At 12, where is Google heading from here?

As Google celebrates its 12th birthday, analysts say it needs to find a new revenue stream

After 12 years in business, Google has become the dominant company in the online world, the one that other technology giants, like Microsoft, Apple and Yahoo, have to fend off and react to.

Google celebrates its 12th anniversary today. Founded on Sept. 27, 1998, the company has skyrocketed to global renown. Even the company name has become an oft-used verb.

And many industry watchers say all of this may just be the beginning for Google.

"Everyone knows who Google is," said Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at Yankee Group Research. "Google has become this decade's IBM. They get the lion's share of the credit for being a major disrupter in the industry. They've certainly created a lot of hype around themselves."

Google, first and foremost, is known for being the world's most popular search engine. When searching for something online, users generally say they're going to "Google" it. But while the company may still make most of its money from search, it's been expanding into other businesses, including mobile, social networking and operating systems.

Google moved into the mobile arena with the Android mobile operating system, while also getting into browsers and social networking tools with its Buzz software, offering the Chrome operating system, and pushing into the enterprise with cloud-based office applications.

Except for a few notable weeks this year, Google generally sits firmly at the top of the high-tech heap when it comes to grabbing the most visitors and user time spent on a Web site.

"Google has become by far the dominant Internet company today, and it clearly plans to leverage this position to expand its current reach," said Hadley Reynolds, an analyst at IDC. "Google is the leading innovator in the technology industry, along with Apple in the consumer space. Google has disrupted the competitive dynamics in the enterprise technology markets with its investments in the foundation elements of cloud computing and the high-speed Web. And it is the company that other technology giants, like Microsoft and IBM, are now forced to react to."

But with all of this innovation and expansion into other markets, Rob Enderle, an analyst at Enderle Group, said Google is at risk of losing focus. With so many companies, such as Facebook, Apple and Microsoft, vying to get a piece of what Google has, executives had better be careful to protect what they're already doing well.

"I think they are increasingly losing track of what their real business is, tossing out too many low-quality products, and apparently unable to figure out how to make money the good old-fashioned way -- by selling something," added Enderle. "Their plan seems to be to toss out as much stuff as possible in the hope that one of the things they toss out is financially successful before people realize the company has no solid profit-based strategic plan."

Although Kerravala said Google has done a "phenomenal" job of positioning itself in the market, he agrees that the company needs to create new revenue streams.

"Can Google figure out how to make money at something other than search advertising?" asked Kerravala. "Can they take Android, Google Wave, Google Earth and figure out how to monetize them? Search accounts for almost all of their money. They're putting their hands in lots of pots, but they're not pulling much cash out."

But Kerravala said Google may be on to something with its recent moves into the mobile market.

"A big part of their strategy in the next decade will be mobile," he added. "A few years from now, when we think mobile, they're hoping we think Google. That's obviously the way to go. Move toward mobile and try to connect it to the cloud."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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