Imagine there’s no Google

Imagine there’s no Google

I’ve recently been reading Nicholas Carlson’s book Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo. While it’s a really interesting read about the past, present and future of the troubled internet giant, what struck me was how the choices of Yahoo’s management could have affected the fortunes of another giant – Google.

Yahoo had a chance to buy Google’s core technology (then called BackRub) in 1997, at a bargain price, so Larry Page could pursue his academic career – but they let it pass by. Imagine if Yahoo had bought Google, though. Page Rank would have been incorporated into Yahoo Search and that would be that.

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Sure, Yahoo Search would probably have been a far better product, but given what we know about how the management let great products fester in subsequent years, it’s a stretch to think that Yahoo would have become anything like Google is now.

For all that there is to criticize Google about – the way it dominates search to the exclusion of rivals, the lingering fear it may become Skynet, etc – there really is no other tech company as broad, ambitious and downright fascinating.

If Yahoo had acquired Google, would another firm have emerged willing to explore driverless cars, robotics, AI – even the extension of human lifespans? It’s hard to think of any company that exists today that would fit the bill. Microsoft has developed all sorts of interesting projects in its R&D labs and Facebook is investing in getting more of the world online via Internet.org, but projects like that tend to be closely tied to the business aims of the companies concerned.

Conversely, no company other than Google is quite as willing to invest in, and go quite so big on, real ‘moonshots.’ Of course, few have the resources to do this but for all the legitimate criticism the company faces, there would be a huge hole in the current tech world without Google.

There’s certainly danger in one company having so much power and influence over the future of technology, but the tech scene would be a lot less interesting without Larry Page’s legion of super-ambitious geeks.

A version of this article appeared in the most recent edition of our TNW Weekly newsletter. Subscribe here to receive next week’s.

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