Sep 7, 2011

[Google] What's Going On?

3,700円Image by masahiko via FlickrI'm still in the middle of reading I'm Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59, the amazing narrative of a segment of Google's early history from the perspective of Douglas Edwards, the proverbial "voice of Google" for many years. The book is proving to be an amazing read and I'll probably take a blog post (or three) to discuss my insights once I've finally finished reading it.

One of my biggest takeaways from the book thus far is how differently the approach customer support and feedback. The rest of the world scrambles to put out PR fires and manage their image as best as they can in this social media age. But for Google (or at least the early Google), getting too bogged down in customer support means taking time away from actually solving the problem or getting more done. It's not the most laudable of beliefs, but it does make a lot of sense and it helps explains a lot of Google's actions.

But recent changes in how Google has been running things has me a little confused as of late. Despite my new realizations about the company because of Edwards' book, there's a lot of be puzzled over in terms of recent announcement and product closures that have been making the rounds of the news sites and the tech blogosphere at large.

My confusion started a few weeks back when Google announced that they were shutting down Google Labs. Seeing individual Google products come and go is normal for all of us Google-watchers - the company is known for supporting independent researched, pushing innovation and constantly trying out new things. That means a heck of a lot of new developments always coming out and sometimes being shut down when the experiment fails, like the recent closures of Google Health and Google PowerMeter.

when was the last time you visited Google Labs?Image by kairin via FlickrBut to shut down Google Labs itself, which in many ways felt like the clearest personification of Google's innovative spirit and the freedom offered by concepts like "20% time" seemed almost unreal. I love Google Labs - it's always been a fun playground for new Google products and other ideas that they're just playing around with. I started out with Google Reader when it was still a Labs product and continue to use it as my one and only RSS feed aggregator. While one can argue that it doesn't mean that Google is going to stop experimenting, however it does somewhat imply that Google is moving away from aggressive beta testing of their potential products in the public eye.
One might argue this is a good thing - at least from a corporate perspective. As the company has grown over the years, there's certainly pressure from its investors to make sure that all efforts are going somewhere potentially productive. Google has released a wide variety of online products and services at no costs to users over the years. I'm sure these continue to generate significant costs for Google as a company and yet they continue on. Based on Edwards' writing, this falls right in line with Google's early principles of development - of putting the users first and giving them things that could be useful and lead to the free exchange of information.

But is this a good thing for users? That remains to be seen.

More recent announcements have listed even more products being shut down including the likes of Google Desktop, Google Notebook and Google Fast Flip. While I don't necessarily argue against their reasons for shutting down a number of products (e.g. it's been ages since I last even thought about the Google Pack), it seems to fall in line with a larger pattern of reallocating resources and streamlining operations.

Is this all because of Google+? Are they trying to through more and more resources being their social effort in an no-holds-barred contest with the likes of Facebook? Or is this the sign of something even bigger and better just waiting for us beyond the horizon? Perhaps it's some big new product launch that's drawing hundreds of Google engineers behind a singular goal? I really don't have the answers either.

Like most other users on the outside, I continue to wonder what Google is up to. My faith in their ability to create new and amazing things is not shaken. But my belief in the company's spirit of innovation and creative is wavering a bit. Is focused creativity better than chaotic freedom? I'm sure Google's board thinks so. But since when did Google but its board first before its users?

Maybe I'm just being overly speculative. Maybe I'm just hurting that Google Labs is going to be a thing of the past. For now, I have to admit that I'll have to hold strong to the insights gleaned from reading Edwards' book. This is not the first time that Google's actions may not make sense to us. But like any other group of intelligent engineers, it's not exactly in Google's design to stop and explain their actions fully to us common folk. After all, Google didn't win us over because they're the nicest company in the world. We've learned to love them because of their accomplishments - their products and their services.

And for now, that's where we can invest our trust.
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  1. I still feel sorry for Google for ditching out Firefox and creating their own browser. I still believe that Firefox could have easily won the Browser War with IE, with the backing of Google. Just my 2 cents.

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