Google Wants to Move Faster -- But Where?

Success can be deadly: just look at the dinosaurs, who got so big they needed an executive assistant brain in their butt -- then ceded the planet to those quick, smart little mammals. Recognizing that the same thing can happen to corporations, Google's top management surprised the business world this week with the announcement that Eric Schmidt is stepping down from his position as CEO, handing over the reins to co-founder Larry Page, who previously served as CEO from 1998-2001, while co-founder Sergey Brin is giving up the title of president.

Both Schmidt and Brin will continue in key roles at Google, but this is clearly a major shakeup at the world's biggest Internet company, and it naturally raises some questions among shareholders: chiefly, why, and why now? Google seemed to do quite well over the last ten years, so what's the point of shuffling management at this juncture?

The top Googlers have hinted that this reorganization is intended to make the company more nimble and responsive, allowing it to introduce new products and services faster by speeding up the decision-making process. Their main worry seems to be competition from Facebook, which is taking up a larger and larger share of the world's Internet usage, stoking fears it will somehow begin eating into Google's search marketing business. Last fall Google made it clear -- albeit in a very vague way -- that it plans to integrate more social elements into its platform, probably sometime in the first half of this year, in a move apparently intended to hold the line against the growing Facebook menace.

But the company's record in social media suggests that lack of speed hasn't always been the problem; indeed, if anything Google's previous social offerings have suffered from too much speed, as they were rushed to the marketplace without sufficient planning, preparation, or support.

The best example of this was Buzz, which apparently went directly from development to implementation without much time for strategic thinking in between. This resulted in an ill-considered roll-out which alarmed users with ham-fisted privacy mistakes, including automatically opting everyone in and creating accounts populated with their frequent email contacts -- whether they wanted this or not. One public outcry and a few lawsuits later, they changed the offending features, but it was too late: tainted by this botched debut, Buzz is still alive, somewhere, but it has clearly retreated into the background.

Even stranger episodes have involved Google rushing a product to market and then yanking it right off again, before it even has a chance to attract users. At least that's my interpretation of the brief, unhappy life of Wave, which was supposed to provide a platform combining workplace collaboration, email, IMs, social media content sharing, and all kinds of other nifty stuff.

Wave actually looked pretty cool, but I never got to use it. After a technical preview began with 100,000 users in September 2009, Wave was released to the general public in May 2010 -- and by August 2010 it was dead. This suggests that whatever happened to make Google kill Wave (Google cited "lack of interest") happened in those final three months -- which seems a bit trigger-happy, even at the revved-up pace of an Internet company.

1 comment about "Google Wants to Move Faster -- But Where? ".
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  1. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, January 21, 2011 at 8:47 p.m.

    Couldn't agree more that speed is a problem for Google.

    In fact, they release products but never spend the time to communicate them to the broad market. (They seem to tell the press well, but consumers and end users know so little about what Google could truly offer.)

    And so when for lack of communication, something fails, they rush off after the new thing - never learning the fundamental lesson that they need to communicate.

    Even more fundamental, they need to communicate using offline media. With a few exceptions, offline media is required for mass acceptance of online products.

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