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Google this is your wakeup call

I'm reading various reports on Google's announcments about search today, and it sounds scattered and totally uninspiring. And I might add, disappointing.

Google is today a big company, and it seems to lack the resolve to go into middle age with any passion. If ever there was a time to show some exciting new features for search, this was it -- and none of it was in any way exciting.

When Google came along, the CEOs of the existing search companies didn't pay imuch attention. They probably didn't understand what was so exciting about Google. It was very much like the way the leaders of the minicomputer industry reacted to the early PC, at first dismissive, then with arrogance. Their products seemed to assume they would overcome the challenge, and none of them did. The only one to make the transition was IBM, and then a few years later they would try to lock in the users, and finally lose out to the new companies that had cloned their products.

Twitter is that kind of generational challenge to Google. They have no choice but the same one IBM had with the Apple II, and Microsoft had with Netscape. They must compete, with a respectful product, one that is compatible with Twitter, and gives users a benefit of coming from a strong mature company. The time for this product is passing every week, as Twitter stabilizes and delivers a reliable service. Google's clone should have come out last summer when Twitter was having trouble keeping their servers up.

If I could talk to the management at Google, I would tell them to stop everything, go away for a week, and learn how to use Twitter, yourself. Get an inkling of what is so exciting and different about it. You can't get the gestalt by looking at the features, you have to see how people are using it and who they are. It's not about Oprah or Ashton Kutcher, it's about the Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq, and a hundred NY Times reporters who are breaking their company's rules by using Twitter the way bloggers were telling them to use the web. Twitter is in many ways the realization of the full promise made by blogging so many years ago. It's really exciting to see it come to fruition, but it's also depressing that it's all happening inside one company's environment. I don't honestly think it can work that way.

Google! You can't afford to stay on the sidelines. It's an urgent issue for your company. And pretty soon it won't be an issue at all.

When Netscape came along in 1994, I wrote a blistering piece about how the Internet had made Microsoft irrelevant. Bill Gates wrote back asking if this meant they'd sell any fewer Flight Simulators or CD-ROM encyclopedias. That wasn't the point. Google's search revenue won't feel the rise of Twitter for many more quarters. But the place people turn to for news is shifting. It never was Google, that wasn't something it ever did well. But it is something Twitter does, and at this point it doesn't do it very well. But the path is very clear, the information they need now flows through their servers. They just have to figure out the user interface. They will eventually figure it out. That's the half of the problem that Google already knows how to solve. But Google doesn't have the users. None of its products have the kind of flow that Twitter has, nor the growth that Twitter has. That's what Google has to get busy building. Once Twitter is delivering the news search that Google can't, it will be way too late. This is probably what the Google management doesn't understand because they aren't using Twitter themselves. And if they're like most other big companies, their employees don't want to tell them what they're missing, assuming they know.

To Gates's credit, a few weeks after his lame excuse, he figured it out, and had his famous December analyst meeting where he outlined how he would attack the Internet. Unfortunately for all of us, but especially Netscape, an attack wasn't what was needed, support and love from a mature leader would have worked much better. But at least he woke up. There's no sign at all that Google is aware of the challenge.

Back in the early days of the net Stewart Alsop would write these open letters to Bill Gates and Jim Manzi telling them what they were missing. I guess for Google in 2009, that job has fallen to me. smile

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More Stories By Dave Winer

Dave Winer pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software; former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelor's in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in Berkeley, California.