Friday, May 19, 2006

Dilbert on Google

Funny how Dilbert picked at Google in the past few days. The gag started about them being "not so evil" after all. Earlier, I was reading Robert Quattlebaum’s latest post where he hinted at “corporate greed” being an important factor in keeping IM users in closed community. This statement triggered a comment to the post on how Google had been clever, and the incumbent IM players “dumb”. All this reminded me of Dilbert…

Corporation are not philanthropists. They make money. Google is no different. It is just using different tactics to get to the same result, but the base rules remain the same: to rip off the benefit of a community, you have to make it large and docile. There are many ways to make it docile. You can use the “all inclusive, all  protected community” approach, such as AOL, where everything you always dreamed of is catered for. You can also create a “no evil, no fear, illusory freedom community”, which is the Google way. The difference is in the community membership, not in the business need for a community.

The next step is to build the community. In this business, obviously the legacy IM networks are the incumbent, and Google the last entrant. Business schools teach you that, when you cannot compete head to head with an incumbent, you can change the business landscape where the incumbent is strong. This is just what Google did. They have been clever is by moving the battleground from IM to VoIP. In short, they have displaced the context instead of being "yet another IM provider". The next frontier for communities is not in IM anymore, every community has IM (although some are still building new proprietary IM services). There is a much greater potential in VoIP services than in IM. Voice is such a well studied market, and people are talking so much on the phone… There is nothing smart, or new in making this analysis. Google had to build a community quickly to reach a large audience which is the other critical factor of a community. At the same time they had to stick to their “not so evil” corporate image to succeed. They could not bluntly tell the world they wanted to create “yet another captive community”, right?

For Google, the equation was simple. To achieve their goal, they also needed multimedia IM. They could have built it from the ground up. But instead they looked at the landscape and realized that using XMPP would instantaneously give them the IM community. And rightly so. Today, anybody using XMPP can IM a GTalk user. The second part of the plan was adding the VoIP part. So they came up with GTalk. And there they achieved the lock up of the community. This is the clever bit. Because, as I have said several times Gtalk is not Jingle.

This lock in is a two steps process. First GTalk is launched to see how the service is perceived. At the same time, they drive the Jingle specification at the JSF. The second step consists in negotiating the peering agreements for the next to come VoIP Google service. By the time this service is ready, there will be many open source clients out supporting GTalk (not Jingle) eager to use the newly created GTalk to public VoIP or PSTN gateways. And Google will start milking the cow...

The strength of Google is in leveraging to its own interest the inextinguishable goodwill of the open source community. They just did it again. And when Jingle (not GTalk) will become mainstream, they will still own the peering agreements. Google is neither better nor worth than its competitors. Just another corporation, but cleverly using the “not so evil” on the fear factor scale...

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