Is Google Too Big To Fail?

  • Would we survive a Google crash?
  • How would society look without Google?
  • Would the government bail Google out?

What if Google went down?

Google's much more modest earnings and projections for FY13, sparked the question in the office, "is the golden age of Google over?" and "what would we do if it went down?" (We obviously do a fair bit of work).  After attempting to Google the answer it became pretty clear that no, Google is not on the wane by any means, and though they have most of their revenue eggs in one basket, they are laying fiber, buying into handset device and OS production and seem to have a sustainable future ahead of them.   

It is possible that it could crash in a more literal sense though; there have been records of it going down even as recently as the 6th of November in some regions.  It could even happen to you right now. *Cue scary music*.

The personal and business impacts alone would be heavy; to be frank I used Google for basically every aspect of my investigation for this article, from government bail-out statistics all the way to the difference between effect and affect (I can never remember).  Once I've finished I'll probably also trawl Google images for some free photo stock of a man looking frustrated at his computer, and ad a photo of Google's colorful guts to make this article more appealing to the tweens and bloggers

When I put the question to my Facebook feed, there was some talk of going to the library or even busting out the old encyclopedia, (semi-humorously I assume).  There was even reference to melancholy and ennui; however the impacts are much more serious than not being able to settle arguments about how much a frog weighs at the pub (it weighs the same whether it's at the pub or not!).

The bigger impacts

Modern business and academia run on a nervous system of information, a lot of which pumps through the veins of Google's indexing and networks, whether it's small businesses using Gmail webhosting, students stealing references from academic papers or high volume sites with embedded Google code.  If Google were to shut down the world would literally freeze [No, the opposite of literally -ed].  The furor and panic that came out the regions that faced downtime on the 6th and the outcry about limiting and restricting Google in China are  big indications of this.

A good case study occurred in Scotland in 2010, where an issue with local servers caused a denial of access to Google services.  Besides the general public being cut off from information and email, the impacts on actual websites and surfing was pretty serious. 

Most sites now use some form of embedded Google code, whether tracking pixels from analytics or script from third party developers that are hosted or link back to something hosted by Google.  At the time sites like Huffington Post and Brand Republic were inaccessible.  However developers have learnt best practice here is to ensure tracking code and snippets are put at the bottom of the script to ensure it "fails gracefully" and doesn't impact the rest of the page as severely.

Probably the most chilling impact would be on our collective psyche, with as many emotional responses as rational elicited from the people I queried.  Words like "melancholy" and "panic" were bandied about.  Here is a snippet of the twitterverse reacting to Google's crash in 2010.

What if Google went away forever?

Things crash, we know this, but what if Google just… went away.?  After the GFC provided the proof that even the most resolute of industries and companies are not invincible, we started asking ourselves, "what would happen if Google went down the tubes?", and further to that, "are they vital enough that the government would bail them out?".

Bail-outs are historically handed out when a company or service is so vital to the economy, whether locally, nationally or globally, that the overall impacts would be greater than the cost of the bail- out, whether in job loss, impact on GDP, or other, less tangible, results of a company's collapse.

The US government would probably be the ones footing the bill, and after the GFC they lent a golden hand to Goldman Sachs, AIG and Citibank in the financial industry, and handed over 50 billion to General Motors alone in their auto-industry bail-out.

So here’s the question, is Google worth as much, or more, than the likes of Ford?   For Q3 of 2012 their headcount stood at 36 118 Googlers residing in compartments of their Googleplex, and an additional 17 428 people tucked away at Motorola (their early FY12 acquisition).  But would saving nigh on 50 000 jobs be enough?

The thing is their vital services aren't tied to their revenue.  Their money comes from Adwords, so if that side of their business waned that wouldn't be an indication of people using them less for search, people would still have a need for their indexing and search power, but frankly Google, Bing and Yahoo all run on similar indexing technology and can carry out the same function.  Alongside this even 50 000 jobs alone wouldn't really be enough to warrant a bailout in America where 23 million people are jobless.

That being said there was a time where I'd add people on MSN to share my band’s Myspace tracks, and a time before that where I went on Yahoo chat with the tag 0_MIB_0.  I'm a massive fan of Google and their policy to "not be evil".  But if they did fade it would be because they lost relevance or let others innovate ahead of them, and by the time they did fade I and the rest of the market would have moved on. 

But for the moment Google on, Googlenauts.