Google Voice (today) –> AT&T (1980’s)

This is a great opinion piece by Judy Shapiro at Advertising Age. It draws parallels between the widely acclaimed Google Voice service and the breadth and reach of AT&T’s investments in the ’80s and ’90s. The conclusion is that this is a dangerous path for Google, as it takes it far afield from its core business, and that while the core business may not suffer today, it may (will?) in the near future as a result. From the article:

Much like AT&T did 20 years ago to maintain its growth, Google is trying to do the same — control the data distribution channels. In the case of AT&T, it was all about information delivery to business and residential users. In the case of Google, it’s all about advertising delivery to its “product” — the users of its services.

The trouble with wanting to dominate all delivery channels (whether it be information or advertising) is that you are forced to go further and further afield from your core competency. And while playing in disparate businesses is something a leader brand can afford to do, over time the core business tends to suffer — slowly but inextricably. Then at some point, you are willing to throw out the knitting needles. AT&T did, and it did not end well. Google looks like to be headed in the same direction.