Web Informant #389, 28 October 2004:

Google as the 900-pound gorilla




I have been in the technology trade publishing business since 1986 and one thing that has remained constant is how often we tend to look over our shoulders at our competitors. Some of this is a function of advertising, the fuel that stokes our own salaries and keeps our pubs alive. But some of it is just watching the employment market and seeing what happens to your colleagues as new publications gain influence and hire away the experienced hands.


The reason I am writing about this now is that we are in the midst of some big changes, and the biggest competitor today is Google. I will explain why after I give you some historical context from my own sordid career.


Back in the early days, we were most worried about the influence of business pubs like the Wall Street Journal and Fortune and Forbes. When I worked at PC Week, which at the time could have been the most influential trade paper of its day in the late 1980s, we kept a careful eye on those guys and did what we could to make sure that our business coverage was solid and that the advertisers got the ear and pocketbooks of computer buyers in PC Week. I think you could say that we did a credible job, and I don't think this is nostalgia talking here. As an example to prove my point, it was a very competitive job market then and it took some work to hire those few trade journalists to make the leap from our little trade press ghetto into the business pubs. Nevertheless, some of them did make the transition (David Churbuck who ran the Forbes web is one notable example) and went on to do some great things.


In the middle 1990s, it was the dot-com era and journalists who were being bought up to run Web sites were the ones to watch. Wired Magazine and the Industry Standard were key players. The trade publishers were having a hard time keeping their own people as the money pump from the dot coms continued to gush. Several publishers had their own misplaced dot com ventures (including some early missteps from my current employer), and we all thought the Internet was going to make print pubs obsolete.


Well obviously that didn't happen, but when the bubble burst in 2000 the print business went into a four-year decline. I keep hoping that we have reached the bottom of this decline.


Today though we are in a new world, where the lines between print and Web are not so clear. It isn't a matter of Web pubs competing with print pubs, but the entire Internet is arranged differently and people are getting their information especially technical information in some very different ways. Gone are those general news portal sites. Does anyone still bookmark CNN.com and TheStreet.com? Indeed, what is a bookmarked site anymore? I can't remember the last time I bookmarked a site. So yesterday.


Today's Internet sources for technical information are a motley brew of blogs, micro-targeted specialty sites, personal email newsletters, RSS feeds, and sites geared towards computing enthusiasts. Tom's Hardware and TechTarget.com are the new king-makers of the day. But the real winner in this collection is Google. And I am not just talking about using their search page, although that is where most people start when they think about the company.


The World of Google has become the 900-pound gorilla for supplying the best technical information. When we survey our engineering audience, they start by googling for some product information. While we would like them to first go to our own Web sites, the reality of the situation is that Google is their default home page.


When our readers try to find one of the articles on our Web sites, they first find it by going to Google. When a blogger wants to sell advertising and support their writing habit, they go to Google and use their services to provide banners on their sites. When a reader wants to stop pop-up ads from annoying him, he downloads a Google Toolbar to do the deed. And now Google has a desktop search tool that will index your own content on your local hard drive and integrate the search results into its Web pages, a truly brilliant move to extend its reach into your desktop.



Microsoft has it wrong: they are trying to extend Windows outward, across the Internet. That is yesterday's thinking. While the desktop is important, Google has it completely right: take the search metaphor, and extend it downwards so that all of your information has just been merged with the zillions of Internet-based sources.


Google has penetrated everywhere, and there is good reason why the stock market has rewarded them, as quirky and idiosyncratic their IPO was earlier this year. (James Cramer is saying it will soon go to $250 a share, which is so 90s thinking, but he has a point.) They are a force to be reckoned with, and Internet publishers have no choice but to embrace and extend their model if they are going to succeed.


A personal note


One reason for the long delay for this missive was my annual charity bike-athon for Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Last week I along with 300 other sturdy souls rode our bikes 105 miles through Death Valley and helped to raise over a million dollars for research activities to cure this disease. Yes, that was 105 miles in one day. I am still a bit sore but otherwise enthused about the trip, which took a little more than 10 hours including climbing a six-mile hill with a flat tire! What made the whole journey worthwhile was the chance to meet up with many friends and be inspired by my fellow riders, including one 13 year old girl who managed to ride more than 60 miles in the desert.


For those of you that are curious, I began doing these rides in 2000 and have raised more than $50,000 for various causes. My rides for JDRF are in memory of Bob Frezza. Those of you who have never contributed to these causes and would like to start now, send me an email and I'll add you to my fundraising list for next year. For those of you that generously contributed to my campaign, you have my continued thanks, appreciation, and awe. Many of my contributors are friends and colleagues, but many of you are people that I have never met face to face and are just at the other end of this email every week or so. I thought of all of you as I neared the end of that six-mile hill and struggled to push my bike to the top. Thanks again for such a fantastic opportunity and all of your support.


Entire contents copyright 2004 by David Strom, Inc.

David Strom, dstrom@cmp.com, +1 (516) 562-7151

Port Washington NY 11050

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