Table of Contents
Section 1: Change
When Larry Page and Sergey Brin, two students at Stanford, started to develop “the enabling technologies for a single, integrated and universal digital library,” they had no idea what the Stanford Digital Library Project (SDLP) would become (Page and Brin, 1998, p. 2). When Page decided to view the structure of the World Wide Web as a gargantuan graph and to study the various ways that pages linked together, he had unwittingly begun a journey that would radically change the Internet – and the way people market on it – forever. The PageRank algorithm, which was their first metric for a particular web page’s importance, would bring search engines out of the “stone age” – at that time, the only way a search engine could prioritize was by the number of appearances a search term had on a particular page (Battelle, 2005). The change from the Internet as a collection of sloppily written pages, designed to grab user landings, to the Internet as a vibrant, competitive marketing entity, had begun.
Over the past five years, Google has continued a trend of growth and change. The corporate atmosphere at headquarters has not changed, as the expensive practices of providing free laundry machines, maintaining several on-site restaurants 24 hours a day, and keeping recreational facilities available for employees who want to take a break and play with their co-workers, continue to the present. The rationale is that these practices pay for themselves in terms of the creativity that the workers generate (Kopytoff, 2005). Just one example of the synergistic growth that Google has pursued is the research partnership with NASA, established in 2005. Google built a 1,000,000-square-foot facility for R&D at a NASA facility (Battelle, 2005).
Several of the more recent changes that Google has had to undergo would have to go under the heading of “adaptation.” The giant Microsoft, for example, rolled out its own search engine, Bing, to fight Google. Other areas of overlapping service have included webmail (Microsoft has Hotmail, while Google has Gmail), Internet browsers (Microsoft has Internet Explorer, while Google has Chrome) and even an operating system, as Google is rolling out Chrome OS to compete with Microsoft Windows. Google has brought many of the Microsoft workers who pioneered Internet Explorer to work for them. This sort of adaptation has taken the form of “If you can’t beat them, steal their workers.” Things got so intense that Microsoft took Google to court over claims of non-compete clauses in contracts for some of the employees that left Bill Gates’ empire to work for Google. Ultimately, this ended up in a court settlement (Vise, 2008, p. D05).
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The phenomenon of click fraud has led to a need for “tuning” when it comes to change. “Click fraud” refers to setting up auto-click applications that will make websites “think” that users are looking at particular ads. Advertisers who pay per click for placement end up paying far more than they actually should, because the click fraud drives those click totals much higher than the actual user instance is. A major part of Google’s restructuring of its ad placement technology has been aimed at shutting click fraud down.
Google is also constantly engaging in “recreation,” and many of these changes are designed to publicly expand the brand of the company. For example, in 2007, Google replaced AOL as the major sponsor of the NORAD Tracks Santa program (Farrell, 2007). Current decisions to change the privacy provisions of the user contracts, though, are causing some controversy, as users are complaining about the sale of their information to advertisers (Gross, 2012).
Section 2: Analysis
Political. While in the past, the American government has shied away from controlling the content on the World Wide Web, because of the freedom of speech provisions in the Bill of Rights, there are other parts of the world that have clamped down on the freedom of content, and Google has had to accommodate the demands of China, in particular, in order to maintain continuous access to users. However, given the umbrella of the Patriot Act and other legislation that has come down in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in 2001, the American government, and others worldwide, are using media more and more to find potential criminals and keep them from carrying out plots. Of course, this sort of preventive policing can mean the infringement of many privacy rights, and so companies like Google may face pressure from government entities in the future to share information.
Economic. Presently, Google is in a healthy state, despite the economic turndown that has affected global markets since 2008. Even while other areas of the economy are suffering, the Internet has remained a viable marketing area, and the steps that Google has taken to continually innovate the way it reaches users have made it a valuable enterprise within the industry. In an economic scenario in which the only constant is change, Google has proven that it can stay ahead of the change curve by constantly rolling out new products and new innovations that will meet the needs of its market niche. The arrival of Chrome, for example, brought it into the field of web browsers with a flourish, as its speed and versatility meet, if not exceed, those provided by the latest versions of Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox. It is the Internet, in many parts of the world, that will lead the way in continuing to provide growth, and so Google is where it needs to be to prosper, as the rest of the world economy finds its way back to growth.
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Technological. Google is neck-and-neck with the largest players in technology in a number of areas. Even with Microsoft in capacity, at least as far as its web browser and webmail services go, when Google enters the operating system game at full speed, the industry will know whether or not Google has been able to successfully branch out and make a true rival for Microsoft across that industry spectrum.
Socio-Cultural. The international trend right now is toward social media, toward building an online presence while real-world presences tend to shrink. Google is on the forefront of this trend, as its own version of Facebook (Google+) seeks to blend socialization with email, document sharing, picture sharing, and many other areas, making Google+ perhaps the first true “one-stop shopping” place on the Internet. This does not, of course, just have to do with “shopping” in the prototypical way. Instead, it has to do with one’s complete presence on the Web. The ultimate goal is to make Google+ not just a place where one can post news for friends, but also to make it a permanent address, where one logs in and handles all of the business, all of the interaction, all of the time that one needs to spend online. The ideal end result, on their end, is an online portal that Google manages that the user never would need to leave, using the Chrome OS to start the computer, the Chrome browser to go to your Google site, and manage all of your needs from there. All of the revenue from transaction sharing and advertising, then, would go to Google. In other words, they’re trying to out-Microsoft Microsoft.
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All of these factors represent both opportunities and potential threats to Google as an organization. The nature of politics is such, at least in the present time, that there will always be an ongoing need for information, available as quickly as possible. This means that there may be a loss of the long-term perspective that institutions need to succeed over time, but politics is not at present an area that prizes the long term. If Google can help institutions, it will retain relevance. As stated earlier, the economy is also an opportunity – more than a problem here. Because information and the Internet are so vital to economic growth in the 2010’s, the longer Google can remain at the forefront of information retrieval and sharing, the longer it will remain a force in the market. Technology is a similar source of opportunity: the longer Google can stay in front of the technological curve, the more it will grow into a giant in the field. Socially and culturally, writers like Bradbury and Orwell predicted that we would withdraw from one another and look for companionship in virtual settings. Google offers, at present, the largest platform to do that. The longer it can do that, the more it will worm its way into the fabric of our lives.
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