Panic in the streets! Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) disappointed somebody with its quarterly earnings report.

Google's fourth-quarter profit just about tripled to $1.03 billion, or $3.29 per share. Revenues jumped 67% to $3.20 billion. Margins ticked upward across the board. (For the full rundown of the numbers, check out our Fool by Numbers today.) Among the notable tidbits are the fact that Google's capital expenditures for the full year increased by 127% to $1.9 billion (and in fact, free cash flow for the year still rose, albeit by 3.5% to $1.68 billion), and Google said to expect continued "significant" capital expenditures in 2007.

My Foolish colleague Seth Jayson wrote an awesome quick take on Google earlier today, and his is a hard act to follow. I echo much of his sentiment. First off, it's not like those quarterly results are really that disappointing in the grand scheme of things. On the other hand, that's the trap when people get wrapped up in "expectations." (Although let's face it, a couple percentage points shaved off Google's share price does not a bloodbath make.)

And that's another thing. If Google disappointed somebody, let's not forget that it's a long-standing policy that Google doesn't even give guidance. What's more, from the get-go Google has let it be known that it intends to do things in its own way. Management has always said that it's going to do what it thinks is best for the long term, and it pretty aggressively said when it first filed to go public that it had no intention of playing into short-term sentiment and would do things shareholders might not always understand if it thought it was best for the long term.

I've often said I like Google as a company, but I'm not crazy about the idea of investing in the stock. Google's main strength is search, and as Seth mentioned earlier, it hasn't had great success thus far with some of its ancillary products that take on the likes of Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO), and eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY). (Not to mention services nobody hears too much about anymore, like Orkut, Picasa, and Blogger.) And of course, while Google's search stickiness is strong, I've never believed it had that much of a moat to protect it from competitors.

In an interesting bit from its conference call, Google said it's having more success thus far than it originally projected with Google Checkout (and interestingly, it's allowing companies to see Google as a sales channel as well as an advertising expense), and it said it has signed on 20% of the Web's top 500 retailers. However, people can't help but wonder if it's proving costly to promote, given the fact that Google's been cutting breaks to consumers and merchants alike to use it.

Meanwhile, traffic acquisition costs jumped compared to last year, bringing to mind big-money deals like the ones it made with News Corp.'s (NYSE:NWS) MySpace as well as Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX) AOL and eBay, which gives good food for thought. That was a question brought up by an analyst in the conference call, and Eric Schmidt responded that there's nothing "nefarious" about such deals, it's just a trend in Google's business.

Maybe Google's fourth-quarter results didn't deserve the huge uproar -- but on the other hand, maybe some furor is warranted, just because of the sheer fact that investors should ponder the long-term horizon. Maybe it's a good reminder that the bigger Google gets, the more challenges it will face in keeping up with lofty expectations; the more money it will have to spend to stay competitive and grow its business; and, of course, the more it might make some moves that shareholders won't understand, or that might result in short-term disappointment, or that might not even pan out at all. Today may be much ado about Google, but the concepts being kicked around certainly aren't much ado about nothing.

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Yahoo!, Time Warner, and eBay are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Microsoft is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. The Fool has a disclosure policy.