The Google We Always Wanted

Steve Jobs, in his biography, on his meeting with Larry Page after the latter became CEO:

We talked a lot about focus. And choosing people. How to know who to trust, and how to build a team of lieutenants he can count on. I described the blocking and tackling he would have to do to keep the company from getting flabby and being larded with B players. The main thing I stressed was focus. Figure out what Google wants to be when it grows up. It’s now all over the map. What are the five products you want to focus on? Get rid of the rest, because they’re dragging you down. They’re turning you into Microsoft. They’re causing you to turn out products that are adequate but not great.

Skip ahead two years, to the aftermath of last week’s Google I/O, and the backlash is kicking into high gear. Google is the new Microsoft, the story goes, and we hate it.

We, to be clear, are getting exactly what we always wanted.1

The Google that I saw at I/O was, to use Jobs’ words, focused. They know exactly what their strength is – machine learning – and they know exactly what they want to be – the world’s source of all information, both facts and people.

Of course, it’s been there all along, albeit phrased slightly differently:

Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

There are no qualifiers here, nothing that says the information is only the information we want them to collect. What websites we visit, what locations we go to, what music we listen to – that’s all information. And Google has made very clear they are just as interested in that as they are in the links that undergird the web, and Google itself.

Look again at the signal-to-ads cycle:

The signal-to-ads cycle
The signal-to-ads cycle

Google dominates every aspect of this cycle, and every announcement at IO accrued to it:

On the signal side:

  • Their mobile apps are both the best, and the most popular, and they work best with a Google+ account
  • Their browser is the best, and the most popular, and it works best with a Google+ account
  • Their maps are the best, and the most popular, and they work best with a Google+ account
  • Their video website (YouTube) is the best, and the most popular, and it works best with a Google+ account
  • Their mail service (GMail) is the best, and the most popular, and is a Google+ account

And they simply own online advertising, with the best, and most popular, search ads, 3rd-party ads, and display ads.

Android did its job: Google’s signals have unfettered access to users on every mobile platform. Microsoft is in no position to block them, and Apple, for all its bluster, isn’t interested.

Chrome is doing its job: Google’s signals sit on top of an increasing number of PCs, slowly making the underlying OS irrelevant.

Google+ is doing its job: Every Google service is now tied together by a single identity, and identity is the key to data collection on mobile.

Cars and Glass are doing their jobs: not only do they have the potential of capturing an untold amount of information, they also give comfort to shareholders that Google has future growth opportunities, and comfort to geeks that Google is simply a mad scientist who only has ads in order to keep the lights on.2

The tragedy of wishes is that, when you finally get what you want, you realize that you actually didn’t want that at all. That, more than anything, seems to underline the post-IO angst. It turns out that focus is an incredibly powerful thing; in the hands of perhaps the most powerful company in technology, it’s downright awesome.3

Be careful what you wish for.

  1. This article is not a moral judgment about whether Google is “evil”. I purposely stay away from that on this blog, and only use “we” as a rhetorical device 

  2. Related: Google is a hypocrite. That I do agree with. It bugs me

  3. Merriam-Webster: Awesome. “Inspiring awe.” Also, I didn’t say “most profitable.”