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July 11, 2009

Google's Changing Corporate Culture

Anil Dash wrote an interesting post about Google's public perception and the changes that are slowly turning Google into a regular big corporation.

"This is the point when the difference between their internal conception of the company starts to diverge just a bit too far from the public perception of the company, and even starts to diverge from reality. At this inflection point, the reasons for doing new things at Google start to change."

Anil gives some examples of recent announcements: many Google applications are built for Android, even if iPhone has more users; Google has two overlapping operating systems: Android and Chrome OS; Google uses TV ads to promote its services.

I'm not sure if these examples are revelatory: Google released important mobile applications for iPhone before they were available for Android and many people wondered why Google doesn't build applications for its own operating system.

Android and Chrome OS seem to be different products: "Android was designed from the beginning to work across a variety of devices from phones to set-top boxes to Netbooks. Google Chrome OS is being created for people who spend most of their time on the Web, and is being designed to power computers ranging from small Netbooks to full-size desktop systems." Kevin Fox, a former Google employee, adds: "The two OSes are created for different styles of interaction, so at the end of the day you-the-consumer are looking for a product to meet your portable, ancillary support, quick-use fingertip device, of you’re looking for a focused-attention computing platform in as small a form-factor as is usable. To say that there should only be one Google OS merely because there exists an overlap in the desired form factors for two distinct OSes is as silly as the idea of an iPhone running MacOS or a Mac with the UI of an iPhone."

While TV ads don't have too much in common with Google's culture, it's likely that Google didn't use TV ads to promote the search engine or Gmail because they spread by word of mouth. It's more difficult to convince people to change their browsers and their mobile phones.

"Google is entering the moment where it has to be over-careful not to offend, and extremely attentive to whether they are treading lightly. Is Google evil? It doesn't matter. They've reached the point of corporate ambition and changing corporate culture that means they're going to be perceived as if they are," concludes Anil.

Google is no longer a start-up and each announcement, each mistake and each decision is amplified and exaggerated. If Gmail is down for an hour or Google's search engine has a bug in the ranking algorithm, the mistakes affect millions of people and the complaints propagate instantly.

An interesting explanation for launching products that seemed unlikely a couple of years ago can be found at the bottom of this page:

"When we first wrote these "10 things" four years ago, we included the phrase "Google does not do horoscopes, financial advice or chat." Over time we've expanded our view of the range of services we can offer –- web search, for instance, isn't the only way for people to access or use information -– and products that then seemed unlikely are now key aspects of our portfolio. This doesn't mean we've changed our core mission; just that the farther we travel toward achieving it, the more those blurry objects on the horizon come into sharper focus (to be replaced, of course, by more blurry objects)."

4 comments:

  1. Interesting, but completely misses the mark. While it is true that there may be a shift in perception, it's only a perception shift. So, this is a study of people en mass more than it is a study of a corporation.

    Take, for instance, Google advertising on television. Google has advertised its own products for years. When Google was integrated into Yahoo in the early years, a little Google logo was included with results that Google served. This is how most people learned that Google existed. Once Google implemented AdSense, you could see "ads by Google" on third-party sites which used this service. No matter how you slice it, this is advertising. It is display advertising. Once Google grew bigger, they made use of the media for advertising, carefully crafting media events to help spread "word of mouth". Also, once Google started releasing other products besides "search", you could easily see these products be prominently advertised using Google's own ad-system on their search engine. On Google, do a search for MAPS and you will see an ad at the top for Google Maps, for instance. This is an act of Google "eating their own dogfood" so to speak. If they provide an advertising mechanism for their customers, they will use this mechanism their self as well. So, Google spread into television advertising. They offer ads for their customers on the television medium, so it only makes sense that they would eat their own dogfood and advertise their own products as well.

    As for designing applications for Android with a higher priority than for the iPhone, this has always been a part of Google culture, but may have been misunderstood. Here is how it works. Google links to third party sites and applications if they feel it would be beneficial to their customers. However, if they feel a particular service or applications falls short of fully helping their customers, they look to improve upon it. So, they design their own version. A good example is Maps. They originally linked to Mapquest and Yahoo Maps before designing Google Maps. Then, during early release, they will continue to primarily link to the third party sites as they build up their own tool and link to it in a secondary fashion. Finally, once they feel it has reached a milestone worth promoting, they link primarily to their own application. Eventually, they stop linking to the third party sites and focus entirely on their own. Do a map-related search and you will no longer see links to Mapquest or Yahoo Maps. Do a search for a stock ticker symbol, such as GOOG, and you will still see links to Yahoo Finance and others, but Google Finance will be the first link. As for Android, they are still building apps for the iPhone, as well as for Android, and in some cases are releasing for Android first or making some applications exclusive to Android. They are clearly in the transition period with Android where it is moving from secondary support to primary support but is not quite completely exclusive like Google Maps is for search.

    So, anyone who has the perception that "Google has changed" may have only had their perception changed and never knew the real Google.

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  2. I'm not so sure that either the perception of Google's change or the reality of Google changing is important. What's most important to me, if I owned Google would be, the issue Behind it.

    That is "is my brand consistent?"

    Not STATIC but consistent. Coca-cola, for example, has changed its image somewhat over the years. The only negative backlash I remember is when they attempted to make an inconsistent BRAND move by adding "New Coke". It was like saying " we know some of you now like Pepsi better than us because of Michael Jackson. In response, instead of asserting that we're better and always have been, we're going to change who we are."

    This is a move of an insecure girlfriend/boyfriend, and of course, pushes one farther away.

    Now, if Google makes a move like THAT - one that is perceived as a desperate move to change who they are in response to marketplace perceptions, that would be of importance to me. The observation about how Google is growing up is notable. Because regardless of what the reality is, if Google's public perception is changing, that can have a very real effect on business as we can see from the New Coke example.

    So far it looks as if Google's brand is remaining consistent despite the change in public perception and maturity. And yet, whether the recent change in perception is reality or not, actually marking the place where this may have begun to shift may be referenced later as the beginning of the end for Google... or even as the starting point of its greatest era.

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  3. Any corporation that gets too big for its shoes becomes inherently evil, as rigid management structures are put in place. Google is becoming just another microsoft, and it will surely have rough waters to sail through in the coming years. It is also trying to be too many things to too many people. I think quite a lot in Google's distance is 'blurry', but they have the time and money to 'focus' on whatever they see fit, or profitable...

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  4. I agree. Anyway, I don't want to say a lot of things regarding google info or updates. Thanks anyway for this post and I also read some of your postings, I learned a lot-- informations and thoughts. Thanks for sharing.

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