To say that the internet has radically changed how we live is like saying that water is wet.
My career in tech started in the early 90’s. I was there at the birth of the internet, at least the one we all have access to. I used AOL when they first started as something besides a service for Apple owners only (yes, they bucked the trend very early and people got filthy rich because of it). Many people don’t realize that AOL’s first interface was GEOS, from GeoWorks. Publicly known as GeoWorks Ensemble, it was a graphical version of the DOS operating system. AOL also worked on a Windows version, but AOL 1.0 through 2.0 were pretty crappy. It was the advent of AOL 2.5 that really helped launch the former internet giant.
So what does this all have to do with Google? Patience, precious…patience.
At the time CompuServe was the real online beast. Favored by techies, CompuServe’s proponents laughed at AOL. It was a lot like a fraternity. You had to be SOMEONE to be a member, whereas AOL was for anyone with a 2400 baud modem and a credit card.
Editors Note – For those of you under the age of, say, 28, a modem was how you accessed the internet. You connected it to your phone line.
2400 baud is to internet access as a snail is to high speed rail. Yes, it was that slow, but data transmission was still prehistoric. A baud is also known as a bit, which meant that these modems transmitted at 2400 bits per second.
AOL was eventual crash of CompuServe when they bought their former nemesis in 1997 for $175 million dollars. There was a huge party in Virginia when that occurred, as everything AOL did in those days was designed to overtake them. AOL’s subscription-based model had destroyed CompuServe’s hourly toll. It was the tip of the iceberg as the internet was soon to destroy a lot more companies who relied on antiquated pricing and delivery systems.
That’s the way tech rolls. Every generation has its leviathans, like Digital Equipment, Sperry-Rand, Compaq and others. In fact our history is littered with companies that owned the world only to be replaced by smaller, nimbler, smarter, or just plain cooler brands. It’s a cycle born to repeat itself, and few companies have been agile enough to reinvent themselves in order to survive. One of the few, IBM made one of the boldest moves ever, bringing in a former CEO of Campbells soup to revive their flagging operations. Lou Gerstner orchestrated an intricate makeover, from a producer of mainframes and supporting cast into a services and software company that thrives today.
Microsoft has been fighting a similar battle for years. Most of us know that it was the aforementioned IBM’s lack of foresight decades earlier in essentially giving away their OS business to then-upstart Microsoft that birthed Redmond’s rocket ship. And while it still maintains relevance, Microsoft’s dominance continues to be savaged by smaller companies taking tiny bites from their profitable posterior.
Which leads us to Google. And that leads us to Google – (minus).
I didn’t coin the phrase; I borrowed it from a former Google-ite by the name of James Whittaker. Whittaker’s blog, “JW on Tech” is mostly for the truly stratified of geeks, but I ran across a post last that week that I could actually read from start to finish without drool slavering down my jaw. In the post the author detailed his reasons for leaving Google. It’s a very interesting read.
Essentially what he said is what frequently happens in our industry. Company started by young braniacs. Company catches fire. Company, funded by private investors, goes public so said investors can rake billions. Company swears it will never stray from its roots. Company then strays, because once said company gets too big to be run by its idealistic founding fathers (and mothers) it has to hire less idealistic managers and executives and bean counters who aspire to less lofty ideals.
Google has gone from high-flying tech startup building city-sized datacenters (see Bend, Oregon) and placing employment ads that require a Mensa mind just to decipher, to second class citizen in just under 14 years. Just as Microsoft is no longer king of the tech jungle, Google is finding its crown dented and dulled. In its place is the newest usurper, Facebook.
That is not to say that Google’s reign is over. Far from it in fact. However, water cooler conversations have morphed from how long before Google owns everything. Distracted by the latest Zynga game (Definitely Slingo…) we now replace Google with Facebook.
Google meanwhile, instead of the blitzkrieg actions that made it such a powerhouse, have fallen into the “build a moat” mentality that eventually replaces innovation with irritation that someone else (Facebook) came out with a better idea and then *gasp* gestated the idea into the newest megabillion-dollar baby.
(Excerpted from the blog entry)
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.
Suddenly, 20% meant half-assed. Google Labs was shut down. App Engine fees were raised. APIs that had been free for years were deprecated or provided for a fee. As the trappings of entrepreneurship were dismantled, derisive talk of the “old Google” and its feeble attempts at competing with Facebook surfaced to justify a “new Google” that promised “more wood behind fewer arrows.”
That’s right – The King is dead. Long Live the King