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Swallowing Google whole

Just as in the wonderful Douglas Adams tale The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, where the ultimate restaurant is a symbol for all that is excessive on earth, the Internet can also be viewed in culinary terms in order to explain the excesses of both the hype that bedevilled it and the counter-hype that followed. This, in turn, can help us understand why the listing of Google on the Nasdaq stock exchange is causing such heated reaction from both its detractors and its cheerleaders.First, imagine that the Internet and all the old, new and convergent technologies revolving around it, powering it and being powered by it, make up a vast international restaurant.

There were those who refused to eat there, believing it to be too fashionable, or threatened by the apparent sophistication of the place, the menu and the waiters, and afraid they would not know how to conduct themselves there.

There were those who refused to eat anywhere else, believing this to be the only way dining could now occur, seduced as they were by the apparent glamour of it all.

There were those, whom we may call investors, who rushed to eat there as often as they could, simply because they heard that everyone else was being seen there. And, of course, there were those who saw it as a useful venue to add names to those already on their lists.

When everyone realised that some of the more high-calory items on the menu offered up to investors in the Internet were overpriced and offered only scraps on diners’ plates, the doomsayser feasted on what they imagined was the carcass of the new economy.

Analysts from both the old and new ecomomy sides of the fence all suddenly agreed that the old rules did apply after all, but in their haste to repair the damage they had caused when buying into the belief that the old rules had been thrown out, they dismissed the Internet as a passing fad.

And they got it wrong yet again.

What the doomsayers were doing was judging the restaurant by what they found in the garbage cans outside the back entrance. That’s where the leftovers from the old menu had been dumped along with the carcasses that had served their purpose.

But you don’t taste the leftovers to determine the value of a restaurant. You don’t stand outside the restaurant and look through the windows to count how many people may be suffering from indigestion inside. You have to go into the restaurant, you have to speak to the diners, and even take a walk through the kitchen.

At the tables you discover that those who have selected their dishes wisely are having a satisfying meal; those who dine at a range of restaurants, including this one, are quite happy with the service, the fare and the price; and even the kitchen, though it may have messy corners and workers who underperform and pots that have boiled over or just won’t come to the boil, serves its purpose as long as the demands made on it are not too great.

So it is with the Internet. It is a superb tool to include in general corporate strategy. It does not always perform as expected, and those who have too great expectations of it come away hungry or angry. Those who ignore it totally have enough other tools in their kit to keep their businesses going, although they may be missing out on a rewarding experience. Those who choose only the Internet as their arena of business more often than not come away with severe financial indigestion.

If you swallow the Google promise whole, of course you stand a high chance of suffering heartburn. If you reject its promise, of course you risk losing out on a great financial repast. Google may be a great business, and an even greater brand, but it is not the final word in business. The hyped-up but discredited Internet evangelists who see Google as the salvation of their burned reputations need to be put on sedatives before they start talking up the whole menu based on one dish.

But the same applies to the sour bankers who dismiss Google’s investor-friendly approach. The search engine company wants to spreading the potential rewards and bypass a number of mechanisms created by the financial institutions to boost their fees from IPOs. But there is no rule that says the banking business must come before the people business.

And if Google fails the taste test? Sure, it will damage Internet stocks, but it does not alter the significance of global connectivity by one byte.

The etiquette at this restaurant is not that you eat only here or not at all, but rather that you decide how it can fit into your diet, choose carefully and then eat sensibly. If it is not the right place for you, you make that decision based on your needs and what is happening in the restaurant. You certainly do not forage about in the garbage out back to have your prejudices proven.

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The Big Change is a business strategy blog and newsletter published by Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx, a leading technology research organisation based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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