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Sunday was Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG ) 10th birthday. Most articles are gushing with praise for its wildly successful decade. While praise for its past success is certainly deserved, maybe investors should wonder if the company has grown up, or if it's still just an overgrown kid.
True, Google has fought off formidable rivals such as Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) and Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO ) as it monopolizes Web search market share. And it still makes breathless headlines with new products like Google Chrome, its new browser that will take on not only Internet Explorer, but the Mozilla Foundation's Firefox and Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL ) Safari as well. (Of course, the gbrowser rumor's been circulating since 2004.) And then there's Android, and cloud computing, and …
Granted, Google has come up with many services that have been great for consumers and pushed much-needed changes from old paradigms. For example, Gmail dragged Web-based email kicking and screaming into the future (although I recently ranted about how awful Gmail's related advertising tends to be).
Here's why I'm apathetic to all the Google hoopla: Its other products haven't come anywhere near its success with core Internet search (and lucrative targeted advertising). Fortunately for it, that financial success has allowed it to carry on like an abstract artist/prima donna, throwing a bunch of stuff against the wall to see what sticks. But so far, it has been impressive just how little these extras have really mattered to Google. (Is Google's core search and advertising business really a parallel to Orson Welles' Citizen Kane?)
YouTube? Google Docs? Google Earth? Chrome? Is it smart for Google to dabble in everything? If so, shouldn't it focus on stuff that hasn't been done yet instead of what often looks like a mission to irritate Microsoft? The frequent "me-too" mentality doesn't strike me as innovative. Last but not least, isn't it arguable that Google's manic product portfolio is awfully similar to the kind of corporate behavior Peter Lynch dubbed "diworsification"?
Google may be a little too much like a typical 10-year-old, exhibiting some promising creativity but also wanting to be everything from an astronaut to a rock star to the president of the United States (when it's not irritating grown-ups). With the possibility that Google will be even more pressured by the current economic difficulties, hopefully its shareholders won't have to learn the hard way that sometimes creativity should be tempered with maturity and restraint.
Search through some related Foolishness without Google:
- OK, so I've had my doubts about the search giant for years -- in 2006, I revealed 10 things I hated about Google. (I also had a blast mocking Microsoft, Yahoo!, and Google in Shakespearean.)
- Some of my Foolish colleagues are fans -- Rick Munarriz envisioned Google in 2010.
- Tim Beyers reported on more clouds for Google.