Hands Off Google!

That loud groaning sound you hear is the collective moan from millions of
Google users who just heard that their beloved search engine – the most
popular, widely used tool on the Web — might be purchased by Microsoft.

According to the New York Times, Microsoft recently initiated
discussions with Google about a partnership or even a merger (read: total
buyout). And while Google executives indicated they will stick with their plan for an initial public offering, the Times wrote that an executive briefed on the talks said Redmond, Wash., “may still be interested in pursuing
Google at a later day.” (Code language for “I’ll get you, my pretty. And your little dog, too!”)

Now, I’m not going to launch into a predictable attack on the Redmond giant. I am not a Microsoft basher, despite evidence here and here.

But I’ve been around. I’ve seen things. Remember a little search site called
AltaVista? For several years after its inception in 1995, it was THE search
engine of choice. It was surpassed by Google in the late ’90s, however, in
large part because it was purchased by corporations (Compaq in ’98 and CMGI
a year later) that had no idea how to cultivate the asset and develop the
technology to remain ahead of the pack.

Sure, AltaVista is still around. You can go over there right now to look up
stuff, like “disastrous corporate takeover.” The point is, you probably
won’t. Rather, you and the vast majority of online information seekers
around the world likely would choose to “Google” that term.

Indeed, that’s how ubiquitous Google has become: The act of using the search
site has been turned into a verb. It can be conjugated and everything.
(Quick grammar test: What’s the future perfect tense of “Google”? That’s
right, it’s “You will have Googled.” How did I know? I looked it up on
Google!)

If Microsoft does buy Google, we may well remember this period as the
high-water mark of the site’s popularity. First, a certain percentage of
Internet users are Microsoft haters. If there is a deal, Google could lose
some of these users to rival search sites such as Yahoo’s Overture, Ask
Jeeves, even AltaVista, which still has millions of users.

Second, no matter what they say beforehand, companies NEVER buy other
properties only to let them continue operating as they had been. Not only
are there internal moves – executives who “get it” may be replaced by people
from the acquiring company who don’t – the very process of “integrating” an
acquisition means there will be changes. Microsoft would want to make Google
serve its business, not the other way around. That may not bode well for
people who like Google just the way it is. Google is valued not only because
it has the largest accessible page index on the Web, but because of its
uniqueness and independence. All of which goes away if Google becomes just
another state in the Microsoft empire.

Given the realities of business, it’s almost inevitable that sooner or later
someone will buy Google. And while you could do worse than Microsoft
(Halliburton and George Steinbrenner come to mind), I’d rather not give
anyone a chance to mess with Google’s winning formula.

So stay away, Redmond. If you ruin this great search site for its millions
upon millions of satisfied users, you will give new meaning to the verb
“Googled.”

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