Has Google Had Its Last Original Idea?

meetooFor some reason it makes me a little sad every time I read that Google has tossed out yet another me-too service aimed at nibbling at the market share of entrenched rivals who got there first. It’s like watching a once unbeatable fighter staggering around hoping to land a wild punch in a vain effort to regain his former glory.

And it reeks of vision by proxy.

The latest me-too service tossed up by Google is Google Checkout, which optimistically hopes to compete with market leader Paypal. Google, trying to be at least a Web 1.5 company, weaves some advertising pixie dust into the service by associating AdWords ads into the equation. If a business is registered with Google Checkout, its AdWords ads will have a shopping cart icon, which arguably makes them stand out from the competition. Of course to be registered with Google Checkout requires a Google account.

Google Checkout has lower fees than Paypal and while competition is a good thing for the consumer, this seems to me like another example of Google using its money to hurt its rivals more than help itself. Will there be another secondary offering soon so Google can open a bookstore and sell books below cost just to cause a little pain to Amazon?

Of course most people use Paypal in connection with auctions and online stores for individuals and small businesses. If I were the head bottle washer at Google, the fact that eBay owns both Paypal and the online auction and store market would be enough to deep six this idea. That doesn’t seem to bother Google. Rumor has it that Google is going to enter another mature market by trying to compete for the auction market. Great.

BusinessWeek Online has an interesting article about Google’s struggles in this “me-too” world.

Originally, when Google announced a new service, rivals, users and the press would jump to attention and wait for the Google product to change the landscape. Recall the loud buzz that accompanied the release of Google Talk, Google’s instant messaging system? After the initial hoopla, Google Talk promptly faded only to suffer relentless CPR at the hands of its cousin Gmail. Google Talk is currently the number 10 IM service. I can name around 5 IM services, which means that some I can’t even name are ahead of Google Talk, notwithstanding Gmail’s persistent life-saving operations. It’s like those TV shows where a passionate (or job-insecure) doctor keeps putting the paddles to a patient who is long gone.

Google Finance, which also got a lot of buzz, is the 40th most visited financial site. I doubt it has a bullet.

All the fear rivals once felt upon the release of a new Google application is slowly being replaced by anticipation of the crash and burn.

The Business Week article is a must read. Here is the part that sums up my biggest concern:

“[T]he company’s struggles with expansion raise long-term questions about whether it can eventually diversify revenue away from the small text-based ads that now constitute 99% of sales. ‘This is still a company that derives almost all of its revenues from one business,’ says Scott Kessler, an analyst at Standard & Poor’s.”

Read that again. That is an amazing and frightening fact. It is exhibit number one in the argument that we have found our way back to the bubble. The people who think they are going to make some greater fool money before it pops don’t want to talk about it, but yonder stands the bubble. And it’s getting bigger all the time.

Google has had some success with non-search products. Gmail has some market share and Google Maps, while in need of more customization features, is my map service of choice.

But like an aging rock band, the hits are not as easy to come by these days. Too much of Google’s work seems to be based on following and not leading. Perhaps the fact that Google followed the pack into the search space and won has resulted in a corporate belief that the same thing can happen elsewhere. I don’t think it’s going to be that easy.

There is no recipe for timing and luck.

I want to see an original idea from Google.

I just wonder if they have any left?