The naysayers were wrong in 2006 — is this Google's latest genius move?

The rumors turned into official news earlier this week. Google has acquired Waze, a social mapping and navigation company. Most industry pundits are aware of speculation that Apple and Facebook also were interested buyers. Google emerged as the winning bidder. I think this solidifies their position as a forward thinking leader in mobile computing.

The computing industry is quickly shifting to mobile computing. Just look at Mary Meeker’s D11 presentation slides showing how the iPad has already overtaken volumes of notebook and desktop PCs (separately, not the combined number). Mobile is now so important that major new services are commonly launched as mobile-only. Waze, Vine and SnapChat are a few good examples.

Google has been a mapping leader ever since it first launched Google Maps. Remember MapQuest before that?  When Google Maps came out the interface was dramatically better! Directions were awesome. Satellite imagery was added. Google started mapping the world’s streets with super fancy cameras to create Street View.

When I was a kid we had none of this. We had paper maps and chicken-scratch directions that someone might give to you over the phone. No GPS, no mobile devices, no nothing. Here we are many years later and the paper map industry is all but dead.

I think we are at the very early stages of Google making money from its mapping assets. Yeah, you’ll see some sponsored ads, but I doubt this is a serious money-maker. It reminds me very much of YouTube, which Google also acquired in 2006 for $1.65 billion. At the time people thought Google was insane. They said YouTube could never make any money.

Boy, were the critics ever wrong. YouTube is now the No. 2 search engine behind Google.com and Google has added some incredibly rich tools for advertisers to promote videos or advertise on top of another publisher’s videos. YouTube is a video-based social giant.

When Google introduced its social network, Google+, in June 2011, people thought it would fail. And on its own merit maybe it would have. But Google leveraged its assets. In the last few months Google has single-handedly thrown a monkey wrench into the business of selling webinar services. How? You can now broadcast to the world live from a Google+ Hangout via YouTube. This could destroy services like GoToWebinar or WebEx. And all you need is a free Google account.

So what’s coming? I am not as smart as the guys at Google. But I suspect Waze will become deeply integrated into Google Maps, and it wouldn’t surprise me if this technology was also leveraged to make Google+ even more valuable as a social network. The more users Google has, the more money it can make either through advertising or other means.  

Waze is rumored to be as much as $1.3 billion acquisition. Google doesn’t even need to disclose the value because it is not significant financially. Google’s market capitalization is $288 billion, so Waze is a drop in the bucket. But just as Google showed us with YouTube, it is important to plant seeds early and nurture them into strong producers of food for your business. The difference this time is that Waze is mobile-first investment. We are at the beginning of a huge wave of mobile-first (or mobile-only) investments by Google, I suspect.