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.

One thought on “Google Voice (today) –> AT&T (1980’s)

  1. I was too young to remember the details of AT&T, but it really strikes me that AT&T was just a beastly, staid, slow moving company. I don’t remember them introducing anything innovative, just leveraging their massive scale. Google seems very very different. They really don’t have much monopoly power (relative to their competitors) other than they seem to do things well. I used Youmail prior to google voice and while it’s true that part of the appeal is that google voice is free, it’s also a better service with more, pretty well executed features. It’s important to know history, but it’s also true that it doesn’t repeat itself. I think Google is smart to expand and leverage its momentum now, right now, some kid in his folk’s basement is working on a better search paradigm that will unseat Google.

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