28 May 2009

Fighting old wars vs Claiming the Future

If anyone wants to understand why so many of us think Microsoft is completely screwed when it comes to the internet, the future, etc. - and why (conversely) we all think Google is going to simply own the future... today gave a brilliant and nearly perfect illustration of the situation.

Today Microsoft started the launch of "Bing" - their new search engine. This is the (latest) attempt by Microsoft at being relevant in the web search space. Microsoft is planning to spend an estimated $80MM to $100MM advertising this new site.

Meanwhile, today Google announced a new product called "Wave" - which is described as a system to reinvent online communication.

Search is, as we all know, the current dominant paradigm for finding content / products / sites / services on the internet. It is also (by far) the largest segment of the online advertising market. And Google dominates the internet search space.

So... it makes sense for Microsoft to aggressively go after this market, right?

Well.... not so much maybe. There are two things to consider.
First - as Fred Wilson put it (brilliantly as always):
If Google's power over the web wanes, and I think it will in time, it will not likely be the result of Microsoft or someone else replacing it as the default search service. It will be because new default functions emerge that lessen the number of times we want to use the search function.
Second (and directly related to the above) - Search is eroding as the dominant paradigm. With the rise of real-time internet communication systems (Twitter et al) and the increasingly critical nature of social sites and services (Facebook et al) Search is largely surviving on inertia.

In his announcement Steve Balmer said something that perfectly illustrate Microsoft's thinking (and why it's likely to be fatal for Microsoft):
There is no way to change the whole game in one step.... But search deserves a good feature war.
Microsoft seems incapable of adapting to either the pace of change in internet technology (and especially real-time internet) or the implications of these changes. The problems with search are not feature related. The last thing we need on the internet is MS Office style feature bloat. Looking at the screenshots provided of Bing - it's clear that Microsoft has also failed to understand why Google displaced Yahoo and Altavista (back in the day).

So... to sum up, Microsoft is fighting a war it's already lost. And it's fighting it using strategies and tactics that don't fit the situation. But most of all, it's fighting a war that doesn't even matter. If Microsoft wins this war it will find that its spent hundreds of millions of dollars to achieve something that is longer of value. As Mark Kortekaas from the BBC put it - "it's like that lone Japanese WWII soldier still hiding out on an island in the Pacific somewhere, ready to hold off the Marines."

Meanwhile... over at Google they have grasped what the combination of real-time internet and social media are going to mean. They see where the future is going. And they are launching something that is designed to dominate that future. They've clearly looked at Tweetdeck, Seesmic, FriendFeed etc -- and they've realized that they can do what all these companies are trying to do - and can do it bigger an better than any of them.

When you look at what Wave is going to be, four things become clear.

First - this might be the single most ambitious product Google has ever launched.

Second - they have clearly grasped (for the first time) that the web needs a good system to provide for the sort of multi-variant communication that has emerged from the users. It needs to provide for one-to-one, one-to-many, many-to-one and many-to-many -- in realtime, asychronous and on-demand manners.

Third - they also understand the forms of media (image, video, audio) are a fundamental part of conversations on the internet.

Fourth - they clearly get that the future is going to be driven by what some call "channels" and others call "stacks". They get that systems like Wave are not "portals" but are rather integrated systems that can function as a "site" or a piece of "software" but are also infrastructure that can be built upon. By thinking of Wave as a Cloud system, and starting from day one with the goal of creating the system in a manner that can be extended, built upon, and integrated - and by creating APIs to do this from the start - they have built something that can be used as one would an SaaS product (or, for that matter, Platform-as-a-Service or even Data-as-a-Service).

So Microsoft is fighting the old war for a non-prize.
And meanwhile, Google is laying claim to the territory where future dominance will be decided.

And now you should understand why so many of us look at Microsoft and just shake our heads in dismay while watching Google's every move. And you should also understand why so few of us have any respect for so-called "technology media" -- because we know most of you are going to spend the next 24 hours talking endlessly about Bing while ignorning Wave.

You've been warned.


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