Why can't Google's second act be Rich Internet Applications?

Richard MacManus and Steve Rubel pointed to an article about Google's controlled chaos in Fortune this month. It's essentially an expose on the company which takes a look at its recent deals, its history, and some of the people running the show.

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Richard MacManus and Steve Rubel pointed to an article about Google's controlled chaos in Fortune this month. It's essentially an expose on the company which takes a look at its recent deals, its history, and some of the people running the show. Because it's Fortune, it also wants to know how Google is going to make more money. They hit the big time with search, but as the article notes, other initiatives have been less than stellar:
For all [Google's] new products -- depending on how you count, Google has released at least 83 full-fledged and test-stage products -- none has altered the web landscape the way Google.com did. Additions like the photo site Picasa, Google Finance, and Google Blog Search belie Google's ardent claim that it doesn't do me-too products. Often new services lack a stunningly obvious feature. Users of Google's new online spreadsheet program, for instance, initially couldn't print their documents. The calendar product doesn't allow for synchronization with Microsoft Outlook, a necessity for corporate users. Other major initiatives like Gmail, instant-messaging, and online mapping, while nifty, haven't come close to dislodging the market leaders.

Google clearly doesn't suffer from a lack of ideas, and they don't suffer from a lack of talent either - the brightest of the brightest are flocking to Google because of the way they run the company. So what's wrong? Well with a market capitalization of $124 billion and a stock price that has grown four-fold in the past two years, it's difficult to talk about what they are doing wrong. But they have built a very profitable advertising model around search, and the company seems to be unable to translate that success to other areas of the web.

If they embrace Rich Internet Applications, Google can fulfill their web strategy and enhance their advertising model at the same time.If nothing else, Google is the king of web applications. With Google Maps, they proved what was possible with JavaScript, and they have continued to push the limits of Ajax and released a variety of innovative web applications including Google spreadsheet and the Google calendar. They also have a huge infrastructure advantage. Much like the railroads in the second half of the 19th century, Google has spent time and money laying down the infrastructure that will be so important moving forward. So what's left?

I am unconvinced that the average user will embrace web applications delivered in a browser. Web 2.0 is a great thing, but despite the buzz surrounding many of these applications, a wider, less tech-savvy user base hasn't materialized. If Google wants to deliver applications to main stream users, they need to adopt a Rich Internet Application strategy. They need to use their talent and their web knowledge to build applications that bridge the gap between web and desktop. People want experience, and they want to access information wherever they are, regardless of an internet connection. A web based office suite won't catch on with the wider audience that drives their advertising machine because people aren't used to running applications in a browser, and they want to use software wherever they are. Google's web-only strategy can't provide that.

If they embrace Rich Internet Applications, Google can fulfill their web strategy and enhance their advertising model at the same time. They have the tools to do so, and RIAs provide a unique way to deliver advertising. The richness, the experience, and the seamless multimedia experience give Google a way to revolutionize advertising. In the end, that's Google's game.