Erik McClure

Google's Decline Really Bugs Me


Google is going down the drain.

That isn’t to say they aren’t fantastically successful. They are. I still use their products, mostly because I don’t put things on the internet I don’t want other people to find, and I’m not female, so I don’t have to worry about misogynists stalking me. They still make stupendous amounts of money and pump out some genuinely good software. They still have the best search engine. Like Microsoft, they’ll be a force to be reckoned with for many decades to come.

Google, however, represented an ideal. They founded the company with the motto “Don’t Be Evil”, and the unspoken question was, how long would this last? The answer, oddly enough, was “until Larry Page took over”.

In its early years, Google unleashed the creativity of the brilliant people it hired to the world and came up with a slew of fantastic products that were a joy to use. Google made huge contributions to the open-source world and solved scalability problems with an elegance that has yet to be surpassed. They famously let engineers use 20% of their time to pursue their own interests, and the result was an unstoppable tidal wave of innovation. Google was, for a brief moment, a shining beacon of hope, a force of good in a bleak world of corporations only concerned with maximizing profit.

Then Larry Page became CEO. Larry Page worshiped Steve Jobs, who gave him a bunch of bad advice centered around maximizing profit. The result was predictable and catastrophic, as the entire basis of what had made Google so innovative was destroyed for the sake of maximizing profit. Now it’s just another large company - only concerned about maximizing profit.

Google was a company that, for a time, I loved. To me, they represented the antithesis of Microsoft, a rebellion against a poisonous corporate culture dominated by profiteering that had no regard for its users. Google was just a bunch of really smart people trying to make the world a better place, and for a precious few years, they succeeded - until it all came tumbling down. Like an artist whose idol has become embroiled in a drug abuse scandal, I have lost my guiding light.

Google was largely the reason I wanted to start my own company, even if college kept me from doing so. As startup culture continued to suck the life out of silicon valley, I held on to Google as an ideal, an example of the kind of company I wanted to build instead of a site designed to sort cat photos. A company that made money because it solved real problems better than everyone else. A company that respected good programming practices, using the right tool for the job, and the value of actually solving a problem instead of just throwing more code at it.

Google was a company that solved problems first, and made money second.

Now, it has succumbed to maximizing stock price for a bunch of rich wall street investors who don’t care about anything other than filling their own pockets with as much cash as they possibly can. Once again, the rest of the world is forced to sit around, waiting until an investor accidentally makes the world a better place in the process of trying to make as much money as possible.

Most people think this is the only way to get things done. For a precious few years, I could point to Google and say otherwise. Now, it has collapsed, and its collapse has made me doubt my own resolve. If Google, of all companies, couldn’t maintain that idealistic vision, was it even possible?

Google gave me a reason to believe that humanity could do better. That we could move past a Wall Street that has become nothing more than a rotting cesspool of greed and corruption.

Now, Google has fallen, along with the ideal it encompassed. Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? Or is it a train, a force of reality come to remind us that no matter how much we reach for utopia, we will be sentenced to drown in our own greed?


Comments


heavymark

I think it's inevitable. All companies get too big and they turn into Google or Facebook or Apple or they hold true to their values until they sell out and get bought by one of the larger companies or have to shutdown by the government because they won't give up their values. Either way it makes it impossible for any company to continue to succeed but to hold true to their original values of doing no evil. It's going to get a lot worse before it gets better, and we'll probably all be dead before that happens.


BasCB

I agree with that in part. But to me what it really shows, is that a big company is not the one who is going to change anything. Yes they are great at R&D, because they alone can stomach the budget, but they are bad at using it.
Its why we need an open culture where people can start anew and go on, a cycle of new companies/ideas/ideals growing and old ones perishing.


Bethesda Maryland

When you're motto is "Don't be evil, don't be evil, don't be evil," it basically means that you're going to be evil someday.


R

@Maryland Why is that?


Marko

Because you are trying not to be what you are in the essence, so for sure there be a moments when you are slipping to your true self...if you are not evil why you need to try to be not evil in the first place..I'm talking just about logical explanation, maybe it is not like that in reality at all :D cheers


Jerome Leclanche

It's heartbreaking, really. I agree completely, Google has represented an ideal and has been for a long time proof that you can be successful without focusing entirely on money. It still is, in a sense — they are now facing more backlash than ever after "focusing on the numbers".

Google is still a good company (far better than a lot of tech companies out there) but they are no longer one of the truly amazing players on the field. Sad.
I wonder if long term they'll recover from it. People never quite trust someone the same way after the trust gets abused.


Robert Hall

At the core, though...look at what Google's business model has always been--about as low an ideal is possible--selling advertising. Search, etc is all in support of pushing advertising.


IHaveNoIdeaWhatImDoing

I feel you; it's a loss. But only the loss of an implementation of an idea, not the loss of an idea. That's the whole beauty of our rapidly made and dissolved organizations; when one goes down others take it's place. Nothing can stop an idea, only the implementation of it. And we'll keep implementing it again and again. Because we feel like it. :)


Phoenix

Did you just reference Medgar Evers? Maybe I'm reading too far into that though, although it would be nice if it could carry the same weight as what his weird ended up carrying.


tim peterson

"The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated" -Mark Twain/Google


gaucherie

Paul McCartney said that, not Mark Twain.


