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A Kenyan Perspective On Google @ 20

I had no idea I would write this blog post until a few minutes ago when I happened to visit Google.com (as we all do, pretty much everyday of our lives) and saw the ‘Google Doodle’ touting that they just achieved 20 years in existence. The amazing thing for someone like me, who has worked on the Internet for over two decades, it feels like Google just happened the other day! How time flies.

My earliest recollection on using Google was when I was working at Africa Online during the early years of my Internet career. Back in those days, the search engines we used had names like AltaVista, Hotbot and Excite which never really worked and required you to go through pages and pages of irrelevant search results to find what you were looking for. Google came along thanks to the prescience and technical genius of legendary founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page. 

I recall a work colleague, one of the hard core techies no less, asked me to try this thing called ‘Google’ for searches. I punched in ‘Google.com’, I searched, I got an accurate result on page one. ON PAGE ONE! It was amazing! It was unheard of, until that point. It worked, right out of the proverbial box. The thing is Google did not spend a cent on ads to get the word out – everyone who tried it instantly recommended it to their work colleagues, associates, friends and family. It went viral. The rest you could say is history. 

Google today is nothing short of a digital behemoth. They are (still) the world’s best and dominant search engine. They have one of the world’s largest digital advertising ecosystem spanning everything from search, display, mobile, videos, etc and everything in between. Google owns the world’s largest video streaming platform in YouTube, as well as the biggest mobile ecosystem in Android. They also have one of the largest email platforms in Gmail and cloud-based productivity suites in GSuite. For all intents and purposes, Google is much bigger than a mere search engine – Google is a way of life for billions on the planet. Nuff said!

In the Kenyan context, Google is indeed very much a part of our daily lives. Thanks to the fact that affordable Android smartphones dominate the market in what is essentially a mobile-first economy, Google’s grip on our digital lifestyles runs wide and deep. The majority of Internet users in Kenya will ‘touch’ and ‘feel’ Google from the moment they fire up their Android smartphones in the morning, check their Gmail inboxes, watch a YouTube videos, find their way using Google Maps and create a spreadsheet on GSuite.

They will also see numerous hyper-targeted and contextually relevant Google Ads based on their search queries and their digital behaviour. They will also be retargeted with relevant Google Ads so that they are ‘followed’ online until they ‘convert’ and generate a return on investment or ROI for the digital advertiser using Google Ads. Google is one of the reasons that traditional media and publishers in Kenya are feeling the heat of digital advertising as a disproportionate amount of ‘ad shillings’ go to Google Ads and the other half of the digital advertising duopoly known as Facebook Ads. It’s disruptive, it works, and it’s Google, after all.

Its hard to get accurate metrics from various digital tracking platforms but according to SimilarWeb as of last month Google.com is the leading website in Kenya. In addition, more specifically, Google.co.ke has a traffic rank of 37 in Kenya and that translates into approximately 3 million visits per month. A further analysis on the traffic trends from SimilarWeb’s metrics shows that much of this traffic flows from Google’s vast ecosystem of different products and services ala ‘network effects’. The bottom-line is Google is massive as far as its digital footprint is concerned. 

To be as big and as successful as Google also means that it’s a big target for regulators, competitors and consumers. In the current global dispensation where digital consumer privacy has taken centre stage, Google is often in the cross hairs for what appears to be unethical practices that seek to ensure its data-driven and money making machine continues to tick along. That being said, as someone once quoted, ‘if a service is free then you must be the product’.

Google provides lots of free and invaluable offerings which are invariably underwritten by the monetisation of paid products and services within its ecosystem – the biggest one being Google Ads. As Google has grown globally and become quite dominant, the next billion global consumers have become a priority for it to sustain its growth. Kenya sits squarely in this space and Google has partnered with Safaricom to unleash entry-level smartphones like the Android Go powered Neon Kicka at only Kes. 3,500.00 (US$ 35.00) with affordable data bundles and free Google services – a ‘gateway’ smartphone into Google’s digital ecosystem. 

One wonders where Google is going over the next twenty years given that they seem to be fairly secure at this time even if the threat of being ‘disrupted’ is always looming. Google is already a global leader when it comes to Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI) which everyone thinks will be the next big thing. Google Assistant is already familiar to most of us and it works exceptionally well and keeps getting better year on year. Voice is increasingly becoming the next digital battle ground as Amazon and Apple anticipate the next wave of digital disruption with Google’s Assistant for company. Whatever happens next, Google seems well poised for another double decade of super success!

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