The Google corporate website proudly displays its "ten principles" as if it were the corporate equivalent of the Constitution. But Google seems to have already violated its first principle (focus on the user and all else will follow) and is moving down the path to violating its second (it's best to do one thing really, really well). For every competitor looking to make inroads against this search giant, these are the first signs of opportunity.
There is a telling video on YouTube of Google Vice President Marissa Mayer giving a presentation at conference in Seattle where she discusses how Google routinely puts its own services at the top of the search, then puts the rest in order of popularity. Let’s be clear, Marissa is in no way ashamed of this act. But this is clearly in violation of Google’s first principle, which states quite clearly that the company will "ultimately serve you, rather than our own internal goal or bottom line."
Google doesn’t seem to be content to stop there. The company appears to be on a path that will have it violate its second principle. As the company tells it: "We do search." But Google, in its never ending drive to get bigger, just might be losing its way. While this expansion is, to a certain degree, inevitable if it wants to keep its lofty valuation, Google seems to be straying further and further away from search. In particular, there are numerous reports that Google is getting into the content business. While it is not clear that Google is producing any content yet, the company has become very cozy with numerous content partners, including Lionsgate Studio, the Dish Network, and even the National Basketball Association.
The problem with these relationships is that they will provide Google with additional incentive to have their search engine point to their content providers, which is clearly not serving us. The potential ramifications for this are enormous. Right now Google is the dominant search engine because everyone believes that it provides the best, unbiased results. If people start to feel that the Google search is no longer reflecting the true "voice of the web," then retribution could be surprisingly swift. Google must recognize that it is not the leader in search just because it has the best search algorithm—the search space is now just another commodity business— but because it has come to represent the web itself. Google is the keeper of the Web democracy. If Google shows even the slightest sign of abusing its power, then retribution could be swift and devastating.
Patrick J. Howie has spent two decades studying the social process of innovation as an economist, head of product development for a venture capital–backed start-up, and creator of the social prediction website ABetterGuess.com. He is the author of THE EVOLUTION OF REVOLUTIONS: How We Create, Shape, and React to Change.