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Understanding Google

Originally written 20051127

Google was founded by people working on their doctorate degrees. Their project was released on the Internet, and they discovered they had a company. Their entire organization is designed as a very large academic research lab. They respect academia, and hire only people who have or are working on doctorates. This is a very different attitude from technology companies like Microsoft and Dell which were founded by college drop-outs. This bias leads to two obvious traits: fear of the administration, and Not Invented Here syndrome.

Their fear of administration is well-grounded. In academia, administration controls the finances. Every academic researcher fears administration will cut funding for their project. In the business world, administration is replaced by business managers. Google has just enough business managers to support the researchers. Those managers are support staff, not strategists. All major decisions come from technical people. They even specify Friday is a day when the technical people can work on anything without the slightest business justification. Google is fulfilling every academic researcher's dream.

The Not Invented Here syndrome comes from the personality of academic researchers. Each believes their method must be the best. Each believes they can reproduce anything demonstrated by anybody else, and make it better. Why buy another company when our own researchers can reproduce the product better?

Google has several advantages over most other companies. The company has great financial and intellectual resources. For any released product, they have an existing example to improve. When starting new products, they have tons of existing code that can be applied. They have the habit of declaring new products as "beta", meaning they are unfinished and can be improved after release, so early failures are not fatal.

The news suggests many entrepreneurs are hoping their exit strategy is to be bought by Google. Google may buy very small companies to hire talent. They will not be buying products except as demonstration of talent. Bought products will continue because they are the research project of the new hires, not because Google management wanted to market the product. Companies that have gained business managers or sales will be ignored as difficult to integrate, and Google can always create a competing product if it seems a good idea.

Many software companies worry Google will attack them. Any attack will not be a strategic decision as Google does not worry about other companies. Attacks only happen when a researcher decides to develop software that encroaches or replaces an existing product. Replacing an existing product means the researcher could not find something original to develop. The Google personality suggests these projects will be not be supported unless there is a new idea to make them worthwhile.

Example: There is no need for another word processing program, but moving word processing onto the web and storing the documents on Google's servers for ubiquitous access (and searching) is original. That Microsoft sees this project as an attack on its cashcow MSOffice is of little concern to Google.

Google is a random factor in the software business. It will produce many original ideas. Some of those ideas will be profitable. Some will change the world and the way we use computers. Some will take revenues from other software companies. Do not expect a strategy beyond their stated "Organize the world's information"; they do not have one.

20051206 UPDATE

This article was written in response to many stories about new entrepreneurs with their exit strategies of being bought by Google. Newsweek's Google: Ten Golden Rules seems to be a direct answer to this article. They affirm the strengths and weaknesses mentioned above.

One concern not mentioned earlier is Google's "Hire by Committee". The strength of this practice is hiring good team players. The weakness is a tendency for group-think. Everybody wants to work with people who think like themselves. The ability to work together is very important, but if a company eliminates rogues, they eliminate different perspectives.

That person nobody wants on their team could be the one who discovers how to make a project more useful, usable, or maintainable. They could be the one who has a great idea every week. It might be worth the effort to a company to train the person in teamwork. Make them wear tape over their mouths. Assign a low level techie who is a good team player to be their translator. The low level techie learns new thought processes; the unbearable guru learns about phrasing ideas so they are acceptable to others. Eventually there are two good employees.

20051207 UPDATE

This ZDNet blog teases Google about its affirmation that it is not a portal. Google does not consider itself a "portal" or most other labels we use to classify software companies to decide who are their competitors. puts my gmail address at the top of the page, mostly as a warning they are tracking what I do. It does not put a link to my email on the homepage. Click "Personalized Homepage" and I have options to add various categories of news stories to my personlaized homepage. There is no ability to add a link to Gmail or display my latest 10 memos received. Click "My Account", then "Edit Services Info - Gmail", and I am looking at the configuration screen for my Gmail. That screen is part of Gmail, so I can click "Inbox" and see my mail.

It takes 3 clicks to go from the Google homepage to the Gmail Inbox. Portals put the Inbox on the homepage. This could be an oversight, but Google does not think of itself as a portal, and does not consider email to be part of the basic Google service.

Google has 3 concerns:
1. "Advertising" is how they make money.
They compete for advertising dollars. Their competitors are anybody who sells ads.

2. "Search" was how they became a company.
They need to keep their search engine close to the best. They have enough inertia to keep the eyeballs unless a much better search engine appears (like the older engines suffered when Google appeared.)

3. "Organizing the world's information", and owning the access to it, is their ultimate goal.
This is what they enjoy. It is their reason for anything not covered by the first two concerns. They are not doing it to compete; they are doing it because they have a dream.

Google may look like a company, and have many of the characteristics of a company, but it is just a playground for programmers. Teasing them for not fitting into a business market category is like teasing the child who constantly reads books for not being good at sports; they do not care.

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