Wednesday, April 18, 2007

New web battle is announced

(updated Dec. 21, 2007)

Google enters deeper and deeper into the realm of Microsoft. Yesterday at Web 2.0 Expo, Eric Schmidt was interviewed by John Battelle. During the interview, Eric announced a new launched presentation feature for Docs & Spreadsheets. Together with the previously released Google Apps, Google is now right on the track to fight against Microsoft, another great battle since Google versus Yahoo. In common, in both of the battles Google is the challenger.

The battle between Google and Yahoo was thought as a search-engine war; and many current observers watch the coming battle between Google and Microsoft as a word-processing war. These beliefs are, however, nearsighted. In fact, both of the battles are consequences of web evolution. They are about one issue: whether we want to leverage producing new quality resources or to supplement methods of operating old quality resources. Let's take the Google-Yahoo battle as the example to explain this viewpoint. In this battle, Google represented the leveraging of new-quality resources and Yahoo represented the supplementing of old quality resources.

One thing we have to clarify before approaching. The reason that Yahoo lose the battle to Google was not completely due to the PageRank algorithm. The PageRank algorithm had helped Google grow to be Yahoo-scale and it helped Google declare the war to Yahoo. But Yahoo was not defeated by this algorithm. By contrast, it was the rise of Web 2.0 that finally defeated Yahoo and prompted the rise of Google.

Web 2.0 provides a new collaborative solution to operate web resources. Consequently, it demands new quality resources that can further leverage its ability of collaboration. This is the pattern: collaborative methods ---> collaboration-friendly resources ---> more collaboration-friendly resources. Google caught this trend and led the revolution of producing new quality resources, such as GMail, Google Map, Google Earth, Google Apps, etc. These products not only provide old-style services (such as supporting emails or map search), but also enable users to collaboratively customize the services into their own frameworks. As the result, by using these products people produce more new-quality collaboration-friendly resources, which could be hardly produced (and thus used) on the pre-2.0 Web. At the meantime, Yahoo, however, still aimed to facilitate its old production line to prompt the production of old quality (generally collaboration-unfriendly) resources. It is this difference that caused the inevitable decline of Yahoo.

Will the history repeat itself again? Will Microsoft repeat the failure of Yahoo in this new battle? Maybe. This new battle is on the realm of word-processing, but indeed it is again about web evolution. They are about whether we will produce more new quality (Web-2.0 quality) documents or produce more old quality (Web-1.0 quality) documents. Web-2.0 quality documents can be easily shared, edited, and collaboratively edited on the web, as Google is projecting. Web-1.0 quality documents, however, are continuing being edited offline primarily. Though we may augment these Web-1.0 documents with the ability of online sharing, as Microsoft is proposing, collaborative editing is certainly more difficult to be implemented if the developers still want to preserve its fundamental functions on the offline side. Since Microsoft has already invested so much on its Office product and been succeeded so far, it is really difficult for Microsoft to start over again in another path that directly competes to one of its most successful and profitable products. As a result, Google will win the battle again.

But there is a problem Google needs to be aware. In yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle, Dan Fost wrote another article about this interview. In the article, there was an interesting paragraph.

The main problem with the Google approach, as Forrester Research analyst Josh Bernoff pointed out just before the speech, is "if you're on an airplane or anywhere else where you have no connection, it doesn't work. They need to make it like Outlook, where you can compose offline and then when you get online, it syncs up."

Online or offline, is it a critical issue? In fact, several others have already pointed out: after some point of time, there will be no offline unless someone particularly wants to be. Though apparently at this moment we still may encounter the offline problem, it is indeed not a critical issue for a long term.

By contrast, another side of this online or offline problem is much more critical than the problem itself. On the web, online means being public, while offline means being private. No matter how much we have advanced our Internet security protection techniques, offline is always the ultimate solution to protect privacy. In the other words, less online always means greater secure. Online applications will never completely replace offline applications since we always have something that is needed to be private, i.e. will not be shared with others. This is why Google must provide not only online resolutions, but also offline alternatives at the same time so as to maintain a private space for end-users.

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