As Google advances spiderishly towards its IPO, the prospect of one last multibillion dollar dot-com bonanza has stirred long-forgotten emotions in the heart -- assuming the existence of such an organ -- of financial analysts. Hope, excitement and perhaps even a spot of greed can be observed flickering behind the rimless spectacles of the moolah mafia. This time, those feelings are tempered by a new and entirely unfamiliar instinct: caution, born of guilt over what happened last time.
OK, perhaps guilt is too strong a word -- it could just be fear born from bubble fallout. Whatever the source, the caginess of the market and the uniqueness of the IPO has provoked some very critical examinations of the company and its service. One of the more sober analyses came from Fortune Magazine last month, which spent most of the summer paying a great deal of attention to the men behind the curtain. Its conclusion: Google has become arrogant, disorganised, unfocused, a madhouse that's a tough place to work and a tough place to do business with. It's quadrupled in size in just over a year, with nearly one and a half thousand employees, but is still run like an engineer's playground.
It's also got no lock-in -- if Microsoft comes up with some superb search engine, nothing will stop Google users from flocking overnight. And there may well be no truth in the rumour that infamous law firm SCO, Grabbit and Runne is going to sue Google for the heinous crime of using open-source software, but who wants that sort of nonsense floating around?
Google has many problems out on the Web as well, the most visible being the phenomenon called the Google Dance. Commercial Web sites know full well the importance of a high ranking on Google, and constantly adjust their details accordingly. The result, as we all know, is pages and pages of nearly identical Amazon associates all offering exactly the same products at exactly the same prices, when all you wanted was some information (remember that?). Google is painfully aware of this, and tries to adjust its algorithms to spot the rank profiteers and demote them -- leading to the eponymous dance, a regular wholesale change in positions.