Thoughts on recent Google hate

Nothing particularly recent comes to mind, but in the past few months, the public perception of Google in tech blogs has been growing ever more negative. People are reaching out to predict Google+’s failure out of what could only be spite.  Recent changing up of Google execs have people claiming they have a leadership crisis going on. It seemed like a few years ago, everyone loved Google. Now, people are paranoid that Google is “the man,” and that its users are their product, and their customers are their advertisers. What happened? I think it’s a lack of perspective.

The public seems to love a bitter rivalry. We have had the Apple vs. MS wars that followed the Apple vs. IBM war, the browser wars, and even a bit of rivalry between Facebook and Twitter. Meanwhile, Google’s been trying to reach out beyond search, and they’ve gotten pretty aggressive about it. Google’s productivity suite is incredibly capable. Chrome took sizable market share in a very short time. And they’ve got this mobile phone platform, you might have heard of it?

First off, I resent the notion that Google’s primary business purpose is selling user data, and that as a side effect, they provide this search engine that a few people use.  This thinking completely ignores Google’s history. Google started off as a search engine, and the sale of advertising simply enables them to pay the bills so that they can make the products that people like. Furthermore, Google can’t sell ads without a product that human beings want to use and are using en masse.  And just because no money is exchanged between end users and Google for using its search and other services, doesn’t mean that it isn’t Google’s primary product. Google’s ad products largely couldn’t exist if not for the products end users are using, and that doesn’t make those ad products sound like they are Google’s primary product.

The other thing Google’s taken so much flak for is that they don’t ever go with their gut instinct, like Apple does. Apple’s all about the feel of things, people say, and Google is so calculated in everything they do. They A/B test everything and they back up all their decisions, right down to layout changes of their web site, with data demonstrating that this is the right thing to do. Apple’s approach is vastly different. Apple is famous for rejecting the use of focus groups, and although their design process involves a ton of iteration and testing of their own, it’s understood to be based a lot more on the “feel” of something than any tangible data.

But to say that Google is worse off for this than had they not been so hell bent on having statistically significant data backing everything they do completely ignores the massive successes that Google has enjoyed with their products. Conversely, Apple has demonstrated on several occasions that their approach doesn’t work when they try making a product that is in a space Google dominates.  Remember iAd? It offers a great user experience.  Well, I think it does. Truth is, their fill rate is so abysmal that I haven’t seen an iAd that actually is an ad.  Let’s not forget MobileMe, either.  Apple has transitioned its webmail several times, and the service availability is interrupted during each transition (i.e. you can’t actually get a new account when Apple’s transitioning the product from one name to another. You can’t get a MobileMe email address right now, but you can’t get iCloud yet either). Clearly Google’s approach is winning in more than a few of the spaces they compete in.

Google’s stated mission is “to organize all the world’s information.” It’s a lofty goal, and some might even characterize it as Orwellian. Note the absence in this mission of anything about selling ads to people. Google’s focus on the advertising is only as important to them in the sense that it keeps them running. We all depend on water and oxygen, but few of us are exclusively focused on obtaining these things; we just do because we know that we need to.

And Google’s numerous forays into social networking have largely been duds. Google+ managed to get larger initial user growth than Facebook, but it’s not yet clear whether it will take off.  Facebook already offers a lot more.  People are strangely convinced that Google can’t succeed if they don’t end up with a successful social strategy.  Yes, social networks have grown quite a bit, but they don’t really replace anything on the internet, except maybe earlier IM services. It’s a whole new space, and it’s not really going to replace any of the other stuff that people use the internet for.  I’m not saying it’s not of some strategic importance for your product to be social savvy, but it’s not the be all end all that people seem to think it is.

As Google has entered other companies’ spaces and has turned previous partners into competitors through entering these spaces, their different approach to things has admittedly led to an inferior product. Android feels in many ways like an iPhone wannabe, mostly following Apple on adding features (though the notification center was Android’s first by a long shot, and I salute Google for such innovation).  However, for us to tell Google that their approach is wrong on these products would be harmful to innovation overall.  It’d also be ignoring the fact that there are more Android users than iPhone users. But by having Google develop new ideas on their own, even if they are quite distinct from Apple’s thinking, it gives us more new ideas.  Google will continue copying some of Apple’s ideas that it likes (and get sued for it), and Apple will continue copying Google’s ideas as it sees fit. Apple and Google need to be ripping each other’s ideas off, because the consumer ends up winning.

Peace out. Namaste.

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