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Friday, November 12, 2010

Google: What Would Jobs Have Done?

I was reading this article at CIO regarding how Google might look a little different had Steve Jobs taken the helm in place of Eric Schmidt.  I bring this up because a while back I wrote "Whistling Past the Graveyard" which talked about why companies that get defocused from their primary expertise tend to get lost.  Google is another case in point.

Google defined the concept of a "search company".  There were lots of search technologies before Google, and many that have come after, like Bing.  But Google remains the master at search.

Unfortunately, this is no longer the chief focus as far as I can see.

So what about the idea of Steve Jobs in charge at Google?  I think that would have made Google far more focused on its core search technology and much less focused on satellite things like blogspot, gmail, chrome, android, cell phones, wave, the supposed Google Me Facebook replacement and all the rest.

Not many of these things are really winners - particularly from the "big picture" perspective.

I would also say this is exactly why Steve Jobs would not have taken the head job at Google.  The core search engine model for Google, while technologically exciting,  is far from an ego and marketing pizazz blockbuster and it really doesn't offer much for Jobs.  Can you really imagine him standing up on the stage a Moscone Center talking about some low-level Python search wizardry?  (Yes, he could pull it off, but it wouldn't be the same as the Apple events he hosts.)

Jobs likes to focus on making things great.  He does this by grinding away the superfluous crap that make things annoying and complicated and getting down the real nub of the issue, e.g., the iPod interface.  The Google search screen is already this way - as are the returned results (at least for the most part).  What would he be left to focus on?

Making clunky weird things like wave and chrome.

As wonderful as Google is today at what they do there are, however, still search problems to be solved.  My concern with Google these days is that they have become so focused on the other things I mentioned that making search work right is no longer the number one priority.

Do I need really Chrome?  Does my browser really need to be that much faster?

Android has its own set of issues, particularly about not being as "open" as Google claims.

I have also written here about Google's bizarre ideas about "cloud printing".  HP has scooped them in this regard - just watch their TV ads.

Certainly I use blogspot at Google for this blog.  It works okay though at some point I may consider moving the elsewhere to have more control over it.

Many people love gmail.  Now I really have a hard time understanding why this is so.  People put personal things in email, business things, things they say that are private.  Why would you trust Google with this information?  Particularly as the company grows and grows beyond all real means to control it.

I fear the insidious nature of Google's approach to content.  Particularly my content (not me personally necessarily, but the whole notion of people putting their private information into Google).  Now this blog is a public blog - and "behind the scenes" there isn't really anything - I don't keep any email on Google, no secret links or stores of data, and I do most of my research outside of blogspot.  So while Google hosts my blog it doesn't have any personal information about me or my blog or, for that matter, my company.

And Google tends to create weird standards for things, like mail attachments.  We have a customer that loved to send gmail's with these bizarre Google attachments that would not work on a Mac.

How nice.  I guess no on there uses a Mac.

Google now finds itself in the position where its no longer the "technological hot ticket".  Eric Schmidt recently decided to give all the employees a 10% raise.  I doubt very much this was out of the goodness of his cold black heart.  He's doing this to keep people.  Keep people for escaping to Facebook and other startups.

This is going to make these defocused activities harder to support because most of them are pet projects cooked up by employees in the first place.

The problem with companies and privacy as they get larger and larger is that not everyone follows the privacy code the founders established.  Eventually  there will be unhappy employees who leave - taking secure information with them.  And when they go who's gmail passwords will go with them?

"Don't be evil" only gets you so far - there's a lot of latitude around "evil".

Things like Facebook are now starting to breath down Google's neck.  Facebook is more exciting and starting to draw employees away from Google.  This will make Google's life harder and put more stress on the whole mess.

So, for me, what does all this mean?

First off, I think Google needs to stick to search and fix what's already broken with search.

My biggest beef has always been, being in the PDF business, that you cannot effectively search for things about PDF without getting a list of things that are PDF, i.e., PDF files about the things you are interested in.

For example, suppose I am interested in whether there's a PDF viewer on a specific kind of microprocessor, e.g., the ARM LPC1343.  You would think that Googling "LPC1343 PDF" might work - but it doesn't.  Instead I get a bunch of PDF files about the LPC1343.

This is just an example, but I find this quite annoying and not helpful at all.

So Google, if your listening, get back on track at what you do best - before you too are "Whistling Past the Graveyard".

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