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Google’s great gambles

Next Monday could be tough for Nikesh Arora, if market indications are true. They say social networking site Facebook is out to launch its own “Gmail killer” and that could be a new challenge for the No. 4 man in Google Inc, which, on last call, was the unofficial God of the Silicon Valley.

india Updated: Nov 13, 2010 01:58 IST
Narayanan Madhavan

Next Monday could be tough for Nikesh Arora, if market indications are true. They say social networking site Facebook is out to launch its own “Gmail killer” and that could be a new challenge for the No. 4 man in Google Inc, which, on last call, was the unofficial God of the Silicon Valley.

For Arora, whose dapper looks and dimpled smile hide awe-inspiring responsibility in arguably the world’s hottest high-tech company, challenges are not new, but the fact is that Google has too many bets in the air, as its 23,000 high-tech employees invent a digital future.

“When things go from a nice-to-have to a must-have, it is going to be big. We saw broadband was going to be big,” Arora said in an interview at the Hindustan Times office, explaining the logic behind Google’s big bets.

Arora talks of a future in which three of its key bets will revolutionise the world.

Android, a mobile computing platform is out to make smartphones and tablet computers faster, cheaper and better.

But more exciting is Google TV, a piece of software that will marry your living room television to the Web (see interview) and enable seamless jumping between the TV and the Net.

“Over time, distribution is segregating from content,” Arora said. “In the past, it was all vertically integrated.”

In other words, you can buy articles instead of newspapers and download videos instead of watching channels – anytime, from anywhere.

Also on Google’s menu is Google Maps – which apart from satellite images and elaborate maps, enables 360-degree street views.

The big question: how is Google going to make money?

Arora says the company’s philosophy is to “set to zero” three principles of marketing – placement, promotion and price – and focus instead on the fourth P, “product”.

“We believe that once you create a wow product, you’ll find a way to monetise it,” he said.

But then, it is not that rosy. Google is yet to gain big from anything other than search advertisements. It has quietly sidelined two big initiatives -- Wave, a seamless conversation mechanism that blended real-time chats with off-line e-mail; and Buzz, a tacky effort to marry social networking messages with Gmail.

But Google says all is for its good because all bets feeds a hunger for information that in turn feeds demand for search technologies and ads – which remain Google’s secret sauce.

In the coming days, the challenge will go up if Microsoft’s search engine Bing gains ground. That’s another story. Google’s big bets and giant pets