If you take one thing out of a military history class, it is likely to be this: never fight a two front war. Napoleon simultaneously attempted to battle the Russians, British, and Spanish, and met his Waterloo. Germany made this mistake twice – first during World War I (French, British, Belgians on one side, and then Russia on the other; then during World War II (pretty much the same enemies). One could also argue that the mighty Roman empire eventually collapsed because it had grown too large and was fighting too many enemies on too many fronts.
So if you take a second thing out of a military history class, it will likely be this: history repeats itself. Fast forward to today’s Internet world and perhaps that is exactly what is going on today at Google. Google, perhaps like Roman Emperors and Napoleon, has made some brilliant strategic moves in its day, and also happens to have a lot of ‘generals’ filled with boundless hubris and enthusiasm. Its not surprising then, that Google’s leadership may have concluded that history doesn’t apply to them and that no enemy or combination of enemies can stop them.
Which may explain why Google has declared war against virtually every major business power in its brief 10 year existence. Let’s review a few of the heavyweights Google has and currently is attacking:
- Yahoo (2000 to present): Google’s initial enemy. Attacks have included AdWords, GMail, and now DoubleClick (display advertising).
- The newspaper industry (2005-2008): Google Print Ads was an attempt to create an auction marketplace for newspaper ads, inserting Google as the broker of the advertising and slashing prices and control for newspaper execs;
- The radio industry (2006-2009): Google’s acquisition of DMarc was an attempt to do the same thing to radio;
- The television industry (2006 to 2009): Google launched TV advertising with the same confidence as it did radio and newspaper advertising, and failed with equal bravado;
- The cell phone industry (2007 to present): Google threatened to bid for wireless spectrum and has released its Android mobile operating system;
- eBay (2006 to present): Google Base is a competitor to Shopping.com; Google Checkout competes with PayPal; Google Talk competes with Skype;
- Microsoft (2007 to present): Google announced the Chrome browser (competes with Internet Explorer), and also has Chrome OS (competes with Windows), and Google Docs (competes with Office);
- Apple (2008 to present): Google and Apple used to be good friends, but the relationship has soured. Google’s Android is a threat to the iPhone, and Chrome OS is a threat to Mac OS. Recently the FCC investigated Apple for refusing to allow the Google Voice app onto the iPhone. Google CEO Eric Schmidt then quickly resigned from the Apple board.
Fighting a war against Microsoft would be fool-hardy enough, but add Yahoo, eBay, Apple and the entire media world and that’s a lot of fronts against a lot of powerful foes. Maybe Google will buck the trend and prevail – after all, we exist in a business world where the rules of engagement are still being defined daily. Of course, that’s what the Romans thought, and Napoleon, and Hitler, and some might say the US (i.e., Iraq and Afghanistan).
If you take a third lesson from your military history class (I know, what are the odds that you would learn three things in one class?), it’s this: history is written by the victors. The battle rages as we speak, so far be it from me to declare a winner yet. It seems to me, however, that lessons #1 and #2, will likely be proven correct at some point in the future.