Tag Archives: google

The End of Being Organized

Software is getting better and better at helping manage your life, so that you don’t need stay as organized as you used to. In fact, this article from one tech journalist is even titled “stay disorganized.” In the abstract, this is a good thing. Why should people have to remember stuff, or spend time organizing their lives, when computers can do it for them? Isn’t that one of the reasons we have computers…to do the boring stuff for us? But for people who are really organized, like me, this means that technology is taking away one of our comparative advantages. Historically I have been more productive than average, since I was really organized about my work. Now technology has reduced that advantage.

I think the first step in this direction was when Google introduced Desktop in 2004. It searched your PC much faster than the old Windows Explorer search, so that you could find files (word docs, spreadsheets, etc.) even if you couldn’t remember where you saved them or what you named them. That was awesome, except that I already knew where all my files were, because I was an aggressive user of folders and subfolders (sharp-eyed readers know that I have previously commented on folder people vs. non-folder people). Thanks to Desktop, the five minutes I spent working while someone else was searching for a spreadsheet was reduced to five seconds. My productivity advantage disappeared.

Then Google brought that functionality to email (no folders at all when Gmail launched), again eliminating the advantage of my clever folder systems. And now we are seeing apps that apply that same computerized organization to your entire life. What if you forgot to print a travel itinerary, or even write down your flight number? No problem, Google Now will do all that for you. So much for my advantage of having a detailed itinerary prepared, breezing me to my destination ahead of everyone else. EasilyDo and its competitors will help manage your duplicate contacts, remind you of your mom’s birthday, and even buzz you when you haven’t returned your CEO’s phone call.

For society, this is great, freeing up space in people’s brains to write, or cure cancer, or develop more organizational apps. For me, it’s a disaster. I had one claim to fame – being organized – and now it’s gone. I guess I need to find an old has-been app.

Bad Driving, Google Edition

My series of posts about double parking gets to intersect today with a trend getting some recent publicity: tech companies using private buses to drive their employees from San Francisco down to Silicon Valley.

You can read more about these buses here, here and here. There is a little controversy around these buses: on the one hand, they are clearly more environmentally friendly than having everyone drive their own cars. On the other hand, they are pretty freaking big, and often drive on city streets that aren’t designed for vehicles that large. Moreover, they use stops that are designated for city buses, and then the city buses don’t have room to stop.

Moreover, and this is my pet peeve, they don’t even pull all the way over into those stops. The photo below is of a private bus on Lombard Street, clearly not pulling into its stop and clearly blocking a lane of traffic. I don’t actually know which company’s bus this is; they tend to hide their affiliations, except for the Genentech buses, which are festooned with Genenetech logos, and which often do exactly what is pictured here, in the same exact spot.

Google bus blocking traffic

Google bus blocking traffic

In addition to their clogging up of city streets, I am a little torn on the private buses. I appreciate their greenness, but I wonder if the buses didn’t exist, then maybe a lot of these people would move out of the city and to Silicon Valley, closer to their work. Should we really enable people to live far away, rather than supporting a denser work-home nexus?

On Super Angels and Lean Startups

Both the Wall Street Journal and TechCrunch recently wrote articles about the new breed of “super angels” in Silicon Valley, individuals who are aggressively investing in technology startups, often in amounts large enough that they are starting to squeeze out traditional venture capitalists.

TechCrunch states that this movement is enabled by the rise of the “lean startup,” in which companies use new technologies to reduce their costs:

“But the last several years have seen the rise of the cheap startup. Internet startups can use open source software and new scripting languages to ship products fast and cheap.”

That’s true, but only for a certain segment of technology companies. Sure, consumer internet companies can leverage these new technologies and launch without gobs of capital, but much of the technology world doesn’t have that luxury. Any company that produces hardware is in a different situation. Chips, devices, networking appliances – these guys all need just as much capital as they ever did. And even folks working on software for the enterprise are still somewhat tied to the old ways of building products.

TechCrunch tends to see Silicon Valley as consisting solely of web startups fueled by former Googlers, but there are still entrepreneurs out there working on traditional products. So before you start writing the obituary for venture capital, remember that consumer internet may be fun and sexy, but there are plenty of technology companies that still need the sorts of resources only large funds can provide.

Piling on Google

Om Malik has a great post today on Google’s utter inability to compete in the social media world, as evidenced this week by the company shutting down Google Wave, which was a complete flop, and the sad purchase of Slide for $200 million.

I recently posted about the risk that Google’s culture poses to its future success, and Malik makes the same point, noting that Google simply doesn’t have social media in its DNA. He says that algorithms can’t factor in empathy, which is another way of saying that hiring only engineers doesn’t guarantee future success.

Being Successful Doesn’t Make You Right

No, this isn’t some sort of epistemological exploration of what “right” really means, or whether such a thing can exist at all in a post-modern world. Quite the opposite: it is a blog entry on corporate culture and how that culture works, or doesn’t work, at successful companies, in this case Google and Microsoft.

Peter Sims wrote a piece about why he thinks Google is potentially past its prime, on the way to becoming the next Microsoft. I don’t know if he’s right about that; I suspect he is, but I hope not, since I have friends who work at Google. But in the course of his article, he talks about Google’s corporate culture and how it might be hindering current success:

“Product manager candidates, for example, are told they must have computer science degrees from top universities. But while Google’s core algorithm was a brilliant feat of engineering innovation, a growing chorus of voices question whether it can be sustained. That cookie-cutter approach to people misses important opportunities for diversity and creates glass ceilings for non-engineers, both of which stifle innovation. Cultural hubris, another pattern Jim Collins in particular raises, is of foremost concern. It is often said that at Google the engineers lead engineering, product, and even marketing decisions. But when the company has failed, such as with Google Wave or Google Radio , critics have questioned whether the company really understands people.”

Google has been incredibly successful, and folks at Google will say “our culture must be right; look how successful we’ve been.” But maybe Google wasn’t successful because of its engineering-led culture. They launched with a great search solution right at the time the market was ripe for contextual advertising. So maybe their success was due to luck. Or maybe the engineering culture was important early, but not now. After all, it’s not like Google has been spewing out successful new products (hello Orkut). In fact, Google still makes the vast majority of its revenue from the same search business it’s been running since launch.

In the same way, people at Microsoft used to say about their culture: “It must be right; look how successful we’ve been.” But Microsoft was successful mostly because it had a monopoly on operating systems, which it brilliantly leveraged into applications success. Perhaps it was successful despite its culture, not because of it. In fact, I would argue that Microsoft’s historic corporate culture of aggression was in fact counter-productive, leading directly to the antitrust actions that have hampered the company ever since.

The point is that companies, and the employees therein, should recognize that there may not be a causative relationship between the corporate culture and success, or if there was once such a causative relationship, it may have been severed as the strategic landscape changed. Companies would thus do well to avoid resting on their laurels and to instead constantly examine practices and cultures and see if they need revision based on current conditions.