What they are doing, in my opinion, is taking advantage of their current dominance of the search market to launch a massive and ambitious re-thinking of how to generate web search.
I disagree, I think they're taking advantage of their current dominance of the search market(and more importantly the billions of dollars that position came with) and are parlaying that into EVERYTHING else they can muster. Browsers, phones, maps, covert cia operations, backroom deals with the NSA etc. They are changing their search engine to promote those OTHER interests
. +1 was to promote the new social net, instant came about during wave, places was a pure profit use of their maps and a return making offline stores happier. Innovation or a big stage to promote themselves further? It's tough to tell. Remember the youtube videos on every search before they realized they couldn't monetize them well?
Google didn't invent the social network or browsers or maps or anything else I can think of at the moment but they did use the google brand name and cash to dominate with their version. That's not entirely fair, they do have some genius minds at work, but those minds are copying others and driving them into the ground (is flickr in trouble too with the latest Google picture offering? I hope not)
We can indeed judge their search by the now and now is looking aweful (if you're not a shareholder). Perform a search for something in your home town and you see the yellow pages online(places). That's passing as "the best search engine of today" because of the dollars behind previous marketing efforts but if they were a new company launching with that now... god help them. Places should be tucked away under a 'local' button imo, I hate it because I turn to google for WEBSITES, not to know whats down the street. (hint: I know my area well without Google)
That's all bad because future marketing will not be as cheap, data gathering will not be as accepted and everyone is wise to how Google operates. I was enamored with Google but with other companies doing amazing things I'm not as quick to think Google can and will do it better. I passed completely on this latest +1 fad not because it wasn't an interesting product but because it was Google and I don't want to promote them further right now (because I'm upset with the current state of search).
Google is going to face the starbucks conundrum sooner or later, that being that EVERYTHING they touch ends up branded by their logo and the only way to expand and win back high priced coffee haters was to buy mom and pop type stores to run without the logo.
Google without Billions of dollars would be in tough right now, I hope they spend it wisely. edit
: Look to the bottom of this page, see that little +1 button? It grabbed my IP address the moment it loaded and is forever stored... that P**** me off. The moment I decided to reply to this thread and vent a little (lot) Google knew I was here and through their collective tracking efforts they know who I am without my telling them. Is THAT what we want from the best search engine?
wow, I didn't know I had all that frustration with Google stored away, I hope they appreciate the rant.