Who remembers Sidewalk, Microsoft’s local venture? Sidewalk was one of many business ventures within MSN (alongside Expedia, which fared better). Sidewalk was folded and sold in 1999.
Today, MSN Sidewalk is back, of sorts, in a Google or Amazon sort of way.
Mapquest had satellite pictures but gave up on them. Microsoft had Terraserver, but it wasn’t built to be really used – it was built to prove that MS SQL could handle it. Google Maps and Google Earth woke up those companies to the power of the offerings they had – so Microsoft gave us Virtual Earth.
How did Google succeed where these others failed, and then woke them up to return to what they had given up?
Microsoft was too focused on serving enterprise customers, on adding features to Office and subscribers to MSN to notice that the very technology they were promoting – Web services – would be of benefit to end-user customers. The same point could be made about Web search, free e-mail, online advertising – with Microsoft often the victim.
In the meantime, Google was focused on conquering one end-user need at a time, and snuck a revenue machine into a well-adopted platform.
For the future, the key questions will be:
1. How does Google keep focused as it grows? The most interesting job at Google has to be the product portfolio manager.
2. How does Microsoft retake the lead and move beyond me-too products?