Comments on the Google-Blogger deal
Thursday, February 20, 2003 by Dave Winer.
In an unusual announcement, because of its timing, last Sunday we learned that Google, the leading search engine company, is buying Blogger, one of the leading weblog authoring tools. I heard the news as I was packing to return to California from New York, trying to get out before one of the biggest blizzards to ever hit the northeastern US. I made it out in time. Whew.
Reading all the speculation in the blogging world, it seems most people are where I am, scratching their heads and wondering about the deal. I have some thoughts on this, but first a disclaimer. I am the majority shareholder in UserLand Software, which publishes two leading weblog authoring tools, Manila and Radio UserLand. I don't now work for UserLand, but I am obviously interested in its success.
A few years ago if I told you that writing for the Web would be much easier in the future, you might have rushed out to spend $10 million on a Vignette or Interwoven installation, or bought a license for ATG or Broadvision. Back in those days substance didn't matter as much, hype ruled, we were in a bubble. Even so, a group of developers at different companies, including Pyra and my own UserLand believed that writing for the Web would eventually be as easy as writing for a laser printer, and thus the blogging developer community was founded, in 1996 or 1999 depending on whose histories you read or believe.
As in all early days, there was a comeraderie to the competition. I'm sure we will all look back on those days fondly, Ev, Meg, Matt, PB, Derek, Brent, Andre, Jake, Doug, etc. But this ain't Kansas anymore. Blogging is growing up, and when we look back, the Google-Blogger deal will probably be seen as an inflection point, perhaps *the* moment when it all changed.
I think I've seen this happen before, in the Mac software market, in the mid-80s. Charlie Jackson was the first to sell out, to Aldus, and then Microsoft bought PowerPoint, and then a flood of deals as the monsters of the IBM-compatible software market bought the boutiques of the Mac software market. I remember listening to Apple chairman John Sculley, speaking at a press conference where a bunch of rolled-up Mac software companies were explaining the supposed strategies and syergies. He looked bewildered, like what just happened here? In a space of two or three months, less than 100 days, the market reshaped after a frenzy of buying. Nothing was ever the same in the Mac market.
In other ways, the Blogger-Google deal may signal a change possibly as deep as the personal computer revolution, where huge glass palaces controlled by technologists were routed around, by software and hardware that did the same thing, for a fraction of the cost. Today, the same software that Vignette sold a few years ago for millions of dollars, can be had for hundreds, and it's much easier to install and use.
So Google bought into this idea. Thanks Google, seriously.
We didn't see this coming!
Every so often a major company would come for a visit and ask "How much?" -- but the interest usually didn't seem to be that deep, and we never heard the question from Google, even though we know their investors and a few of the execs at Google. They bought Blogger, apparently, without talking to the field of competitors. Microsoft, for example, if they were buying into a new category, would surely negotiate with all the vendors in the space, if only to be sure they weren't paying too much, or overlooking an important competitive issue. Perhaps this is an indication that people are overestimating the importance of the deal to Google.
What did Google buy? Pyra claims to have over 1 million Blogger users, with 200,000 active users. But Google didn't buy their content, because Pyra doesn't own it, the users do. They didn't buy access to the content because they already had it. The purpose of Blogger is to publish stuff, in other words to make it publicly available. Google's search engine routinely indexes Blogger sites, along with Manila, Radio UserLand and Movable Type sites. It doesn't know the difference.
Blogger is not open source, in fact ordinary people can't even purchase a binary license, so there's probably the reason they did the deal -- to get the source for Blogger, which is now written in Java, and to license it to their corporate users, along with the Google search appliance, which goes for about $25K per box. If this is true, then you will be able to add, say, $1K to the price of the box and get a copy of Blogger along with the search engine, allowing people to create weblogs on a local network. This is very important for business use of weblogs, which is growing now at a fast clip. However, Google will find this is already a competitive market, UserLand already offers a deeper product, Manila, as does Movable Type, another leading competitor.
Of course in venture capital board rooms around the world they're plotting out every kind of weblog tool imaginable. But when these products launch in a few quarters they will find an already deep market with most if not all the niches filled. We've have had quite a few years to get ready for this moment. ;->
Anyway, we live in interesting times. I never imagined we'd be competing with Google. Whatever comes next will also be strange.
If you have comments, or suggestions, or if your tea leaves tell you something different, drop me an email. We'll keep looking at this as long as there's something to talk about.