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The Decline Of The Old Google And The Rise Of An Ad Agency

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Google has changed, at least according to ex-Googler James Whittaker. The former Google employee who worked as the engineering director of Google+ API’s has finally said what everyone has been thinking, Google has taken a turn for the worse, and it seems all downhill from here on out.

In a candid yet very moving expose on Google and why there is a big shift in what the company stood for and worked hard to achieve, Whittaker outlines the several reasons why he feels Google has stopped being the Google of the past and is now something totally different and no place for the traditional Googler.

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The Google I was passionate about was a technology company that empowered its employees to innovate. The Google I left was an advertising company with a single corporate-mandated focus.

This has to be the main issue surrounding the Googleplex. When you think about it, Google has always made its money from advertising but what made Google different is that the ad revenue was used to fuel innovation and so was rather a means rather than an end. That has changed.

Under Eric Schmidt ads were always in the background. Google was run like an innovation factory, empowering employees to be entrepreneurial through founder’s awards, peer bonuses and 20% time.

It’s clear from this statement that there is very little love for co-founder Larry Page who assumed leadership duties after feeling the company was not headed “in the right direction”. Schmidt, who is a Silicon Valley veteran and Google father-figure had a bigger mandate for Google than Page does.

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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. Orkut never caught on outside Brazil. Like the proverbial hare confident enough in its lead to risk a brief nap, Google awoke from its social dreaming to find its front runner status in ads threatened.

This seems to me like a realization by Google that it was no longer the cool kid on the block. That everyone was having a party and they were not invited. Google may have mistakenly thought Facebook invented a product called social but in reality, all Facebook did was bring people together and those people make the social magic happen.

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.

This is the tragedy of Google today, everything has to be centred on Google Plus. If you will recall, search results in the past brought up the best content possible. Today, search results bring up the most Google Plus optimized content, which is just a bunch of rants from Google Plus users.

The days of old Google hiring smart people and empowering them to invent the future was gone. The new Google knew beyond doubt what the future should look like. Employees had gotten it wrong and corporate intervention would set it right again.

As it turned out, sharing was not broken. Sharing was working fine and dandy, Google just wasn’t part of it. People were sharing all around us and seemed quite happy.

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The old Google made a fortune on ads because they had good content. It was like TV used to be: make the best show and you get the most ad revenue from commercials. The new Google seems more focused on the commercials themselves.

Whittaker ends by asking a number of rhetorical questions that put what’s broken with Google front and center:

Perhaps Google is right. Perhaps the future lies in learning as much about people’s personal lives as possible. Perhaps Google is a better judge of when I should call my mom and that my life would be better if I shopped that Nordstrom sale. Perhaps if they nag me enough about all that open time on my calendar I’ll work out more often. Perhaps if they offer an ad for a divorce lawyer because I am writing an email about my 14 year old son breaking up with his girlfriend I’ll appreciate that ad enough to end my own marriage. Or perhaps I’ll figure all this stuff out on my own.

The old Google was a great place to work. The new one?

Read the whole blog post here

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Daniel Mbure

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