Still, you gotta give Google credit for taking a licking and coming back for more. While Yahoo's attempts at revamping itself have seemingly foundered and Microsoft can't seem to find an updated media press list (that's an inside joke to my friends at Edelman), the folks at Google are leading La Vida Loca by comparison.
In 2007, competitors will keep nipping at Google's heels, regardless of whether or not they have a reasonable expectation of success. Here, then, are my suggestions for what it should do to stay at the head of the online search pack.
Am I just another blogger pontificating from a bar stool, or a savvy tech journalist with keen insight? (What's the diff?, some of you might ask.) You be the judge (comments section below).
1) Close superfluous sites
Google's early strength was its broad reach. Now, even Google recognizes it's gorged itself at the software buffet. The company made a first stab at paring its nonstarters with the shuttering of Google Answers last fall.
More than simply getting rid of the programs it offers that aren't all that popular, Google's "far-flung-ness" is a symptom of its overarching ambition to be all things to all users. 2007 must be the year Google reins itself in, and decides what it really wants to be when it grows up.
2) Work with -- not against -- your content providers
This piece of advice takes a page from my first point. If Google intends to remain the aggregator of all aggregators, it should strive not to piss off those who create the content to which it links. Perhaps taking a page from Microsoft's attitude toward open source, Google has unfortunately chosen not to work and play well with content providers.
Google has tried to extend copyright law to enable it to present ever greater quantities of information. Adding insult to injury, it's had the gall to tell copyright owners that its ambitions are in their best interest.
Google should have taken the hint it was doing something wrong when XXX-picture purveyor Perfect 10 won a legal round against Google.
Sure, Google can probably keep content creators at bay for another 10 or 20 years. But it would be in Google's own interest to bury the hatchet and reach some sort of agreement with the newspapers and magazines it links to. The reason is that the print industry is dying a slow death, thanks in large part to the Web. However, Web revenues aren't replacing print advertising fast enough to support today's level of content creation. Without some sort of innovative partnership between Google and the media, eventually Google will be able to link to little but Reuters reports in the Hindustani Times.
3) Offer free Web-based apps for all
If Google gains traction in something beyond search, it'll likely be in Web-based apps. That's the field whose highest profile advocate has been Marc Benioff. His company, Salesforce.com, has been the chief proponent of software as a service. Instead of buying an app and hosting it on your own computing infrastructure, you rent access and use the app via a browser interface.
Google already has started doing this, with its Docs & Spreadsheets tool.
With Windows Vista poised for widespread deployment in 2007, Google should move aggressively to convince users that they need not go for pricey, standalone software when free collaborative tools are available.
The one big caveat Google will have to overcome is that fact that Google's tools lie beyond the corporate firewall, where sensitive data is vulnerable to hackers.
4) Keep "private" Google searches private
Remember the furor in early 2006, when Google was among the search services which had their customer search data sought by the U.S. Justice Department?
My advice then, on 5 Ways To Keep Your Google Searches Private, remains timely.
5) Be humble
What does it mean that Google Video hosts a copy of the notorious "Steve Ballmer's Monkey Dance?
Perhaps turnabout is fair play, but Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page have had their own public tussles with corporate hubris. Only Steve Jobs has pulled off the neat trick of turning arrogance into a marketing tool.
Google should continue to take its lead from CEO Eric Schmidt, who has carved out an image as a nice guy long on competence and short of public displays of ego.