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Saturday, December 11, 2004

What's a Media Company, Anyway?

Google will, it seems, forever be judged by the standards of the companies they've surpassed.

An otherwise entertaining post about the Google Xmas party by FT writer Tom Foremski concludes with: "...at Google, there are NO media professionals! They’ve done well so far, no one would disagree, but can computer engineers grow a media business? This could be Google’s Achilles’ heel."

Yep, that's what Google needs right now -- to bring in some "media people" so they can build a worse GMail product, a worse local search product, a worse version of Google Groups...

We've heard the argument time and again. An interesting Fortune article by Fred Vogelstein back in March, "Bringing Up Yahoo," talked about that company's CEO, Terry Semel, "writing an old-media script to grow a new media darling." At the time I remember seriously questioning just how much money the "media schmoozing" really made for Yahoo given their ongoing heavy reliance on income from search advertising and the technology underlying this.

Around the same time, Charlene Li, the Forrester analyst, critiqued Google for its "deep-seated cultural focus on search." (This criticism leveled at a search engine company!! Apparently the New York Times has a deep-seated cultural focus on newspapers. And Tiger Woods is really zoned in on the golf thing. And McDonald's on burgers. Yeah, they've got salads now. This salad experiment is going well in part because to sell the burgers, McD's built the drive-thrus and trained the staff and designed the processes and .... hmmm, sort of like the way Google designed the computing power to serve the search....)

I humbly submit that there are a lot of ways to make money from technology. And plenty of ways to rake in the bucks in the vast advertising industry. Just as one ho-hum example, a diversified old-school mogul from Western Canada, Jimmy Pattison, makes a lot of money from billboards.

Now maybe I'm just not imaginative enough and I need to be more worried about these players' financial health lest they not behave like somebody's caricature of a media titan. Perhaps Jimmy Pattison needs to swear more. Maybe the incredibly successful Thomson family should go rabidly insane and steal shareholders' dough, like Conrad Black (makes for better front-page stories). And perhaps Page, Brin, Rosing, Schmidt, and co. really need to turn the Google Show into Cirque de Soleil.

But I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that they'll just keep doing what they're doing, which is to focus on building search and related services that don't drive the user crazy. And that the "media" business will continue to be transformed in part due to the influence of those schmoozeless nerds at Big G.

Remember Go.com? Lotta "media" folks involved there. And....?

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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