Lots of people have been raising the question to me lately of whether or not Google is innovative. While on the one hand it’s the kind of purely philosophical debate I don’t tend to involve myself in, I do find it surprising because – while not having thought it through – I do tend to think of Google as innovative. If pressed, I probably couldn’t tell you why, but from the perspective of a consumer I think Google’s delivering interesting services to me at no cost. Whether they’re actually innovative or not is a matter I’ll leave to those with a more philosophical bent, but I can tell you that the first time I used Gmail and Google Maps (particularlly the satellite view), I was impressed. Very impressed. With both applications, Google reset my expectations for clients in their respective spaces. Hotmail and Yahoo Mail were obsoleted as effectively as Mapquest was; I couldn’t tell you the last time I used any of the above.
Now it may very well be that folks are correct and that the current obsession with Google is misplaced. But when I look at lists like Matt’s it’s obvious that I’m more forgiving than Google’s critics. Forget the fact that three A’s out of 9 offerings is not a bad record in this industry, and that I’d quarrel with several of his grades (Spreadsheet != Excel is the wrong way to look at the comparison, IMO). What impresses me about Google is that their stuff impacts me on a continuing basis.
Take Google Mobile, which Matt is somewhat dismissive of. The ability to use SMS as an API to Google really transformed my cross-country trip last week. Looking for hotels the first night, I SMS’d “Hotels, Grand Island, NE” to 46645 and found out there was a Holiday Inn. Great news. Day 2, I wanted to know how much closer Youngstown was to my destination than Cleveland. Easy. One query of “Youngstown, OH to Mountain Lakes, NJ” and another of “Cleveland, OH to Mountain Lakes, NJ” and I had my answer. Along with driving directions. What was on my calendar for Friday? Simple query of “nday” to 48368. Access to a ton of information, using nothing more complicated than SMS, for free. I can’t do any of this with the infrastructure that we at RedMonk pay for.
Are these innovative? Matt says that “others have been doing a better job of it for years,” so I guess that I have missed those services. As have most of the people that I talk to; whenever I use Google SMS people are amazed. They typically have no idea that it existed.
So ultimately, my answer to the question of the Google fetish is simple: they make things that people can use, with a minimum of effort. Often in transformative ways. As long as they keep doing that, I think the public will be inclined to give Google the benefit of the doubt as far as whether they actually innovate.