I have been waiting to write this post for four months. Ever since I wrote a piece with this title in January 2011 friends and colleagues have been asking “And now…?”, and this has intensified since Google’s results announcement in January 2012. 25% revenue growth? Breaking $10 billion revenue in a single quarter? In anyone elses’ results statement this would have been sparkling news in a recession. Google’s shares dropped 10% on the news. And then the analysis. Cost-per-click – Google’s revenue from advertizers – fell 8% in the quarter, and the same amount in the previous quarter. This is a company still totally dependent on advertising. Imagine a newspaper company whose yield from classifieds fell 8% per quarter to see the wonderful way in which “velocity”, as Larry Page describes growth, disguises performance.

When I last wrote on this subject I was trying to describe an advertising-based search company that was trying to kick the habit and migrate elsewhere. Clearly Android, now on 250 million handsets, is the most obvious escape hatch. Analysts forecast that 2012 will see Android account for 12% of gross revenues, which demonstrates that migration is slow and old habits die hard. So if my grandchildren do not grow up thinking of Google as a phone company, as I suggested in the original blog, what will they think of the mature Google, shuffling along in the carpet-slippers of 10% growth? Well, they could imagine it as an operating system – Chrome is still growing strongly and Chrome OS has not been fully exploited. Or they could think of it as a social network environment: Google+ is now up to 90 million members, still a fraction of Facebook, but up from 40 million the previous quarter. Indeed, social networking may be a “must win”, or at least a “must compete strongly” environment for Google if the search-advertising market is to be prolonged long enough for these other options to emerge from under the strategy umbrella. With Google taking the axe to so many of its product development fields directly related to search, this requirement is exacerbated.

However, what really gets me writing this evening is the strong suspicion that Google themselves think that the answer is elsewhere. An interview with Ben Fried, the Google CIO, in the Wall Street Journal yesterday has him saying that the Cloud is reaching a tipping point (http://blogs.wsj.com/cio/2012/05/10/google-cio-ben-fried-says-cloud-tipping-point-is-at-hand/?mod=google_news_blog). Google clearly feel that Cloud computing, in the age of ubiquitous broadband (whenever that happens), will be their route to a business base in individual and small business sectors. As Google has used the Cloud to take costs out of its own core business, which given the comments above it has needed to do, so it can use its global data centre coverage to do the same for others. In this world, where we can fondly imagine two remotely sited workers watching each other’s real time edits on a document in Google Docs, small development teams can access a wide range of tools and pursue the sort of “fail fast”, constantly re-iterating, development strategies beloved of major corporates.

But this is a place where the competition is established, hot and strong, and despite Google’s history as a solutions developer, Apple and Microsoft go back further. iCloud, dependent on a syncing environment rather than the broadband, moves all the files to the Cloud, with users retaining copies and, as Steve Jobs is always quoted as saying, demoting “the PC to be just a device”. There is a different philosophy of Cloud here, but one that seems more based on now than when. And then again there is Amazon, inspired, as was Google, by the long struggle to use the Cloud to solve its own back office issues, now offering AWS as a solution in the very markets that Google thinks should be its own.

So it cannot be just the Cloud that Google see as their exit-from advertising-dependence platform. But the Cloud and Big Data? This article’s timing is much influenced by the announcement of Google BigQuery, which, although semi-publicly trialled since December last year, was formally launched on 1 May (http://www.zdnet.com/blog/big-data/googles-bigquery-goes-public/405). Since it covers databases of up to two terabytes (seems big to me!), this has been described as a business intelligence tool by some commentators who expected larger database environments from the inventor of MapReduce (working in pedabytes), who kicked off this Big Data thing to begin with and are clearly working here as elsewhere from the “solve our own problems, then generalize to solve yours” standpoint indicated above. But here is a real irony: if you are working in a Big Data context much of what you will be looking for is indexed on Google, but not searchable in a Google Cloud context. Again, contrast Amazon, where they have now begun adding public databases to their Cloud offering, searchable in their EC2 (Electric Compute Cloud) context. Here are some of the first offerings:

In all, Google now face a struggle. As they move to a new service environment, we need to remember that they created the original company not by inventing search but improving it. Page ranking was a big step forward in its day and created a meteoric growth company. From this they built an Empire, now maturing. Edward Gibbon, commenting upon the fall of Rome and the rise of its rivals, marked a certain point of no return. “If all the barbarian conquerors had been annihilated in the same hour, their total destruction would not have restored the empire of the West: and if Rome still survived, she survived the loss of freedom, of virtue, and of honour.”

