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Google's Faces of The Stranger

Maybe I just need to let off steam, but I’m putting some of my favorite companies through the ringer this week – first LinkedIn, and now Google. There’s a lot to say about Google these days, and I welcome your take as we all collectively try to make sense of what they’re doing.

Here’s the column, continuing in the extended entry, and also as always at MediaPost.

Google’s Faces of The Stranger

It’s getting harder to refer to Google as a single entity when it
has so many faces. Any time Google makes some announcement, I’m tempted
to ask, “Which Google?”

Lately, Google has been revealing so many sides that I’m not
sure Google as a whole could really answer that question. Does Google
know who Google is? I’m reminded of Billy Joel’s lyrics to “The
Stranger.” He writes, “Some are satin, some are steel, some are silk,
and some are leather. They’re the faces of the stranger but we love to
try them on.”

This week and next, we’ll explore three of the faces Google has
tried on recently: the Banker, the Babysitter, and the Broker; we’ll
focus on the first today. They all tend to come off more like steel
than silk.

The Banker

There have been rumors for years of a GDrive — an online hard drive
from Google. Now it’s real in spirit even if not by name, but you have
to pay for it. Unlike Apple with its iPhone, the hype has only hurt
Google; the media and blogosphere greeted the announcement with a mix
of disinterest and disappointment.

Currently, Gmail offers 2.8 gigabytes of storage and counting for
free, while Picasa Web Albums allows for 1 GB. What’s new is that now
you can pay to use Google as your information bank,
buying 6 GB for $20 per year, 25 GB for $75, 100 GB for $250, and $250
for $500. You pay with Google Checkout, and the subscription
auto-renews with 30 days’ notice.

Google should have anticipated the backlash, as it has a hard time
convincing consumers to pay for its services. Paying for Google to
store data is anathema to both its mission statement and its
positioning. Google’s mission is to “organize the world’s information
and make it universally accessible and useful.” Though I was on a plane
while writing this column, I was able to find the exact quote by using
Google Desktop, which cached Google’s Wikipedia entry two months ago.
Google Desktop, Gmail, and Docs & Spreadsheets are just a few of
Google’s free services that other companies have charged for. Why can’t
Google find a way to make storage free?

At times like this, I think back to Jeremiah Owyang, who has written
on his Web Strategist blog that in the future, companies will pay to
store consumers’ data (he fittingly has a new post on why Google should pay its users). The reversal of that business model seems a longer way off with this Google news.

The storage service itself feels underwhelming. Gmail just isn’t the
best interface for storing files; it’s a lot easier to directly upload
files using other online hard drives. Google also needs to better
integrate its other services. As Google Operating System commented,
Docs & Spreadsheets could be in the running. Better yet, I’d love
to see Google integrate this storage with Google Desktop, where you
automatically can back up an entire 250 GB hard drive. An aside: As I
was writing this, I read a post on Mashable about Gmail add-ons that directed me to a Firefox extension that makes it easy to use Gmail for file storage. Google needs to incorporate this functionality.

Even if Google must charge, its tiers seem overpriced. You can buy
an external 250 GB hard drive for about $100 to $200 (according to prices on Froogle), and
you never have to renew it. Amortized over five years, that’s $2,500
for 250 GB ($10/GB) of Google’s storage compared to roughly $150 for
250 GB of physical storage ($0.60/GB). Personally, I’d be more than
happy to subdue my own privacy concerns of Google backing up my data if
it would store it for free or at least cheaply, but I won’t be paying
Google $2 to $3 per gigabyte annually.

The timing of the announcement is especially ironic given the
subsequent news that Google is discontinuing selling TV shows on Google
Video. This Bloomberg News article
states, “Google’s decision to close the retail part of its video site
indicates the company had less success selling content than attracting
advertising spending, which accounts for 99 percent of revenue. The
purchase of YouTube, where the videos are all free, catapulted Google
from seventh to first among video-sharing providers on the Web.” The
right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is Googling.

The biggest question that I think Google will have to decide on is
whether it will stop offering this extra storage service altogether
(which would create an uproar from its customers), or whether it will
drastically reduce its rates. Google dropped merchants’ fees and even
pays new consumers to use Google Checkout, so why wouldn’t Google offer
20 or 50 free gigabytes of storage to erode Flickr’s market share?

That would also imply that Google knows what Google is, an idea
that’s increasingly hard to accept. We’ll see how other faces of Google
tie into its identity next week.

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Comments to: Google's Faces of The Stranger
  • Avatar
    August 17, 2007

    Hi David, Did you read this article on WSJ? http://online.wsj.com/article/SB118712692927897649.html?mod=e-commerce_primary_hs
    From a management perspective, Google is changing the business landscape where it enables small, entrepreneurial groups to start new products with Google, hence creating the ¨which Google¨ dilemma. Even if some products fail (and go against the mission statement), others will succeed. Take a look. All the best from Mexico. Joe Kutchera


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