Larry Page must rediscover Google's mojo

The news that Larry Page is taking back the reins from Eric Schmidt at Google as CEO shocked people inside and outside the search behemoth, although there have been persistent rumors that such a move was in the offing over the last 12 months.

The news that Larry Page is taking back the reins from Eric Schmidt at Google as CEO shocked people inside and outside the search behemoth, although there have been persistent rumors that such a move was in the offing over the last 12 months.

The pace of change in the cutting-edge world of technology is remarkable. Google quickly moved from funky start-up to the search sector's dominant player in less than five years, and spent the next five consolidating that position.

Its public image also inevitably changed in that time, from every trendsetter's favorite company, to the big bad bully that wants to dominate the market to the exclusion of all others.

It even started to make people feel sorry for Microsoft, which is quite an achievement for those with memories that stretch back to the tech landscape of the eighties and nineties.

But then Facebook came along and laid down a challenge to Google, usurping it as the most-trafficked website last year and increasingly becoming many users' search vehicle of choice.

It is this as much as anything that persuaded Page and co-founder Sergey Brin a more entrepreneurial approach is once again needed at the top of the company, rather than the “safe hand at the tiller” Schmidt represented – and that was required - in another phase of Google's growth.

I have always thought the likes of Microsoft, Google, and Facebook do best when they lead, not follow. Facebook Places may well eventually usurp Foursquare – although the jury remains out on that – but the indelible feeling is Facebook is still copying someone else's great idea, not coming up with its own innovation. The same applies to Google's approach to social – it is responding to the rise of Facebook, rather than leading and dictating the agenda.

Clearly these are not black and white issues, and most corporations would be delighted to have the “problems” Google has – its Q4 2010 earnings still smashed analysts' expectations.

But the communications challenge for Page and Brin is to turn around what has become a bulky tanker slightly off the innovation pace - and that is not going to be easy in the lightening fast world of technology and social media.

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