Everyone seems confused about Google these days.
A disgruntled former Google executive named James Whittaker last week posted a rant on the Microsoft blog called “Why I left Google.” (He now works at Microsoft.)
In the post, Whittaker said “The Google I was passionate about was a technology company that empowered its employees to innovate. The Google I left was an advertising company with a single corporate-mandated focus.” He went on: “The days of old Google hiring smart people and empowering them to invent the future was gone. The new Google knew beyond doubt what the future should look like.”
The public is confused, too. A new survey from the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that preference for Google among search users has nearly doubled in the last eight years -- from 47% in 2004 to 83% today. Yet the same survey found that "nearly three-quarters of search engine users surveyed say they don't want search engines to mine their personal information to tailor results to their interests."
The confusion here is that affinity for Google is rising because of increasingly relevant results. They’re relevant in large part because of better personalization, something the public doesn’t understand. The survey is comparable to a survey asking people if they like cheese, and also asking people if they like bacteria in their food while it’s being made. They’ll be in favor of the former and against the latter, even though the latter is required for achieving the former.
All this confusion about Google is easily clarified. You see, Google is becoming more like Apple. This is a good thing for users, and a good thing for Google.
Google was founded on a single idea and a single product. Founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page wanted only to create a better search engine. They believed in data, algorithms and the power of software engineering. So they hired a gazillion geniuses and turned them loose on the Internet. The company’s famous 20-percent time required Google engineers to invent new products in their spare time. Those personal pet projects could be turned into major Google offerings, such as Gmail.
The unique business model of Google was a kind of Survivor-like reality show to create hundreds of online and software products, and let the marketplace choose which would thrive and which would be voted off the island. Most would fail. Some would succeed brilliantly. Google’s Silicon Valley campus was a paradise for brilliant engineers -- resources and toys and junk food, but no adult supervision, no mandate to contribute to the company’s larger long-term goals.
But for non-employees, Google was less than a paradise. Google’s throw-the-pasta-on-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks approach to everything seriously damaged Google’s reputation, and didn’t scale. Users and partners have repeatedly devoted a lot of resources to one Google product or another, only to see it unceremoniously shut down. Everything was always in “beta,” so corporations hesitated to embrace Google services. And the company suffered a growing identity crisis.
Let’s be clear: Google had no vision. And that was great for engineers, but lousy for users and for long-term business prospects.
But that changed one year ago when co-founder Larry Page replaced Eric Schmidt as the CEO of Google. Page took on his new role with a very clear vision -- to transform Google from inmates-running-the-asylum anarchy to visionary dictatorship. You know, like Apple.
Here are the three main ways Page is making Google more like Apple:
Google used to have no discernible vision. Just crank out as many products and services as possible, and let the market pick the winners and the losers.
All that changed a year ago. Now, the company knows exactly what it’s doing and where it’s going.