James Thiele

Mark Twain did say that


Clockwork Orange

Although I must admire that correcting someone by saying a famous person who quoted them said it is very gauch of gaucherie, a level of subtle humor I rarely see on the internet. So sorry you missed it James.


Raymond Duke

I disagree with all that you said. Google is an amazing company. Ragging on them is the cool thing to do right now.

You want to know what really happened? Google grew up. It started taking more responsibility. Theres nothing wrong with that. When you mature you have to sacrifice being an idealist.

But since I see you have a cartoon anime? bunny rabbit for an avatar, I see that you are not quite thee yet.


Matthew Case

Apparently "growing up" means "shoving G+ down user's throats" and "doing away with the 20% time that spawned a lot of their success". Sounds like I'd rather stay immature.


Unknown

Since you have a v-neck you obviously are an enlightened hipster. We shall bow to thee...


urusai

A mature person (or logical person, even) does not measure maturity by a person's choice of avatar.

Raymond Duke, I see that you are not quite there yet.


Zephyros

Mr. Duke! You criticism strikes me as narrow and cynical. Why should "becoming mature" mean the end of idealism? (and honestly, how does a blogger's avatar have any bearing on the matter?)


nek

Obvious troll is obvious. Please go and enlight somebody somewhere else.


TheGuyWithTheHair

All Ad Hominems and mug slinging aside, I think this article is genuine (not 'bandwagoning') and can't be overlooked as immature. I've seen 90 year old be childish. We are all children. Its just that some of us learn to not feel anymore- and call ourselves "grown up".

Yea its popular to rag on G+ but like others in the comments section, lets stick to the facts. Google has changed. People are not happy. Until the market presents a better alternative for the still amazing services they provide(search, drive, etc...), I don't see them going away anytime soon.

In the end its the consumer base needs to change their behavior to show the big wigs the their product is no longer competitive. However, they are still very good at what they do and its hard to wean a baby off the teat. That is to say- get all of Google's userbase to not use Google anymore. A prospect I deem not likely.

Sigh kids... smh


TheGuyWithTheHair

mud*


berserkpi

I could not agree more...


Graham Jenkin

Some interesting points, especially the idea that Steve Jobs influence in Larry Page may have had a negative effect.

What this and many other articles about Google fails to understand though is that there is no ONE Google. Every team there is run differently. Different priorities. Different culture. To talk out Google as if it is a single entity is just naive. Certainly some decision making is centralized but on the whole the company is full of many autonomous units.

So when you talk about Google's decline, which Google are you referring to? Search doesn't seem to be declining at all. Neither Ads. Or Android. Maybe G+?


BasCB

The decline mentioned in the article is not a specific service, or even Google doing bad. Its the decline of open thinking and not being focussed on margins foremost.

Apple was great once, even Microsoft was (for a short while, but still), and Google was great for all it did. Now its not special in that aspect any more, but just another big and successful company


Brett Stevens

The Tragedy of the Commons is that once a company goes public, it is beholden to the shareholders. Their interest is to use that company as a means to an end.

The main problem with this is that it causes Google to value more manipulative behavior, which means that they treat any of their products as a means to the end of productization, not functionalism for their own sake. Thus the goal changes from making the best widget to making the widget that turns in the most bucks.

The writing for this has been on the wall for some time. Gmail has been declining in quality, Google products break on a regular basis, and now they're ready to do anything to force us to use Google+ even though the interface is inferior to Facebook and/or Twitter. At the end of the corporation life-cycle, this senescent phase brings on accelerated decreptitude...


Joshua Needham

G+ interface inferior to Twitter or Facebook? I'm a huge fan of the interface. How exactly is it inferior?


Sam Fonseca

There are plenty of claims and accusations here, but not a single one is backed up with even the slightest bit of evidence. Your whole point was that Google has sold its soul to "maximize profits," but didn't give a single example of how they're doing that...

Saying that Google "has succumbed to maximizing stock price for a bunch of rich wall street investors" is absurd. Larry and Sergey together hold a majority of Google's voting rights. They're accountable to themselves, not wall street. If they were, they definitely wouldn't be sitting on $60 billion in cash instead of returning it to shareholders.

To say that Google started based on ideals, is frankly a little naive. The 20% time rule wasn't established because they wanted push the boundaries of innovation, or any other noble reason. They were a internet start-up that just lived through a huge tech bubble blow up and were looking to diversify their product line. I'll concede that they were less interested in turning a profit early on, but that's goes for practically any start up in the last 15 years. Build something awesome, get a bunch of people to use it, then figure out how to make money later. Were you this upset when you realized Facebook wasn't just in it to let college kids stalk each other online? Google wasn't started to fix the internet, it just happened that making it more accessible at a time when it was still new to most people was a great business plan...


Rahul Janagouda

I feel that author has backed up many reasons in order to prove why he used to idealize Google. But when it came to his claim/consideration that Google has failed, he fails to back up why he concluded the same.


