Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Google...Is it really Great? Evil? or a Teenager?


Some conversations in the last day or so prompted me to post a longer explanation.

Google says "don't be evil", well they did until 2009 when they took that bit out.

What changed? Did Google finally realize that hiring a huge amount of people, some extremely intelligent and others able to fake it well, could not steer 100% efforts to follow a simple rule?

When you are a small a company, it is easy to get everyone on board with a motto or an idea. But as one grows larger it is harder to maintain that simplicity.

For example:
Does the motto translate well into other languages aside from (American) English?
Do you force everyone to speak only in English?
Are prices different in parts of the country or world?
Do you use different date formatting once you branch outside of the US?
Do employee benefits change by state, region or currency?
Who gets stock options? Why?
And on and on.

I believe that at it's core Google really believes in itself and if you believe what you hear/read their goal setting is pure genius. I don't recall IBM ever asking me to do the impossible or even if it did, and if I succeeded at all, was rewarded for it. In fact sometimes the opposite was true. Yet Google will set goals, quarterly, monthly whatever they are, that appear impossible because the technology doesn't exist yet or may go down the wrong rabbit hole. That is where probably every other company, except for possibly Apple under Steve Jobs, fails in their goal setting.

Asking a sales person in a small territory to hit the million dollars in sales goals when it has never topped half a million is just unfair. Should they have targets and goals and incentives? Yes, but that is not what I am after here.

Is Google evil? No more than any other company. Sure there are people who give in to their darker side and either get caught or end up in a bind that the company looks bad from the outsider. I don't mean an Enron  fiasco, but insider trading, trade secrets, government legal issues, bribes and other acts that have tarnished nearly every company on Earth at one time or another, including Google.

Is Google out to kill Microsoft or Apple or IBM or HP or Oracle? Perhaps. Is that so bad? Look where it got all of the others? Survival of the fittest in the IT world usually is a short term ride with only a handful surviving the long haul. Kudos to IBM to making it to 100 years old.

Why do I think Google is a teenager? They like to talk publicly, sometimes well other times a bit fluffy, about a lot of things but when you ask about themselves they get very quiet. Compare this with Apple who really are very quiet in general, except when something new is coming out. Apple speaking at events? Not often. Apple doing interviews? Rarely. Get the picture? Now ask your teenager anything about them.

But when they have a new toy or product or something to beta test they still do not do much marketing. They rely on the word of mouth,  usage and analytics to guide them if their new idea is good or bad. If it is bad, it is dropped with as much fanfare as it started with a grunt or shrug. If it is good, then some effort is made to open up about it and spread good words. But still nothing concrete about the future or Google itself.

Google may be silently hoping Apple does the hard work for them. Microsoft, well Bill Gates, saw the world as unlimited licenses of Windows. IBM chose to see the world as corporations and businesses that would pay for hardware and software, something consumers did not always do and when they started to do so, IBM sold their consumer products side of the hardware. And now comes Google that says yeah that worked for Microsoft but now that people want nearly everything for free and an app can be bought for a few dollars, maybe an incremental stream of money is better than trying to hammer everyone with a big license of Windows. Or maybe while everyone is busy paying Google for advertising, Google can have some fun with new ideas that may turn the tables on Microsoft and others.

My kids Android tablet was pretty cheap, no, the touch screen is not as good as an iPad although not far off, it is not as good on battery life as an iPad, it does not have any video cameras (my choosing), but it does run software for me to do everything on it.

And if Google wants everyone to use Chrome, Android and other items for free, as long as Google can maintain that perspective, presumably from their advertising revenue, it will be very hard for anyone to deny them as doing anything but good.

The only problem is not every teenager makes it to adulthood.

So as we see Google get to a more mature stage, recent changes in leadership are too new to know if this will work out like when Michael Dell or Steve Jobs returned, or will they flounder around trying to define themselves as an adult company?

Google has the money to walk away tomorrow and pay everyone off, but keeps pushing for something new and maybe impossible.

I'd like to find other companies seeing the world this way, instead of changing names every year or rebranding products or changing colors or shrinking juice cartons or reducing candy sizes to maintain higher prices.

Customers deserve better. Customers expect better.

While IBM Smarter Planet initiatives are a step in the right direction, they still are one sided. It helps the utility company and helps IBM, but will those savings ever make their way to the customer?