Google ruined itself with social, Google+, says former exec

Desire to compete with Facebook trumping innovation, recently departed executive says

Last October, if you recall, a Google engineer inadvertently published a rant about Google+, calling the search giant's new social networking project "a pathetic afterthought ... a knee-jerk reaction, a study in short-term thinking, predicated on the incorrect notion that Facebook is successful because they built a great product." Other than that, Steve Yegge thinks the world of Google+! Of course, he better, since CEO Larry Page has tied employee bonuses to the success of the company's social efforts. But if the words of Yegge and a recently departed Google executive are any indication, enthusiasm and belief in Google+ among company employees is far from universal. The latest broadside regarding Google and its social initiatives comes from James Whittaker, a Microsoft partner development manager who started work at Redmond after nearly three years as an engineering director at Google. Whittaker, in a post on Microsoft's blog explaining his decision to leave Google, goes even further than Yegge, however, arguing that the focus on competing with Facebook in social networking is helping to destroy the search company's innovative culture:

It turns out that there was one place where the Google innovation machine faltered and that one place mattered a lot: competing with Facebook. Informal efforts produced a couple of antisocial dogs in Wave and Buzz. ... Google awoke from its social dreaming to find its front runner status in ads threatened.

Google could still put ads in front of more people than Facebook, but Facebook knows so much more about those people.

This apparently freaked out Google's co-founder and recently named chief executive.

Larry Page himself assumed command to right this wrong. Social became state-owned, a corporate mandate called Google+. It was an ominous name invoking the feeling that Google alone wasn’t enough. Search had to be social. Android had to be social. You Tube, once joyous in their independence, had to be … well, you get the point. Even worse was that innovation had to be social. Ideas that failed to put Google+ at the center of the universe were a distraction.

Assuming Whittaker's description is accurate, it's easy to see how such a jarring change could knock a company off its game, perhaps dangerously so. Innovation can't be mandated; it has to be fostered. And in technology, once a company ceases to innovate, it courts disaster. Whittaker finishes his post by offering, "Perhaps Google is right. Perhaps the future lies in learning as much about people’s personal lives as possible." But it doesn't sound like he's truly convinced of that. Neither am I.

Chris Nerney writes ITworld's Tech Business Today blog. Follow Chris on Twitter at @ChrisNerney. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

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