April 08, 2008 |
Last night, when the news of Google App Engine hit the web, I was hobbled with DNS issues that left me able to watch the Twitter stream but unable to read any of the details. Waking up this morning and finding all the Twitterati still throwing confetti, I'm starting to feel that I'm a lone dissenter when I say that I don't think Google App Engine is going to be good for the Web.
Just yesterday, Hank Williams followed up his “VCs are killing us with free” piece with another that came to the same conclusion I did after writing my original response: Google is to blame when it comes to the “must be free” mantra as well. For years now, they've handed us free applications on a silver platter: free web-based mail and calendaring, as well as a free office suite and free web-based email for businesses, and a host of other services. We've grown accustomed to this business model from them, with free services supported by the behemoth of Google's ad revenue.
I've joked before that any time Google sees something in the Web space that is enjoying any sort of success, they will build it themselves. No company is safe, and this morning, Amazon is realizing that as well. The Google App Engine is such a close copycat of Amazon's Web Services that there can be no doubt that Google's gone gunning for Amazon with their new offering. And unlike Amazon's offerings, Google App Engine is free up to 500 MB of persistent storage and 10 GB of bandwidth per day. I'm sure that Google feels Amazon should be shaking in their boots today.
There are two problems with their launch, in my opinion. The first is the choice of Python for launch. In the Web 2.0 space, Ruby (and specifically its Rails framework) is the “It” language. When you look at the applications currently using S3 (Twitter being one of the biggest), they aren't using Python, and I doubt they plan on recoding just to move to GAE. Google promises other languages will be added, but they would have made a bigger splash and lured more of Amazon's customers away, had they started with Ruby.
But beyond the choice of language for launch is Google's repeated reliance on the free offering to get customers of other services to switch. A pattern has emerged with Google: copy another company's idea, make it bigger if we can, and give it away. Of course this increases the eyeballs on Google properties, which in theory should lead to bigger ad revenue, but the numbers on ad revenue are already slowing down for Google. The U.S. economy is suffering, and ad revenue will surely follow. At what point will Google realize you can't give everything away for free and rely on the ad business to fund it?
Even beyond the ad-supported business model for entry-level apps and the language choice is that Google has ceased to be innovative. Sure, the majority of bloggers this morning are singing Google's praises, but when is the last time that the company who revolutionized search and came up with the model for monetizing content with ads introduced a new idea? Every single offering that Google has brought us over the last few years has been in response to another company introducing a new and innovative service. Google's entire development model at this point appears to be a “me too” cycle, dependent on their size and the weight of their influence to take over in the space they enter.
So while the rest of the tech blogosphere can continue to toss confetti this morning, I'll be over here pondering whether or not Google has reached the point where they are steering their huge ship at the latest Next Big Thing, never realizing that they are slowly running out of gas to keep heading to the next destination.