Thursday, June 23, 2011

Is Google a Monopoly? Google Places May Be the Bone of Contention

Google Places May Be the Way For Govt. Anti Monopoly Lawyers to Crush Googles Play.  But Obama is pretty cozy with Google, so it might not happen on his watch.

The battle of this century is about the come center stage.  In the last century another communications giant was split into pieces due to the government's decision that they were a monopoly.  AT & T may or may not have been a monopoly, but the ensuing split of that company into the baby bells has certainly created a massive change in everything about telephones and telephone books. 

Well, here we are again.  The new telephone book is Google Places.  Unlike Ma Bell in the 60's, there is plenty of competition for the business of advertising business addresses and phone numbers, including the old Yellow Pages and their new online variations. 

But has Google Places crossed the line when the started blending the business results with the general search results.  Certainly they knew that this would be a huge benefit to them while they are in control of almost 80% of the eyeballs doing general searches.  If Google Places was merely available as one more component on the page, there would be a bigger battle as to whether this was a monopolistic move by the dominant player to give a huge advantage to one of its components.

This by no means suggests that it is a walk off victory for the government or the competitors.  These cases tend to take years, and during that time Google can solidify its position and branding for Places.  Moreover, the entire platform changes every couple of months.  It may be much harder for Uncle Sam to hit a moving target.  We could easily see Google remove the blended results for a few months and replace them with some other kind of method of encouraging searches to use their tool instead of Yelp or Bing or even Hot Frog. 

Then you have the device question.  With handhelds, phones, Ipads and such now grabbing 30% of search, especially for the valuable entertainment and emergency services sectors, who knows if Google can even hold on to the share they have.  Plenty of chances for some clever new approach from say Apple to Ap their way into the lead for that crowd. 

My bet.  The best the government will be able to do on this shifting battleground is to keep Google thinking about Uncle looking over their shoulder.  There may be a book about this battle someday.