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Technology and Business

Heard Here First

Google Chrome

Told you back in August that Google is going to cancel Buzz and Sidewiki – and three weeks later they did. Oh, and the Desktop Search Windows program being discontinued, nailed that one as well!

Guess boy geniuses at Google want to wish away the Windows desktop. So “effective immediately” they cancelled the Google Pack, where they provided commonly used desktop programs, like Skype, Real Player, and Acrobat Reader, among others, in one easy download, supposedly “due to rapidly decreasing demand for downloadable software in favor of web apps.”

What’s misguided about that decision is that bundled in the Pack also were Google Picasa and  Chrome, Google Earth and Apps. The benefits of getting those onto customer systems should be clear even to Google Marketing types. I guess that Google will phase out all Windows programs that they developed or bought over the years, some of them pretty nice. Oh, wait, what about Chrome, Google’s heir apparent to the Firefox web browser?

Personas for Firefox

Firefox via Wikipedia

Firefox is a long-removed descendent of the original Netscape Navigator (if you can remember that far back.) Over last several years Google paid serious money to Mozilla Foundation, a non-profit developer of Firefox, for “search referrals,” amounting to sending hundreds of million search requests to Google servers every day. This provided 84% of Mozilla Foundation’s 2010 revenues, some $103M out of $123M. Google’s predominant position in Firefox’s search traffic, much higher than Google’s overall search penetration of 65%, comes from being the default in the Firefox search bar and the default browser home page.

But Google may be about to cut off Firefox, as their own Chrome browser has become popular. Over 20% desktop computer users currently choose Chrome, a little more than Firefox, though both are still trailing Microsoft Internet Explorer’s 42%, by a decent margin. If Google does not pay Mozilla the premium for their preferred position, Microsoft well may, to direct consumers to their proprietary Bing search engine. It would be SO ironic if Microsoft were to become the main supporter of Firefox, what after the battle that Microsoft fought against Mozilla in the late ’90s.

Indeed, Microsoft is not Google’s real competitor at this point, not with Apple and Facebook around. Still, let’s assume that Google’s special placement with Firefox incrementally accounts for 4% of their overall search traffic. That’s worth over a billion $US a year to them. Could Google be that misguided, to allow Microsoft an opening, over mere $100M?

Yahoo Punts Bartz

Carol Bartz

Carol Bartz via Wikipedia

Yahoo’s troubles are nothing new. So two days ago their board fired Carol Bartz, the potty-mouthed former head of Autodesk, after her stint of less than three years as Yahoo’s CEO. At the time she replaced at the helm Jerry Yang, Yahoo’s cofounder and the man singularly responsible for rejecting in 2008 Microsoft’s buyout bid that amounted to more than twice what the iconic Silicon Valley company is worth now. 

Carol’s comment about Yahoo’s decision was, not surprisingly, F-word foul. The stock market’s gleeful reaction was a two-point pop on the floundering stock. But Yahoo is not going anywhere anytime soon. They are making good money (both profit and cash), to the tune of almost $200 million last quarter, a very robust 20% net profit margin that would be the envy in any industry outside the heady Internet domain.

And Yahoo is still sitting on $2 billion, after spending many more billions on buying back their stock over the last five years. Their trouble is declining revenue (topline sales) over past two years, compared with Google’s current 30%+ revenue growth. So, Wall Street values Yahoo at $18 billion, to Google’s $170 billion, albeit the search giant having seven times the sales.

Some people claim spotting a decade ago Yahoo’s misguided desire to be a media company rather than a technology one. Facebook passed Yahoo in popularity last year, and they are known for cultivating a hacker culture. So, what will Roy Bostock, Yahoo’s Chairman of the Board do now? His credentials include sitting on boards of Delta and Northwest Airlines, neither a stellar performer. Mr. Bostock saw them through a merger in 2008, despite a consumer lawsuit and close regulatory scrutiny. But, an English major in college that went on to a Harvard MBA, how much does he know about highest of Internet technology?

Walmart now has a hip-looking team of five dozen in Silicon Valley, doing some kinda sexy Internet stuff. Could Roy sell them another fourteen thousand?

Google Cancel

Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

Yahoo has nothing on Google, not when it comes to running major projects into the ground. US Healthcare is a two trillion-dollar business, and Google admitted that they cannot hack it, when they annonced last month closing down Google Health (more power to Microsoft HealthVault).

Take another huge market, electric and gas utilities, where adoption of Smart Meters is well underway in California andhundreds of millions of installations are expected in a couple of years. So, Google is closing down their PowerMeter intiative.

