For many, Google is just a search engine, a tool which gives you access to knowledge and information.

That’s how it started out close to two decades ago, as a research idea by two PhD students, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who first began collaborating on a search engine operating on Stanford University’s servers. Since then, Google has expanded immeasurably – it acquired other successful ventures such as Youtube and created analogous services including Gmail and the Android operating system.

Google has also managed to diversify from virtual services into real world applications with self-driving cars, medicine and life extension technology. Some of these ventures may sound like they come straight out of a science fiction movie, but these subsidiaries are already bearing fruit. The self-driving cars project started in 2005 and is already being tested in the streets of California. Complete commercialisation of these driverless vehicles is expected to hit the markets by 2022. We should expect the life extension project, which was initiated in 2013 and which currently researches cures for dementia and Parkinson’s, to start bearing fruit in a few years.

Google is investing so much in these ventures that earlier this summer, the company’s top executives felt the need to restructure the company, which currently has a 57,000-strong workforce.

A holding company called Alphabet Inc. has been set up to oversee Google’s search and internet business, bioresearch company Calico, artificial intelligence research facility Google-X and other various venture investments such as SkyBox, a satellite business, and Nest Labs, which is aiming to create home automation appliances.

A different CEO will oversee each company, in order to focus entirely on one particular field of expertise. The original founders, Page and Brin, will be running Alphabet Inc. as CEO and president respectively, with a general overview of all the companies. Alphabet Inc. is expected to continue to invest in new endeavours, the most recent of which is the Wing project which will be using drones for the delivery of goods. Drone delivery is something which Amazon had thought of originally but it seems that Google wants a piece of that pie as well.

The restructuring process should be complete by December and will include separate financial reports for each company. This change is expected to help investors make better-informed decisions. It seems that Wall Street is already excited about the reorganisation, as shares of the company went up by four per cent a day after the announcement was made.

As expected, Google employees were slightly worried about their future and Google’s internal forum chats were quite busy. Googlers, as Google employees refer to themselves, were questioning their future with the company. However, their fears were allayed a few hours after the first announcement, as new CEO Sundar Pichai addressed employees and told them that now Google can focus on its core mission: organising the world’s information and making it universally accessible.

Following Pichai’s address, most employees were cautiously optimistic about their future within the company. Others, especially those whose work is not related to Google’s search engine, did not share such optimism, especially when Brin used the word ‘leaner’ in one of his speeches.

A few days after the Alphabet Inc. announcement, Google also drastically changed its logo. It was launched through an animation showing a hand erasing the old logo and drawing the new one.

Throughout Google’s history, its logo, bar for some minor tweaks, remained practically the same. The new design will drop the old serif font Catull in favour of a simpler sans-serif font which was designed in-house but which bears an uncanny similarity to the Futura font. The logo will be retaining its famous blue, red, yellow and green colour pattern.

While Google’s new logo has been described as simpler and younger, marketing experts are unavoidably split in a love it or hate it opinion. Of course, the change in logo is not just about design. In fact, Google executives admitted that the change is mostly intended to ensure that the Google logo looks easier on the eyes on smartphone applications. This could be a hint that Google will be aggressively pursuing this stage in the coming months.

Even though Google is expanding and trying out new ventures, the fact remains that at present 99 per cent of Google’s profit comes from its search engine business, specifically adverts. And no other search engine company is threatening Google – the second largest search engine, Bing, is light years behind in terms of market share.

Google’s major threat is Facebook, which is expanding rapidly. In fact, for a lot of users, Facebook has become their first web destination when using their smartphone – rather than Google, they use Facebook to read the news and see what is trending.

A few years ago Google had already tried to compete directly with Facebook when it launched GooglePlus. However, this strategy failed miserably since Facebook had the first-mover advantage – most users had already invested time and effort in Facebook and were therefore reluctant to use a different social media platform.

Rather than focusing on those whose habits have already been formed, Google and Facebook will battle it out for those who are still signing up for online services. This means that the final battle will be fought in Africa and Asia, where the more than two billion people who still don’t use the internet live.

A few years ago, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced an ambitious effort to connect the world’s poorest by providing free internet access to the most remote areas and allow anyone free wireless access to social media. Zuckerberg was not doing this for any charitable reason – rather, it’s a canny business game changer which might give Facebook an advantage over Google in Africa. The median age in this continent is strikingly low, just 20 years, meaning that both internet giants will fight fiercely for control in this area.

Whatever the outcome, it will definitely be interesting to see how this struggle will play out.

Ian Vella blogs on

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