Is Google really a one trick pony?
BusinessWeek has published an interesting take on Google. Their claim is that while Google has released an avalanche of services, those services consistently have poor market share, so that Google is basically still just riding their initial hit: web search.
There's certainly a lot of truth to this: services like Google Talk get announced to a lot of fanfare, but there's really nothing to separate the service from AIM, Yahoo, or MSN. When you combine that with the massive installed base of these other services, you get a service that's doomed to obscurity for anyone except for the most determined Google fans and the small group of people who happily juggle several different IM clients.
But is Google really just search and a bunch of failed spinoffs? You can certainly argue the point with several of their services. It's idiotic that Google Mail is still in beta, but it still has sigmificant midshare and has been a model for good interface design. And Google Maps may have a smaller market share than MapQquest, but it is one of the best web applications ever devised. Even if some of their services are nothing special, clearly some of them are.
Still, the main thing that I think BusinessWeek misses the boat on is Google's advertising model. Google's search was their first great success, but surely their distributing advertising model has been just as pivotal. Before Google, web advertising was all about advertising networks pitching their placements to big Madison Avenue firms and major clients, just like TV, outdoor, and other media. Google turned everything upside down, and let anyone with a little spare cash by highly targeted ad placement. Even better, they allowed virtually any site on the net to sign right up collect revenues for ad placement without having to pitch anyone at Google about the demographic or traffic they can deliver. This has been revolutionary, and was more responsible than anything else for turning around the internet advertising collapse of the dotcom bust.
Even if someone comes up with better search than Google, their ad network isn't going anywhere. And perhaps even more than their search, their advertising model is their real legacy to the way the internet works.