Google’s Existential Threat Mirrors Microsoft’s ‘Tidal Wave’ Warning

Google is facing a similar threat from Facebook that Microsoft faced with the Internet and, later, from Google itself, says Clint Boulton

John Battelle has been on a roll of late, opining on a number of Internet topics I hold near and dear, particularly the competitive dynamic of the Big Five of the Internet: Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon and Facebook, and all of their walled gardens – another Battelle topic du jour.

Recently, he revisited Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates’ legendary “Internet Tidal Wave” memo from 1995, and drew parallels with what he imagined Google CEO Larry Page would have impressed upon his troops when asking them to embrace social networking as the New Internet Tidal Wave.

Sneaking up from behind

The irony is that while Google snook in, first with search, then with Google Apps, YouTube, Chrome, Android and other products, to fill Microsoft’s shoes on the Web, Facebook is now gunning to do the same to Google in social. The difference is that Google has been faster to boot up the Google+ social network than Microsoft was to embrace the Web and all of its bounty.

To be sure, Google+ is gradually weaving its way into every Google product and it will ultimately be a super strong organic thread for Search, YouTube, Gmail and other services, a weed that kills other products or dies off. The focus is pretty clear and concise, even as it is far-reaching, crucial, and occasionally off-putting to users, such as the Search, plus Your World personal search initiative.

There is another parallel Battelle doesn’t mention. Just as Gates wasn’t crazy about the Internet as a replacement for his company’s shrink-wrapped desktop software empire, I’m pretty sure this social stuff is anathema to Page. Neither he nor co-founder Sergey Brin are crazy about. Brin evidently admitted as much to Battelle at the Web 2.0 Summit this year.

It may be moot because it seems Facebook is happy to freeze Google out of its erstwhile share of social. Battelle wrote:

“Unlike the Internet, which was a freely accessible resource that any company could incorporate into its products and services, to date ‘social’ has been dominated by one company, a company that Google has been unable to work with. Imagine if, when Gates wrote his Tidal Wave memo, the Internet he spoke of was controlled entirely by, say, MCI, and that Microsoft was unable to secure a deal to get all that Internet goodness into its future products.”

As Battelle noted, Facebook has no interest working with Google by giving it data:

“That seems to be where Google finds itself, at least by its own reckoning. To continue being a great search engine, it needs the identity and relationship data found, for the most part, behind Facebook’s walls.”

Indeed, why enable an enemy which, at this stage, is looking to the regulators like a monopolist with questionable intent?

Sting like a bee

I’d argue Google is safe. Not everyone is going to want to live in Facebook for their information, just as not everyone wants to live in Google or Twitter for info and services. People want to cross-pollinate, flit like a bee from flower to flower. Will Google miss out on social data thanks to Facebook? Sure, hence the reason for Google+.

I’m less concerned about Battelle’s thesis on the notion of the open Web, where he cautions against the massive walled gardens of content and services the Big Five lord it over.

I’m more inclined to agree with Matt Ingram’s observation on this topic: consumers don’t care.

“If you have a really attractive garden, users are more than happy to spend time there without moaning about the walls or the gates. In a nutshell, that explains Facebook’s dramatic rise.”

In my mind, these Internet companies are simply just digital versions of Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Stop and Shop, and other superstore chains. They’re big stores of products and information trying to entice their customers with advertising, low rates (free services for data), and some hard merchandise. Many of these stores are trying to keep their customer data stores from each other.

That’s the nature of the beast.