Wayne Rosing

Sorry 20% time was designed to produce innovation, even though it might be a bit off track. That is what innovation is about.

I believe this article needs serious facts and examples to back it up. It is easy to posit internally and logically consistent statements that are based on half truths and coincidence. Causality is harder to show.

Google has become an enormous enterprise. There are not many other examples of continuous innovation on the same scale. I certainly am not writing them off.

Wayne Rosing


Sam

I think all companies follow the curve seen in the lifecycle of products. In other words, what goes up always comes down!


Rajesh

What about Glass, self driving cars?
What about project loon?
What about the all the social initiatives it is taking in Africa and elsewhere?
There is an endless list of things it continues to do to refute your claim....

What has changed is
- Apple's financial performance obviously raises expectations for all tech companies
- The inevitable increase in headcount


Sushant Taneja

I can understand how you feel. But I disagree with you. Google is not at all declining. Its evolving.

I, like you, adore Google. I love the company and what it has done over the years with its power of technology and gave us so many brilliant products. But the truth of running a company is that you need money. And running a business, involves not only listening to your heart but also to your investors and other stakeholders. And at the end, whatever decision you make, you make it for the betterment of the company and for a better future.

Google still contributes to the open source. Google has revolutionized the web, the mobile industry and now with Google X, they are solving more difficult problems than ever before. I believe one of the reasons to form Google X was to continue innovating without thinking of the business perspectives. You can say that the Google X is the new Google. But the products which will come out of it will not only solve problems but will also help Google earn more money which in turn help Google take on more challenges. You see, its a cycle.

I have high hopes of Google. With their computing power and resources, they can truly have a great impact on the world.


Aman Alam

Every single word you've written is so true.
And I am happy to find that I am not alone who used to think so.
I was, and probably to some extent, was so much in love with them that I have participated HUGELY in their developer community efforts sometimes at my own expenses, just because our ideologies matched.

But watching what's been happening since Larry became the CEO, I broke my heart again (first was when Sun got sold to Oracle).

Although I am still attached to the developer community efforts, but only to an extent which helps the community and the new students.

Thanks for writing, sharing it.


William Payne

By going public, Google sold itself to the highest bidder.

This is not a metaphor.


As a public company, it has only One. Single. Responsibility. It's shareholders.

Of course the interests of its' customers will suffer. Of course the interests of its' users will suffer. Of course the interests of its' staff will suffer. Of course the interests of the general public will suffer.


Don't be evil?

Ain't no room for that sort of sentimental nonsense.


It is a little difficult to feel bad about this, because a lot of shareholders are pension funds working in the interests of ordinary working-class people, so this isn't really a proxy for class war. The problem is that investors, including institutional investors and pension funds, are all incapable of making long-term predictions, so they all invest for the short-term, with holding periods measured in months rather than years. They are also incapable of balancing moral judgements with returns-based investment, or have no mandate to incorporate that into their decision making process.

Management decisions in publicly-owned companies reflect this reality. They reflect the fact that long term investing is impossible by focusing on short-term profits. They reflect the fact that pension funds have no social-preservation mandate, by sacrificing morality at the altar of Mammon.

There is no on individual at fault here. Everybody is acting in the most professional; most moral way possible; given the fiduciary duties that they have to their clients and other stakeholders. It is the system of incentives and duties that drives us in the wrong direction; the evil is emergent, not designed; not deliberate.


Jason Hanley

This happened even faster than I had predicted: http://future.jasonhanley.com/2010/08/google-becomes-microsoft.html


Finerva

You pointed out numerous times that Google got it right for a few years and as a relativist, that's about the extent of what I would expect any such company to be able to achieve. I don't believe any company can maintain total benevolence AND remain totally relevant, powerful, and grow at such an incredible rate. Google may one day control a national automated transportation system...how could that much power and revenue generation not corrupt?

This is probably the pessimist in me, but anytime a company I like is "getting it right" I am just waiting for the day they turn. I know with certainty that it will happen. If it ever doesn't, then its no longer a company, its a religion i.e. something that is illogically benevolent. A fitting quote, "you either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain". Just like Google rose up after Microsoft, another Google full of bright eyed engineers will rise up again. And the cycle repeats.


Matt Brenton

Google has always let go of services that don't catch on. First they try a new service out and then they gather feedback and make changes. Once they feel they can no longer improve on such a service they let it go. It's too bad more companies didn't work this way. Also, ask yourselves why some of the brightest minds in tech work at Google? Most of them have made their fortunes and could move on but they choose to stay because of the environment Google offers it's employees/partners. As far as taking away the 20% free time goes, X Lab is an area where the employees spend 100% of their time creating moonshot projects. Do you have any idea how much they spend on these moonshots? Most of the products and services that are created there will never produce a profit (so how does Google only focus on the bottom line and it's shareholders?). Another area that Google gets overlooked is how much non profit projects they are involved with. After reading the comments it's clear many of you need to do your homework before making statements. Google is unlike any other company in the world (public or private, tech or not). Listen to Larry Page speak at the annual Zeitgeist meeting and tell me they only care about profits.


motiur getridofmypest

I need decline really bugs
bugs


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