Charting a course through the internet’s ever-changing landscape

When you think of today’s internet landscape, Google’s overwhelming market share immediately comes to mind.

The latest reports show that Google accounts for nearly 87% of the global search market, while Chrome makes up over 67% of the global browser market, touting 2.65 billion users worldwide. As such, any startups creating online tools must consider themselves a partner of the tech giant in some capacity, but this market control also means that Google can leverage its browser dominance and change regulations as they please.

In fact, Google has woven certain restrictions on online startups into the fabric of Chrome for the past decade. Years ago, Google started enforcing a “single purpose extension” policy, requiring developers to limit their extension to one narrow focus or browser function.

More recently, Google has rolled out plans for Manifest V3 — its new specification for building Chrome extensions that strives to improve security and privacy for users. Essentially, the Chrome Web Store will no longer accept new extensions built using the previous Manifest V2 guidelines starting in January 2022, and by the following year, any and all existing programs that fail to comply with Manifest V3 regulations will shut down.

In this case, some startups are facing a life-or-death scenario — either spend the time and resources adapting their product to Manifest V3 or completely cease to exist within Chrome. Ghostery, my employer, is facing this challenge as acutely as any.

While these roadblocks may seem disheartening for some, Google is listening with open ears, eager to hear how this might impact individual players in the space. It even extended the rollout timeline in an effort to gather more developer insights, and startups should take full advantage of this delay to make their specific migration challenges known.

This Chrome update is just one example of how startups that are innovating online could have the rug pulled out from under them at any moment, and as such need to always allocate resources to both staying abreast of these policies and having the proper engineers on deck to navigate these granular changes.

Nonetheless, having your core business hosted on the internet comes with undeniable benefits like widespread visibility, easy installation and access to an eager user base. If tech giants like Google are willing to work alongside startups on finding the best solution for all parties (and it certainly looks like they are), the onus is on smaller companies to take advantage of these open communication channels and advocate on behalf of their product offerings.

Look to your network for support

Luckily, each individual startup doesn’t have to face the shifting internet landscape alone. With a range of players working within the same ecosystem, companies have a vast network of related businesses to tap into for support and advice. Instead of feeling siloed into their own challenges, startups in the online space should feel united by the constant change that impacts all companies within that ecosystem.

For example, we joined the W3C group for web extensions in the midst of navigating Manifest V3. In this community, we can share our use cases and collaborate with other impacted companies on adjusting our technologies to align with the latest guidelines. By pooling resources and engaging in this cross collaboration, we can troubleshoot early in the adapting process.

Whether it’s seeking out similar groups or even consulting your network of founders and business leaders directly, it’s vital to lean on the startup community in these transitory periods for both product and general business direction.

Become adaptable in more ways than one

In addition to proactively allocating resources for adapting your hero product, startups that are innovating online need to constantly reevaluate their product road map and look for unique opportunities to diversify their offerings.

No two years in the history of the internet are the same, but one thing that remains steady is the desire for individuals to have customization options within this ecosystem — nimble startups are primed to offer the latest and greatest solutions, from e-commerce tools to password protection systems, privacy suites and more.

For some companies, this could mean investing more time in product development outside Chrome and researching the capabilities that Firefox, Safari or other alternative browsers could provide. Because each tech giant has their own policies related to browser customization, startups could open themselves up to a whole new user base and build unique features that are compatible with distinct systems.

Startups can also expand into the mobile sector and experiment with how their online innovations could work within the iOS or Android landscape. Ultimately, having a product scope that extends across the various corners of our online life, from in-browser to mobile applications, will make your company resilient against the constant shifts of our online world, and it’s much easier to build this resiliency if diversification is a part of your business plan from the very beginning.

Embrace the constant of change

Even though startups creating online tools and programs are constantly challenged with policy changes, regulatory shifts and market demands, those that aren’t afraid to collaborate with Big Tech and pursue an adaptable product strategy will always find a way to continue on their path toward providing consumers with the best products and experiences possible.

Staying steadfast in your mission and being willing to modify your approach along the way will allow you to successfully innovate for years to come.