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Google: Be a Little Evil
Google is now such a boon to Web users that it’s tempting to daydream about a real-world version of a perfect, all-knowing search engine. Why can’t we Google our drawers for the counterparts to those mateless socks, Google the parking lot to remember where we left the Volkswagen beater – or Google the neighborhood to see who’s looking for a used car?

As it turns out, Google’s aspirations run in that direction: the company says its mission is to “organize the world’s information.”Already, it has branched out beyond Web searching to help users find information in product databases, e-mail archives, and their own hard drives. And having gathered $1.67 billion from happy investors on the first day of its public offering last August, Google can afford to take its innovative search technology a long way further.

But will it get the opportunity? As writer and entrepreneur Charles Ferguson spells out in the pages ahead, Google’s ambitions put it on an irreversible collision course with Microsoft (see “What’s Next for Google?” p. 38). Though the software colossus is only beginning to mobilize on the search front, it is sure to come up with technologies that exploit its market-dominating operating system, desktop productivity software, and Web browser, so that search becomes a one-stop shopping experience for owners of Windows PCs.

If need be, Microsoft can outspend Google 30 times over on search-technology R&D. And that puts Google, despite its surging revenues and leading share of the search market, in a position disturbingly similar to that of Netscape in 1995. If it is to flourish – no, survive – Google must avoid the mistakes made by Microsoft’s previous victims and mount a campaign to make its search technology into a global standard.

It has already started, by giving outside programmers basic tools for interfacing with its search database and, most recently, for adding features to its highly useful Google Deskbar. It can do more. To turn Google into a true platform for a whole universe of search services – in the same way that Windows is a platform for thousands of third-party PC applications – the company must create much more sophisticated tools for accessing its global network of servers, as Amazon is busily doing (see “Amazon: Giving Away the Store”).

Google’s corporate motto is “Don’t be evil.” Employees of Google apparently take this to mean “Don’t be like Microsoft.”Thanks to its dominance in desktop operating systems, Web browsers, and office software, Microsoft is able to impose proprietary standards to which all other developers of Windows software must conform, and this has earned the company a great deal of resentment from both software users and software developers. Developers would prefer to create better software than the Windows franchise allows. Users would like to buy better products. If it promoted its own proprietary-but-open standards for search-related functions, Google might suffer some minor damage to its image of innocence – but it would also secure its place at the center of the search business and provide an entirely new sphere for software innovation.

So if Google is serious about being the world’s information gateway, it needs to start thinking a bit more like Microsoft. Everyone who uses the Internet should hope that happens – if only because software is better in markets where Microsoft has serious competition. Google must learn to be a little evil.

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