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As the Google turns

Soap operas have long been a staple of daytime television. The over-the-top nature of the silly plot lines have kept audiences coming back for what seems like forever. Another thing that keeps people interested is the speed with which things change. Funny thing is that no matter how long you stay away from a soap opera, you can usually catch up quickly even after months away from the set. For full disclosure, I have known folks (no names or genders, so don’t get all squirrelly on me) who fill me in on these things. In other words, I am not soap opera fan today but at a point a long time ago I knew way too much about Luke and Laura on General Hospital).

So, like you usually ask every Friday, “What in the world are you driving at here, Frank? Will this end in something useful for me?”. Let’s just say I certainly hope so, but I am not guaranteeing anything. The point I am starting to make is that the Internet space, and Google in particular, behaves very much like soap opera characters. There are flashes of news and incidents that pique one’s interest for a short while, but interest wanes. You can return months later and see that while these things are being talked about, not much truly changes.

Take the saga of the now abandoned brand name Hotpot (the service has been integrated into Google Places). There was a huge hubbub about Google’s dive into the recommendation and review space. There were a lot of questions and even more confusion as to just what part of the social fabric (that Google is always rumored to be getting together) Hotpot would play. I’ve seen reports of millions of people getting into Hotpot but I haven’t seen them. I tried Hotpot, but it required having friends with Google profiles, and most of my real-life friends are not that interested in much beyond Facebook.

This all happened in November of 2010 and you can tune back into “As The Google Turns” to find that while things have changed they are essentially the same. Hotpot’s goofy name has been retired and the service placed in Google Places where it should have been from the get go. How it all plays out will be interesting but just check back in a few months to see if anything has really progressed.

Even Google’s leadership is a soap opera these days. Remember when Marissa Mayer was put in charge of local after her reign as the search queen? The questions swirled whether it was a demotion or not. Well, fast forward just a few short months and it has been revealed that yes, it was a demotion as she was passed over by the new CEO, founder Larry Page, for a coveted SVP position. She still has the same job but the title is different so in the end it wasn’t really news to people other than the people it impacted. The rest of the world just wants better local search and doesn’t give a rip about who is doing it.

What’s the latest subplot in the “As the Google Turns” story line? Enter the mysterious Mr. +1. Another oddly-named offering that is supposed to be tied to search results but everyone wants it to run before it even stops breast feeding, so the world wants to know (cue the dramatic music) “Will there be a +1 button for sites? How will this impact search results? Will this be part of the Google social product that we all want them to have?” For the love of Pete! Give the service a month or two to even show up for all the users. (I signed up for it but I am not getting the +1 option in the Google SERPs yet.)

You see, soap operas are fantasies. They are there to distract us from the mundane reality of life and to spice things up a bit. They are not rooted in reality and they are not anything to model your life after. They are full of twists, turns and surprises.

Business, on the other hand should be firmly rooted in reality. Twists, turns, and surprises are not welcome in most business environments. They usually indicate trouble. Fantasies are not really welcomed either because unless they can produce a profit they are nothing more than wasted cycles for people with better things to be thinking about. Oh, and business can be mundane on many levels, but that’s OK. Mundane means there are systems in place to manage a business and it’s not a “seat of the pants” adventure every day.

Unfortunately for Google, it is starting to look like the company is more of a “seat of the pants” venture than we ever imagined. They have basically grown a cash cow in search that is almost in a “set it and forget it” mode while the rest of the company’s efforts are fueling the plot lines of a very bad soap opera.

Executive shifts, constant product “introductions” that barely get past the gates of Geekville, and a product strategy that is harder to track than the winds at the old Candlestick Park in San Francisco. Sure they are profitable, but if it weren’t for search, none of these other silly ideas would have seen the light of day because they don’t make money.

I wish Google would get off the soap opera kick and concentrate on where they are strong, which is search (duh). All of this other soap opera activity is hard to follow, distracting, and very unattractive.

Could it be that Google is starting to jump the shark? Since everything happens so fast in the Internet Age I don’t think this is very far-fetched. Just really watch how incoherently the company functions outside of its search stronghold. You’ll see something resembling a situation comedy wrapped in a soap opera—and that, my friends, is a recipe for obsolescence. Will that happen? Not likely, but a slow gradual decline from a mighty perch isn’t so far-fetched now, is it? What story line would be complete without some trouble coming to the main character?

Google’s asking for trouble. Will they get it? Tune in next time for more questions than answers on “As the Google Turns.”

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