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February 9, 2009

WWGD: Why Google TV Won’t Match Google Search

I just started reading Jeff Jarvis’s book “What Would Google Do?” —   and I love it. I’ve been looking forward to it ever since he told me about his idea for the book almost a year ago. As many of you know, Jeff is a former journalist and media executive and now very high profile blogger at Buzzmachine.com.

In Jeff’s book, he writes about the very successful — and fundamentally different — approach that Google takes in running its business relative to virtually every other company in the world. He details its obsessions in serving users, its “publicness,” its ability to create and exploit network effects. Then he hypothetically applies these principles to a number of other industries, from banking to retail, always asking the question, “What would Google do?” His stories and ideas are fascinating and the book is a fast read. I highly recommend it.

However, my purpose in writing today about Jeff’s book was not just to review it, but also to follow his advice and turn the question back on Google. Why? Because as I read the book, it occurred to me that Google has done some things that are not “what Google would do.”

Google has built an extraordinary business in search by focusing on the user and giving searchers more and better information faster than any other company. Its effort to organize the Web’s information certainly created “the world’s greatest Yellow Pages.” Then, the company combined this search directory with an enormously powerful and profitable advertising business, AdWords, which delivers commercial messages that are very relevant to the search results. Finally, its strategists extended the scale of the AdWords business with the creation of AdSense, where tailored commercial messages are distributed across millions of other Web sites. The combination of Google Search, AdWords and AdSense has given the company a media franchise of a size, growth trajectory and profitability such that the world has never seen before.

I think that the order in which Google created these businesses is important. AdWords worked because of the power of Google Search. AdSense worked because of the existing power of AdWords. These products would not have worked nearly as successfully, if at all, if they had been launched in reverse order.

Why then, when Google launched Google TV and Google Print, did it focus first on the advertising sides of those businesses? Essentially, these products aggregated commercial inventory from traditional media companies and offered them for sale through the same kinds of self-service interfaces used for AdWords and AdSense. Both Google Print and Google TV seem to have been the company’s attempts to horizontally extend its online ad franchise into traditional media, but neither product had the advantage of leveraging a massive user base viewing a “Googlized” directory of print or television content. Neither of them really focused on the user, nor did they follow users.

To me, Google Print and Google TV seem like the kinds of new business extensions that more traditional corporations would implement — on the counsel of expensive, brand-name management consultants, of course — rather than follow the model that Google did in building its core franchise. Maybe this is why Google Print wasn’t successful and was recently shut down. I don’t know how Google TV is faring, but my bet is that it will never be anything like the franchise the company has in search.

Why? Because they didn’t do it like Google would. What do you think?

Dave Morgan, founder of TACODA and Real Media, is Chairman of — and a partner in — The Tennis Company, which owns TENNIS.com, and TENNIS and SMASH Magazines.

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