Then there is Google’s participation in telecommunications (you know, making phonecalls). Close to a year ago they shut down GOOG-411, a free directory assistance service. Calling on Google Voice for free will close by the end of this year.

Google prides itself on providing dozens of APIs, which are ways for programmers to access Google’s data from their own programs. The Silicon Valley giant has so many of them in fact, that they have an API to discover other APIs. Yet, now that their Translate API did become very popular, the company will close it down by the end of the year.

Actually, the company has a long history of major projects going south. Google Wave was launched in 2009 and aimed to provide messaging and social medial features. A year later development stopped and the software was donated to the Apache Foundation. And before that Google shut down another batch of projects, notably Dodgeball, a mobile social network. Back in 2006 they shattered Google Answers.

So, what could be on the way out next? There is Google Buzz, a microblogging and messaging tool, that has been around for a year-and-a-half, amassed plenty of technical and customer criticism and got Google sued. Sidewiki, a 2-year-old web annotation site, was dubbed a “glorified comment system“.   Picasa, a cool Windows program for editing photos and an entry point into Google’s Picasa picture-sharing service, had not seen an update in close to a year.  Their Desktop Search utility has been dormant since May 2010.

Old-style business world wisdom said that an ’800 pound gorilla’ company, like Microsoft or GE, can enter and eventually dominate  any market that is big enough for them to bother with. This may never been true, but last couple of decades in the technology field prove it particularly false, as the list above shows.

Mid-2012 update:

Google continues ‘spring cleaning‘ well into summer, with notable cancellations including older versions of APIs (including very pretty Chart .) Is it any surprise that support for platforms that Google wants to become obscure (Nokia Symbian, BlackBerry ),  or for major competitor products (Mac and iPhoto versions of Picasa) is diminishing? Latest round of cuts includes iGoogle, their method for individual customization of the main search page. That one’s a surprise, as there was no clear replacement announced, and it must have garnered many many million views a day.

Yahoo Cancel

Yahoo via CrunchBase

Yahoo via CrunchBase

Yahoo made many missteps over last several years, like hiring a CEO that cannot tell you what the company does exactly or firing a bunch of people right before Christmas. Their revenues and profitability have been declining during last several years and quarter-to-quarter. We mentioned earlier their inapt handling of Delicious.
Looking back it’s hardly surprising, as in years past Yahoo ran into the ground a number of major Internet brands, like Geocities and Altavista. And they had cancelled many internal offerings in popular and promising areas, like Yahoo! Bookmarks, Picks, and Buzz, plus Yahoo Featured Listings. Location-based services (LBS) is very hot these days, and meanwhile Yahoo dumps Placemaker and their Traffic APIs. This is beyond not keeping-up with competition, but a pattern of outright failure.

P.S. YouTube founders took Delicious off Yahoo’s hands on April 27th and are now building a new brand around it.

P.P.S. Another Yahoo casualty, MyBlogLog, was discontinued effective May 24.

Twitterleaks

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

Twitter has become not only the backchannel but the main channel of public exchange in the technology world. Yet, a tweet is such a personal remark, easily made off the cuff, on the spur of the moment. And then it stays around, in serverland, for eternity.

So, Yahoo bought the pioneering social bookmarking site Delicious in 2005. Last December they decided to can it, or using corporatespeak, to ‘sunset’ it. Smart people commented on many errors of Yahoo’s ways, but what I find curious is the exchange of tweets that took place. Andy Baio is the founder of upcoming.org that was also bought by Yahoo in 2005 and then allowed to wither. When he heard about the plans for Delicious in an internal Yahoo employee meeting he tweeted about it.

Blake Irving, originally a surfer dude from San Diego, was hired in May 2010 as Chief Product Officer (no kidding), to report directly to Yahoo’s newish CEO, Carol Bartz. He got mad about the tweet leak and tweeted that the person will be fired. This may be an attitude he picked-up during his fifteen years at Microsoft, but blasting like that is not PC for a corporate functionary. An ending of sorts came when Kevin Rose, founder of a social news site Digg, tweeted that he’d like to buy Delicious and turn into something great.

In the land of Google, Nokia’s new chief Stephen Elop was hired from Microsoft in September 2010 (is there a theme developing here?) He decided in favor of Windows for Nokia’s new OS, rather than Android. The information was leaked from both companies, as a memo by Nokia and as a tweet by a Google VP Vic Gundotra (oh, no, he was at Microsoft through 2006).

Meanwhile, in the real world, Twitter the company was the only one to push back on Government’s order for release of data from Wikileaks suspects.  And Alexander Macgillivray, Twitter’s lawyer, tweeted about Government’s analysis on the matter.

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