Fifteen years ago today, people were making their first Google searches.
Google hadn't yet become a verb meaning "to search." No one was using an Android smartphone. No one was watching movies on a Chromebook or wearing Google Glass while hot air ballooning and sharing their adventures on Google+.
On its 15th anniversary, Google has grown from its early days as a search engine company to a powerhouse not only in the high-tech world but in the mainstream world, as well.
Whether Google can maintain this kind of momentum or whether innovations are hitting a plateau is the question.
"Google is one of, if not the most, powerful technology company in the world. I don't know many people who would dispute that," said Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Technology Company. "In fact, it could be argued that Google is one of the most powerful companies in the world today. Who wouldn't say that Google doesn't have more sway over the world than an oil company like Exxon, or a large bank, or even the world's largest private employer -- Wal-Mart? Google touches many more people's lives daily than any of those companies."
Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group, said Google has gained historical power.
"Its information reach and control over advertising revenue likely make it more powerful than some governments and certainly stronger than either Microsoft or IBM were at their peak," Enderle said. "They are approaching the power of Standard Oil in the early part of the last century."
Olds said it shouldn't be assumes that Google has hit its apex and now will coast until the next big company comes along and pushes Google into the shadows - much like Google did when it eclipsed search rival Yahoo years ago.
"It's very difficult to say if Google is plateauing right now, of if they're poised to extend their reach even more," Olds said. "Several years ago, people thought Google's high-growth phase was done. They had conquered search and online advertising, but they were fumbling around to find a second act. As we've all seen, Google found that second act in services like YouTube and products like the Android operating system and its associated ecosystem."
One area for concern, according to many industry watchers, is that Google risks becoming unfocused or splintered. The company is far from just a search company, as it was in its early days.
People, and enterprises, have come to rely on its other services and products, such as Google Maps, Google Docs and Chrome. Google's Android smartphones are a direct threat to Apple's iPhone and iPad empire.
Among other things, people are buzzing about the company's self-driving cars and its computerized eyewear called Google Glass, which enable users to check their email, receive breaking news, take pictures and even shoot video without even holding a device in their hands. Though Glass isn't even slated to ship until 2014, they've gained a lot of attention - both positive and negative.
Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, said it's too soon to say how well Google will manage all the projects it has going on. "If Google can protect their search dominance, then investments look revolutionary," he added. "If not, they look like distractions."
However, while Enderle quipped that "Google can't spell 'focus'," Olds is more optimistic about the company's ability to juggle many different pursuits at once.
"Google hasn't lost focus in a significant way yet, although many have predicted this might happen -- me included," Olds said. "They've had their misfires and failures, sure, but they have a lot of irons in many fires at a time, which means they have a steady supply of good ideas and products coming out the door."
Because Google has so many projects spread out over different categories, the company is in heated competition with several different companies.
For instance, Google goes head to head with Apple over the smartphone market. Facebook is Google's biggest rival in social networking, online advertising and grabbing eyeballs online. Of course, Google also battles with Microsoft over cloud-based office apps.
The analysts, though, noted that while Google needs to keep a close eye on its competitors, it also has to pay attention to the government agencies that could cause it a lot of grief.
The company faces antitrust issues with the European Commission, as well as the U.S. Department of Justice.
"Google is so big and powerful at this point that they're attracting attention from governmental bodies on a variety of fronts," said Olds. "The company also needs to tread carefully when it comes to consumer privacy. This is one area where they have been consistently tone deaf, with Google executives saying time and time again that there isn't any such thing as online privacy. While they may believe this, I don't think consumers hold the same opinion."
With its fingers in so many different business areas, it's hard to say where Google goes from here. The next 15 years could see the company working more deeply with Detroit on autonomous automobiles, diving head first into more wearable computers and still integrating search into as many products as possible.
"Who knows, but I'll bet it probably will creep me out in some way or other," joked Olds.
This article, On 15th anniversary, Google is a historical tech powerhouse, was originally published at Computerworld.com.
Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is [email protected].
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