Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Google IM? Lets get geeky, baby.

Rumors are swirling Silicon Valley (and Wall St.) that Google, the all-encompassing nice-guys-finish-first search engine company, is getting ready to launch an instant messaging service tomorrow. Los Angeles Times LINK.

Maybe its true, and maybe its not. Google plans to announce its big next move tomorrow. But regardless, the instant messaging rumors (and the announced $4 billion stock move) raise some questions.

An instant messaging service would be an interesting -- if not predictable -- move for Google at this point. Its three big competitors, Microsoft, AOL and Yahoo!, all have IM services of their own. All three are free of charge, and all three do basically the same thing -- allow users to send and receive text or voice messages and pictures from anywhere in the world, as long as they are both subscribers to the service.

With three major IM services already out there, why would Google want to join the instant messaging arms race? Nobody has a good answer, at least not yet. One thing is for sure: If Google wants its GIM to get off the ground, it has to offer something new and interesting. It has to come up with something to differentiate itself from everyone else. Will they be able to do it? Time will tell.

There are only two major kinds of soda. How many major IM brands can exist?

But the deeper question is this: How long can Google keep its Midas touch? Up to this point, Google has been the company that everyone loves. Honestly, with shares hovering around $300 a share, there are two kinds of people in the world today -- people who own Google stock and people who wish they did. They're Microsoft without the guilt.

But recently, there have been cracks in Google's sparkling image. There have been a whole slew of privacy concerns, both legitimate and unfounded, raised about Google's we-must-know-everything information obsession. The more services that Google offers, and the more information Google begins to store about its users, the more people begin to worry. Google started with the world's best search engine, delivered with no fluff and text-only ads -- but some argue now that MSN's search has now eclipsed Google in terms of reliability and performance. It then expanded into the world of e-mail, unveiling a fast and easy to search webmail service with an then-unheard of amount of storage space (which, just over a year later, Google has more than doubled).

Lets face the facts: In the past year, Google has unloaded some real duds. First was their Web accelerator program that was an unmitigated disaster and posed gigantic privacy holes in web browsers everywhere. And its Google Desktop software's new version 2.0 has some head-scratching (if not downright useless) features.

Google is starting to figure out what Microsoft learned decades ago: the more you do, the harder it is to do it all well. The bigger Google gets, and the more it becomes just like Yahoo! and AOL, the quicker it begins to lose its initial charm.

Will Google's instant messaging service -- if it ever even comes to fruition -- reverse that trend, or will more cracks begin to appear in the Google dike?


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