September 15, 2008
@ 04:12 PM

A few weeks ago Google released the beta of Google Chrome, a new Web browser based on WebKit. Since then there has been a lot of interesting hype and backlash against the hype about Chrome. Two great examples of the hype and the corresponding backlash are Mike Arrington's Meet Chrome, Google’s Windows Killer and Ted Dziuba's article Chrome-fed Googasm bares tech pundit futility in response.

The best way to think about Google Chrome is to understand how Google thinks about the Web. Nick Carr has a post entitled The Omnigoogle which does a great job of capturing a sentiment I've seen expressed by every Google employee I've ever talked to from senior people like Sergey Brin and Vint Cerf to front line folks Dewitt Clinton and Kevin Marks. Nick Carr writes

But while Google is an unusual company in many ways, when you boil down its business strategy, you find that it’s not quite as mysterious as it seems. The way Google makes money is straightforward: It brokers and publishes advertisements through digital media. More than 99 percent of its sales have come from the fees it charges advertisers for using its network to get their messages out on the Internet.

Google’s protean appearance is not a reflection of its core business. Rather, it stems from the vast number of complements to its core business. Complements are, to put it simply, any products or services that tend be consumed together. Think hot dogs and mustard, or houses and mortgages. For Google, literally everything that happens on the Internet is a complement to its main business. The more things that people and companies do online, the more ads they see and the more money Google makes. In addition, as Internet activity increases, Google collects more data on consumers’ needs and behavior and can tailor its ads more precisely, strengthening its competitive advantage and further increasing its income. As more and more products and services are delivered digitally over computer networks — entertainment, news, software programs, financial transactions — Google’s range of complements expands into ever more industry sectors. That's why cute little Google has morphed into The Omnigoogle.

Because the sales of complementary products rise in tandem, a company has a strong strategic interest in reducing the cost and expanding the availability of the complements to its core product. It’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that a company would like all complements to be given away. If hot dogs became freebies, mustard sales would skyrocket. It’s this natural drive to reduce the cost of complements that, more than anything else, explains Google’s strategy.

This boils down to the corporate ideology that "anything that is good for the Web is good for Google". This means Google is in favor of anything that increases the breadth of the Web which explains why it is investing in O3b networks in an effort intended to bring the Web to 3 billion people in emerging markets. The more people there are using the Web, the more people there are viewing ads on Google's services and on pages of sites that use AdSense and DoubleClick ads. This also means that Google is in favor of moving as much media consumption as possible to the Web. This explains why purchasing YouTube was so important. In addition to purchasing the number one video site on the Web, Google also ensured that it would be on the front line of defending video on the Web given that YouTube was in the cross hairs of various corporate content owners. This focus on expanding the breadth of the Web also explains why they have purchased startups like Zenter, Upstartle and 2Web Technologies to create a Google office suite in an attempt to unseat the current breed of desktop based office productivity software. It explains why they created Gmail as a way to make Web-based email as satisfying or even more satisfying than desktop mail experiences especially when compared to other Webmail offerings at the time. This ideology also explains why the company invests in Android and so on..

The media has tried to make it seem like Google spits out a bunch of random, unfocused projects without much thought besides "shipping something cool". However this is far from the case. Google is the most successful company on the Web and it believes that its fortunes are directly tied to the increased usage and evolution of the Web. This means Google has a strong incentive to improve the capabilities of the Web as a delivery vehicle for user experiences. Google had telegraphed their intent to take a more direct role in the evolution of Web technologies in a few ways. For one, the company hired Ian Hickson who had been rallying browser vendors to start improving Web technologies like HTML via the Web Hypertext Applications Technology Working Group (WHAT WG). His success in these efforts since joining Google has led to HTML 5 becoming an official W3C effort. Secondly, Google also heavily supported Firefox both by hiring developers who worked on Firefox full time and via a search affiliate program that brings in millions for the Mozilla corporation [Ed note – Google has a similar deal with Opera]. However the relationship with Firefox clearly was not evolving the Web at a pace that Google found satisfactory as evidenced by the creation of Google Gears a product which Google evangelists have positioned as a bleeding edge HTML 5 implementation even though it implements capabilities not mentioned in HTML 5. 

However even with having a seat at the table in defining HTML 5 and being a significant sponsor of the second most popular Web browser, Google still did not have a direct way to push the evolution of the Web directly to users. They were still dependent on the pace of innovation of incumbent browser vendors or figuring out how to distribute a browser plug-in by convincing companies like MySpace to take a dependency on it. This was clearly an uphill battle. Thus creating their own Web browser was inevitable.

So why is this significant? It isn't because "Google Chrome is going to replace Windows" or some other such silliness. As it stands now, Google Chrome is a Windows based application whose most interesting features exist in other browsers. A Web browser cannot replace an operating system any more than an automobile can replace an Interstate highway. The significant end user innovation in Google Chrome is that it is bundled with Google Gears. This means that Google Chrome has a mechanism for delivering richer experiences to end users out of the box. Google can now use this as a carrot and a stick approach to convincing browser vendors to do what it wants. Google can make its sites work better together with Chrome + Gears (e.g. YouTube Uploader using Gears) which could lead to lost browser market share for competing browser vendors if this becomes a widespread practice among Google's offerings. Even if Google never does this, the implied threat is now out there.

Chrome will likely force Google's competitors to up their game with regards to adopting newer Web standards and features just to stay competitive. This is similar to what Google did with online mapping and Web mail, and what the Opera browser has been doing by pioneering features like "pr0n mode" and tabbed browsing. So even if Google loses because Chrome doesn't get massively popular, Google still wins because the user experience for browsing the Web has been improved.  And at the end of the day, if more people are using the Web because the user experience is better across the board that's just fine for Google. The same way the fact that all online mapping experiences and Web mail experiences have improved across the board is also good for Google.

Now Playing: Metallica - The Judas Kiss


Monday, September 15, 2008 4:49:51 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
So, you're saying Chrome is a way to take existing standards (HTML5), add proprietary extensions (Gears) and use its market share to force other vendors to accept those extensions as de-facto standards?
Isn't this what used to be called Embrace and Extend?
Avner Kashtan
Monday, September 15, 2008 7:12:48 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
If Google is so keen to make the web a better place...why doesn't it open up some API's like Amazon? Why not do more to help developers like yahoo ( ...and of there is always MSFT: "Developers, developers, developers".

I have no doubt that what you are saying is how Google presents itself to shareholders, but let's be honest. "Google spits out a bunch of random, unfocused projects without much thought besides 'shipping something cool'." ...basically Google is just throwing darts and hoping something sticks.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008 1:29:33 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I don't think it replaces Windows but I certainly think it's another big step down the path of reducing the value of Windows. I see this as a major step towards the ability to deploy self-contained applications that work like web-based services but run fully or partially on the client.

I'm surprised that we are not yet at the point where everyone has a LAMP-like runtime stack running on their machines.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008 3:19:46 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
This is a fantastic breakdown of a thought that had been gestating in my own mind but hadn't fully developed. I never really thought twice about many of Google's acquisitions because they truly did position the company at the forefront of, or at least bootstrap their presence in, developing trends in how the Internet impacts our lives.
Sunday, September 21, 2008 12:57:56 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
It would be interesting if Microsoft improved the Web by blocking ads by default in IE8. After all, "anything that is good for the Web is good for Google". :)

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