no browser required and sharing is a piece of cake, too. I can’t stick a zipped folder on GoogleDocs, but I can on DropBox.

      Om, I have iDisk (and was a MobileMe $ customer for years) but I use it seldom. DropBox is just easier.

      1. You can put any file on Google Docs, including a zip file.

  10. So many companies spend too much time comparing themselves to others, trying to make sure they’re not missing out on the latest trends, paying “competitive salaries” and providing the same services to their customers. That’s a recipe for mediocrity. Take the example of the elephant in every room today: Apple. What do they do? Exactly what no one else is doing before the customers know they want it.

    One does not get the big win by copying one’s competitors. The big win comes from doing what no one else does, or at least by doing something common in a unique way.

    The big win in social, for Google, should have been to get a “forever” contract to index Facebook and Twitter in exchange for not setting up Google Plus. Leveraging their strengths in search (and ads therewith) on the strengths of others that were already excelling at the social aspect, they would have all won from the deal, and so would we the users. As it is, I still cannot easily find a post that I read last month on either Facebook or Twitter unless I store a cache of everything on my own.

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