A few days ago, it seemed like the big predictions for '07 would almost inevitably include some brave start-up--or collaboration--stepping up to the plate and challenging the most juggernautish of the Internet's juggernauts: Google. The predictions were less adamant about whether or not said challenger would actually succeed; after all, Google has recently established itself as pretty darn ironclad. But in 2006's eleventh hour, a string of mishaps, criticisms, and embarrassments have left the Mountain View, Calif.-based company with some exposed vulnerabilities that may make it somewhat easier for an "anti-Google" to emerge this year. I'm not going to lie: I expected something like this to happen, but certainly not so quickly or at such a normally "slow" time of year.
First, there was Blogger. The publishing platform, arguably Google's most high-profile acquisition until they bought that little video-sharing site this year, was in need of a revamp as easier-to-use blogging services threatened to steal its thunder. Unfortunately, Blogger's full release of its facelift was plagued by problems and customer support was apparently somewhat MIA.
But then more negative buzz began to spread about Google's homegrown products. Several Gmail users complained of mass e-mail deletions, and the methodology of its year-end Zeitgeist list came under fire when people began to wonder why the top spot was held by..."Bebo." (Sure, it's a social network on the rise. But wouldn't more people be searching for, say, "Britney Spears?") But perhaps most glaring is the criticism from Firefox co-founder Blake Ross, who recently chastised Google for plugging its own products in search results. The criticism was shrugged off by some as one of capitalism's inherent unpleasant bits, but it nevertheless has resulted in a lot of blog posts that display Google's logo next to a less-than-savory headline. Any tech company, no matter how big, is going to have more rough patches than they'd like to admit. But when that company is as high-profile as Google, it can get uglier.
Personally, I don't mind the "tips." At least Google is pointing to its own products, with "Google" in the title, rather than making shady references to advertisers that have inked back-room deals to bring them to the top of the search results pile. (Not saying that happens or anything...) And I'm still a big fan of Gmail, Google Reader, Google Calendar, and Google Groups. But numerous small complaints about a big company are the sort of thing that could snowball, and negative press can make it tough for successes--like Google Blog Search's recent surge past Technorati--to shine through. Just look at Sony and its not-so-awesome 2006. The recent issues with Google are probably far too trivial to actually have an immediate impact on the company (unless the Gmail deletions get worse), but there's a chance that they'll create a nasty chip in the Mountain View armor. A small but well-exposed set of vulnerabilities could be turned into something much worse if, say, a promising challenger to one of Google's products does come along in 2007 like plenty of bloggers have been predicting.
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