Google dominates the past, not the future -- and that raises serious questions about the company

On Tuesday morning, Google stock was trading at just under $US540 per share.

Give or take a few rises and falls, it’s been trading around that same price for the past 14 months, since December 2013.

In Silicon Valley, where stock grants account for a huge portion of employee compensation, a flat stock price presents a major threat to a company like Google.

Talented Google engineers and executives can only resist for so long the lure of a venture-backed startups, where salaries are slightly lower but the upside is much higher.

What’s going wrong at Google?

We’ve been asking a lot of people lately, and will continue to. It’s one of the most important stories in Silicon Valley right now.

One take we’ve heard over and over is that Google is the new Microsoft — a technology company that is still able to grow its revenues at an impressive rate, but does so because it owns a monopoly on a computing platform that is more a part of the past than it is the future.

For Microsoft, this monopoly was Windows, the only desktop operating system that mattered.

Wall Street richly rewarded Microsoft for this monopoly until it became clear that, in the future, all desktop operating systems will matter less. First this was because, in the early 2000s, it became obvious that it would not matter which desktop operating system you used to access the Internet. Then, after the iPhone and Android, desktop dominance mattered less because enough people stopped accessing the Web from desktops at all, preferring mobile.

For the whole decade, Microsoft’s Windows business kept growing and growing, but because the company could not maintain its first place position on the Web and in mobile — the future! — shareholders punished it.

In this comparison, the monopoly Google owns is Google search. Google search is the only desktop Web business that matters. This is both because it is the primary way of navigating the desktop Web and because it is the best way to make money off of the desktop Web, thanks to the simple brilliance of search ads.

In this theory, Wall Street richly rewarded Google for this monopoly, until sometime in late 2013, when it began to become clear that owning the only business on the desktop Web that matters won’t matter for long — because the desktop Web itself is slowly become a part of the past, and not the future.

The future, for now, is in mobile — mobile apps and, to a much lesser extent, the mobile Web. Because Google is bad at apps, and the mobile Web is bad for Google search ads, shareholders are punishing it.

The comparison between Google and Microsoft raises lots of questions.

Is Google really so bad at apps? If yes, why?

Why is the mobile Web so bad for Google?

Why can’t Google develop new dominate like it did the desktop Web?

Will Google’s famous “moonshots” work? Or are they all doomed to the fate of Google Glass?

Does the company have leadership in place capable of addressing these problems?

What happens to the culture of a company built around the world’s most perfect profit producer — desktop search ads — as that business slowly begins to lose its lustre? Can it still demand its executives “do no evil” and ask its interns to “do cool things that matter” ?

Our plan, over the next few months, is to answer these questions by asking people who know and sharing what they say with you.

We’d like to hear from Googlers and ex-Googlers on all these topics and more. Email [email protected] or [email protected]

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