Is this where Google now is, and can its still youthful originators recreate it?



In our shuffling ascending spiral motion up the great Tower of Time, we do denial at every turn of the stair. A year ago: “Devices are just display tech and will never replace real multi-functional office computing”. Today: “Everything goes to the Cloud”. Last year: “Everybody must build all the functionality into Apps”. Now: “Personalization will overtake Apps before Apps take over publishing”. The result is familiar. Let me see if I can deepen the gloom and make the waters more muddy for a moment, knowing that our only hope of insight comes from bafflement and obscurity.

It seems to me for a start that publishers really do not like Apps. They are convenient, developers love them, they work at the subscription level, but as information products they are not very satisfying. Many of them lack the linkability which has now become a habit of mind for network users. They are certainly Workflow, and invaluable if you are buying a train ticket or booking an hotel. Elsewhere they are often Shortcuts to Nowhere. The statistics tell us that the vast majority of App downloads are never used twice. Since they are tied to devices and the formatting demanded by device manufacturers they do not meet the expectation that we encouraged the former print world to accept: go digital neutral and cover every channel of distribution. They work well for community and clubs, where they can act as a holding point for shared content and a jumping off point for discussion, but I am becoming so unsure of the hegemony of Devices that it is undermining my faith in Apps as well.

The last straw was a note on Pebble in the Guardian (8 May 2012). Pebble is a wristwatch lookalike device based on eInk and providing email and text access on Android and iPhone. (http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2012-04/12/pebble-e-ink-smartwatch). This really hurts. I have been going round for years telling everyone that the reason my children do not seem to wear watches is that they are people of a modern age who work (albeit late) on network time. But despite the founders of Pebble raising £5 million in funding through product pre-purchases, this only convinces me even more that we are wrong if we start “publishing to” devices as if they were a platform or a channel. I think that our efforts need to be directed elsewhere, while we watch devices morph into new forms and bifurcate across functions. The day will come when we shall each have several (I have unfortunately already arrived) and they will be dedicated to use purposes in our lives – this for flying, that for taking to meetings, this other for holidays etc. The device spec will be governed by our purposes and requirements in these functions, not by any attempt to put every function into every device. The device in the car will have different requirements from the one in the kitchen, though of course some of the functionality will be the same.

All of which rather begs the question of what environments we should be publishing for if not specifically for Apps and devices. And the answer, of course, is the personalized Cloud. The environments we should be watching are Apple’s iCloud, and Amazon (AWS)’s CloudSearch. In this sense, current battles in the book sector are simply a kindergarten warm-up for the big battles out in the playground at lunch hour. Current popular neurosis about privacy (an odd but real phenomenon, since the security services have always had unfettered access to our deepest secrets, at least since Sir Francis Walsingham bought his first thumb screw) and the business drive to Cloud computing will come together in Personal Cloud. There I will have my library, my searchable subscriptions and, above all things, my Cloud Server. This will end all questions about the Web as a service venue – it will become a place for browse and research, not a full service zone. That I will control for myself, as well as all the data derived from it, and on that server I will decide what access to content derived from me and my activities that I give to third parties (using long available services like Paoga – www.paoga.com – to do this). The device that measures my blood pressure files the results in my Cloud, gives me well-informed medical guidance from the selection of service vendors that I trust and subscribe to, but only releases my actual results to my physician at regular periodicity – and his monitoring devices tell him when we need to talk. Come to think of it, the Pebble strapped round my wrist could handle the pulse for a start!

I have too little space here to demonstrate the full extent of my ignorance more than superficially. My feeling from reading is that Amazon’s announcements last month now put them a little in the lead over Apple and Google (http://www.readwriteweb.com/cloud/2012/04/amazon-beats-google-to-a-cloud.php). Apple’s concern was content sharing across devices (https//www.apple.com/uk/iCloud). Googles of course was search, but clearly both Amazon and Google are alike in the vastness of their server farm environments and their ability to support global personal and corporate Cloud usage. And Amazon, having started AWS in 2006, may be said to have the experience, and the readiness to move into these new worlds. We are entering the age of “he is so old he can remember when Amazon was a bookseller”. An annual rental of CloudSearch costs 100 USD.

So has my once upon a time dream of the consolidated omni device completely faded? Probably so, though we are likely to be bewildered by the range of device offerings and their narrow differentiation for many years to come. Meanwhile, the next virtual world builds quietly in the Cloud, and demands our total attention.

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