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Google and affliction of me-too-ism

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Google (s GOOG), 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, (s MSFT) a company known to follow the pack, has already released its own online offering. Apple, (s AAPL) 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.

36 Responses to “Google and affliction of me-too-ism”

  1. It.guy1

    Google is lagging in an area where they should have been keen on expanding with Android. The Iphone integrates great with Icloud/Itunes. Microsoft positioned itself with cloud storage very well with Skydrive and Windows phone 7.5 (they were a bit behind as well, but caught up quickly) So Apple and Microsoft have made their cloud storage a seamless part of the devices that their target audience uses. Google has developed the OS with Android, but never developed a seamless app hosted by themselves that allowed it’s users to store data. I feel that they have almost missed the bus, but services such as Dropbox, Skydrive and others have provided a stop gap for the Android world.

  2. Google Docs, Youtube, Google Play, and Google Plus all provide ‘cloud’ storage. In addition, as Nitish Kumar stated, the cloud storage concept was available years ago with the GMail Drive Shell Extension.

    It is a fault of Google’s to not have unified all of these scattered offerings, but the storage has been there for over a decade! Do you remember life before Gmail? With !2MB storage limits! on email accounts? Gmail started the move to cloud based GB storage!

  3. Matthew James Derocher

    First, it must be remembered that Google already has a cloud storage system in Google Docs. Though it does not include the desktop syncing feature that many other competitors have as a feature, you can still upload documents, pictures, videos (you can even stream those videos online now), and any other file type to the web and access them anywhere. Plus, there is a specific interface for storing and managing pictures with Picasa. It has been mentioned in another comment that Google storage is certainly much cheeper that the alternatives. For the same $100 that would give you 50GB of storage per year with Dropbox you can get 400GB of storage with Google Docs and Picasa. Also, documents that are in the Google docs format, pictures under a certain size, and videos under a certain length do not count against this storage. While it is not an official Google product, Insync is an application for your computer that will sync your files to Google Docs in much the same way as Dropbox does. if a small startup can create such a feature, then Google can (and probably will soon) do the same.

    As for Google operating only in me-too-ism, its obvious that Google can be late in the game and seem to copy other people’s ideas because simply–they can get away with it. If it is still a few years from now until they offer an official cloud syncing service they will be immediately running at the front of the race because of the advantage they already have in other parts of the web. Their service could seamlessly integrate with Picasa, GMail, Google Docs, and Google+ and create a service that would draw many people and small businesses away from the likes of Dropbox. Not to mention the possibility of them keeping the same inexpensive storage that they already offer. Also, Google already has many of its own servers scattered around the world at their disposal, while Dropbox depends on Amazon’s servers.

    Apple came late in the game and may never catch up to Dropbox since of it being a closed system that will probably never integrate with Android devices and Microsoft Word (as of now, iCloud doesn’t even truly sync with the Mac version of iWork). But Google is much more open and if properly executed, could put forth a service that could cripple many other competitors.

  4. Interesting point of view. Though, contrary to Dropbox, which only offers space as is and Microsoft, which offers something like Dropbox, I think Google spent the past years building a great online collaboration suite: Docs. There once can store a load of documents, on the connected picasaweb one can store one’s photos and on youtube one can store one’s videos, Google music allows someone to store one’s music. Thus, what’s left, storing zip-files? (Google Docs)… So basically, we can say Google already has the Drive service. They probably launch an app with it, and market it as such.

    P.s. yes, I am a Google App user and fan

  5. What would a normal user like to store on a Cloud Storage Drive – Docs, Emails, Contacts, Pics and Videos, right? For most of its users Google has that data already stored on their servers – Google Docs, Gmail, Gmail Contacts (now Google+ circles as well), Picasa (now Google+) and Youtube. But all of this data is scattered across different services, though linked by a single login-id/password.

    All they need to build is a unified interface for all of these services. Users can add a pic thru this interface and automagically it appears on Google+. Upload a doc and it’s available on Google Docs for editing, sharing and collaborating. Shoot a video on mobile, upload to Google Drive and you’ve a Youtube link to share it with friends (and Google+ Circles).

    It’s so simple, infrastructure is there, user are there, market share is there – but till now what were they thinking?

  6. netgarden

    I think that much of the me-too-ism is a by-product of Google’s loosely coupled culture, which by definition, seems at odds with rich ideation and grandly orchestrated strategies.

    In the days of Microsoft dominance, the company was legendary for identifying a core set of APIs, and everything and everyone would drive to ensure that all products from the Tools to Windows to Office and Back Office supported those APIs. That’s what a unified platform is, and Microsoft became Microsoft by executing that playbook (really, the IBM playbook), and showing the resiliency to see it through from 1.0 to 3.0, and beyond.

    For all of the talk about Apple being subject to the Windows v. Mac scenario playing out again with iOS, they have executed the Microsoft playbook in a way that Google hasn’t even approached.

    It’s almost analogous to Yahoo back in the day. Lots of decent and interesting services, but no singular cultural drive to connect the dots for the user, the advertiser and the surrounding ecosystem.

    In that regard, Google’s recent move to tie their data sets together across services is the right way to think about the equation.

  7. As the afore-mentioned Apple has taught us, being first to the party means nothing, it’s how you dance. Apple was not the first with mp3, smartphone, nor tablet. They made it better. If google think they come up with a better cloud drive experience at this point in the game, no problem there. However, if it’s going to be a copycat of dropbox, google drive may get waive’d !

  8. Steve Adams

    I use both Google Docs and Dropbox in various civilian and work capacities – via laptop (Web browser, file manager) and on an Android phone.
    Since Docs for Android recently enabled offline access ( the difference is less telling (for both Dropbox and Docs you need to manually “download/offline” a file).
    I would welcome a G-drive with tight integration to Docs though.
    Google do seem a bit late with this (no-brainer) obvious functionality – be it for businesses and/or consumer.
    possibly more about entrenched (only via browser) thinking than lack of vision?

  9. Francois Merlin

    Google is doing online storage for quite sometime, look at gmail, picasa, youtube, google music and so on. You can even put whatever you want into google documents, just drag and drop a file. There is nothing new under the sun.

  10. Microsoft chasing ‘search’ and Google chasing ‘social’ is an apt way to describe the wayward history of the giants. But in the same token is n’t Facebook not starting to chase Mobile OS at least in the sense of creating native richer experience in smartphones. This is where the trend could play out in Google’s favor. And Gdrive should be seen in that context…although I agree it is late.

  11. 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.

  12. 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?

  13. 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].

  14. 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.

  15. Travis Henning

    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.

      • Travis Henning

        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.

      • 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.

      • StoragePro

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

  16. 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.

    • 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.

  17. I use Google storage because it is the cheapest per GB (25 cents) compared to other services like iCloud, Amazon, Dropbox,, 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.

  18. 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.

    • 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.

  19. 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.