We all know that Google is the dominant search engine, and controls a large percentage of online advertising. But many of us -- even regular Google users -- are not aware of some of Google's other services. Most of them are presented as new ways of listing and categorizing the universe.
However, consistent with Google's new status as a profit-first public corporation, what lies at the root of most of Google's expanding ventures is the need to become less dependent on context-based advertising revenue. In other words, the people at Google are desperately looking for new ways of making money.
Froogle Still Looking for a Mission in Life
Google's product search and comparison tool called Froogle, was launched in December 2002. It was developed in an attempt to cash in on the obvious market for online shopping that major sites like eBay and Amazon had so successfully exploited.
Unlike alternatives like eBay, Froogle lists products for free, and it has no integrated purchase capability. You just look for products by product name or description and are presented with a list of products with links to sites where they are available.
Product information gets into Froogle in one of two ways, according to the Froogle instructions. It can be submitted electronically by merchants and will then be included in the database. Second, in the course of spidering the Web, Google's spidering software "automatically identifies webpages that offer products for sale". These are then included in the Froogle database as well.
What Google wants is to make Froogle a product search tool of choice, and open up various monetization opportunities. The obvious ones are embedded advertising and paid listings, but others include direct sales possibilities on the eBay model.
After more than three years Froogle is still called a "beta" suggesting that Google still has no definite plans for it. The latest development was to add "local shopping" information to the listings giving Froogle potential to become an online yellow pages.
Google Local Integrates Maps, Local Product Search
Everybody agrees that local search is going to be very big in the next couple of years. Say you're looking for a place to buy a digital camera in a particular city. Just do a search for "digital camera in MyTown", and Google Local will give you a detailed street map of the area along with stores that carry the product, and locations indicated on the map.
Since products are indexed by keyword, you can search for virtually anything, rather than being restricted to the categories pre-defined by a service like the yellow pages.
Also unlike the yellow pages, Google Local includes all stores they have a listing for, not just paying advertisers. Local gives you a map with locations, plus listings with links direct to the stores. The potential for this resource seems awesome.
Plus Google Local has integrated a very slick map utility that arguably looks better (simpler) and in some ways, works faster than other services such as MapQuest. For instance, you can search for a relatively obscure place like Carlyle, Saskatchewan or Brora, Scotland and you are taken to a detailed street map for the entire region. If you are looking for a broader overview of the area, you can just grab the map and scroll along a highway or the coast without having to click on navigation arrows as you do with MapQuest.
Google has also integrated its satellite imaging service into Local. If you are looking at a specific map and would rather see a satellite image of the area, just click on "satellite". Or if you would like to see the satellite image with a map overlay, you can see that too, by clicking on "hybrid".
Google Video Lets You Put Your Videos Online
Google Video was introduced in beta back in the spring of 2005, ostensibly to give video producers an outlet for their work. As Google says, "Whether you produce hundreds of titles a year or just a few, you can give your videos the recognition and visibility they deserve by promoting them on Google - for free. Signing up for the Google Video Upload Program will connect your work with users who are most likely to want to view them."
No doubt Google has something else in mind here too -- providing video-related services to generate revenue. The logical move is for Google to eventually build a large library of amateur and then commercially produced videos and movies that it can "rent" on a pay-per-view basis. The company has already taken a step in this direction with its recent AOL alliance in which it committed to promoting AOL's video library.
As John Battelle said in a June 2004 blog post, "this will help the spread of an alternative universe for video distribution and playback, one independent of the walled garden business model in which video is currently locked... the sooner independent voices have an outlet for their work, and a business model to pay for it, the sooner we'll see content creators revolt from the hegemony of cable and studio models."
But there are other possibilities as well. As Jon Udell says in a blog post, "the larger goal is to bring the social effects we see at work in the textual blogosophere into the realm of audio. Linking and quotation drive discovery and shared discourse, but media formats, players, and hosting environments are notoriously hostile to linking and quotation, and I'd really like to see that change."
Google made a move in this direction by switching its player technology to Flash in the fall of 2005. While encoding options for flash (FLV) are still relatively limited, the capabilities to make flash movies more "link-friendly" are much better than the other mainstream alternatives (Quicktime, Windows Media, and Real).
In other words, it is much easier to build hot links and other types of scripting into video and audio using Flash, making it a much better fit with the traditional "interactive" features we expect from the web.
This also gives it more potential for the integration of advertising into pre-existing videos.