I finally understand Google's überstrategy for dominating the future of online everything.
Here it is: Coalesce all of its best products into a single super product that marginalizes smaller rivals to the point of irrelevance and clobbers Facebook with total superiority.
That single super product is Google+.
Why features beat products
The most important distinction in Silicon Valley is this: Is it a product or a feature?
Venture capitalists have to be experts in this distinction, because an IT tool that can't stand on its own as a viable, marketable product usually isn't worth investing in.
Digital cameras were among the hottest categories of consumer electronics gadgets from the late 90s until fairly recently. A point-and-shoot, pocket-size digital camera was a hot product.
But now it's transitioning from a product to a feature -- of cellphones. Mainstream smartphones like the iPhone 4S and the HTC Evo 4G have 8-megapixel cameras, quality optics and HD video capability. People who have smartphones already have decent cameras. That's why sales of point-and-shoot digital cameras are plateauing and will inevitably decline over the next few years.
Here's another example: In the 1990s, zip file-compression utilities were a major part of the software industry. People used to pay for them.
But in 1998, Microsoft made zip support a feature of Windows. And in 2004, http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9137060/Microsoft_Update_Latest_news_features_reviews_opinions_and_more made zip a feature of Mac OS X.
Zip compression has been marginalized as a product. You don't see a lot of startups wanting to get into the zip racket.
People used to seek out and download instant messaging applications like PowWow, ICQ and AOL Instant Messenger. IM was a serious product category.
Today, chat has become a feature of Facebook, Gmail, Android and the iPhone. IM has been marginalized as a discrete product category.
Once something is a successful feature, it can usually no longer thrive as a product.
And that's how Google plans to dominate the future of the Internet. Many of the product categories for online services will be marginalized as Google makes these technologies mere features of Google+.
How Google products become Google+ features
Google+ launched as an invitation-only "project" on June 28 -- just five and a half months ago. It opened to the public Sept. 20 -- less than three months ago.
From the beginning, Google+ had already integrated features that were available elsewhere as products. Hangouts, for example, offers most of the functionality of Skype. Google+ also came integrated with Picasa, a photo management service that Google acquired in 2004. Google+ also incorporated, to some degree, Google's Gmail application, as well as chat. The Sparks feature represented a partial integration of Google News.
Sign up for Computerworld eNewsletters.