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Competition for the Field on the Internet

Keith Woolcock (Time Business) offers an interesting perspective on what economists would describe as “competition for the field” between Apple, Facebook, Google, and Facebook.  It gives a good sense of the many dimensions of competition upon which these firms compete.

The upcoming IPO of Facebook, the flak surrounding Twitter’s decision to censor some tweets, and Google’s weaker-than-expected 4th-quarter earnings all point to one of the big events of our times: The crazy, chaotic, idealistic days of the Internet are ending. Once, the Prairies were open and shared by everyone. Then the farmers arrived and fenced them in. The same is happening to the Internet: Apple, Amazon and Facebook are putting up fences — and Google is increasingly being left outside.

The old Internet on which Google has thrived is still there, of course, but like the wilderness it is shrinking. Often these days, we sign up for Facebook or Amazon’s private version of the Internet. At other times, we use a smartphone and download an App instead of using Google search.

The danger to Google, in other words, is that as social networking, smartphones and tablets increasingly come to dominate the Internet, Google’s chance to earn advertising revenues from searching will shrink along with its influence.

Yes, Google has the Android and Google+, but these may not be enough to fight the shift to the closed Internet. Google+, of course, has just a tiny fraction of Facebook’s scale and there’s currently little reason to think it can catch up. The Android operating system, also an attempt by Google to build its own internet eco-system, is a more conspicuous success. Most commentators focus on the rapid growth of Android and the fact that it has greater market share than the iPhone.

But this analysis misses the point: The Android may have market share, but more than half of mobile searches come from iPhone users. Google may have developed Android but, unlike Apple’s iPhone, it does not really control it. Licensees like Samsung and HTC are able to adapt Android software to their own ends. And smart companies like Amazon are getting a free ride on Android while sharing little of the spoils with Google.

Don’t get me wrong: Google is still a force, just as Microsoft, Intel and IBM are. But they are no longer at the epicentre of the zeitgeist. Like Microsoft before it, Google can fight the good fight on many different fronts. Whether it can ever find an engine of growth capable of supplanting its core business is another question.

Check out the whole thing.



Filed under: antitrust, business, economics, google, monopolization, technology