While Google is a giant in the technology world, a company praised for innovation and worshiped by techies for their approach and workplace, one might wonder how the juggernaut will be hailed in coming years. Businesses go through life-cycles so this is not earth shattering. See the story of Apple or IBM. The question is whether Google’s appointed moment at the crossroads is right around the corner.
Google has been attractive to technology proponents as an organization that embraces and perpetuates the ideologies of open-source and offering free applications. Professionals have envied their corporate culture that emphasizes informality, fun, innovation, and creativity. What Google has produced and offered is, without a doubt, game-changing to the point where they have steadily emerged as a major sculptor of our technology culture and have watched their corporate name morph into a common verb used by most of us: Want to know more about the company? Just google it. Their popular search engine paved the way for other embraced applications such as Google Maps, Google Earth, Gmail, and Google Docs. They have continued to make gains and offer new services, so why do I believe the company is nearing a time when tough decisions must be made in order to maintain their stature?
This past week, John Sutter penned an article for CNN outlining Google’s failed iOS app which resulted in the company pulling the product and posting a quick apology on Twitter. He cautions that Google’s image may suffer by such mistakes. Furthermore, despite the playlist of innovations that highlight their resume, Google has also landed some duds; applications that failed to generate buzz and were less than impressive. Think Google + which has yet to extract a mass exodus of faithful Facebook followers, Google Wave, Google TV, and Google Health. Sutter, quoting MG Siegler of TechCrunch, adds, “They [Google] release something, and I no longer have any faith that it’s going to be any good. It’s hard to get excited about a company like that. It’s the same reason why it’s hard to get excited when Microsoft and Yahoo release new things. The track record just isn’t there any more. The faith is gone.” For the common consumer, I believe Siegler’s feelings resonate.
While Google’s approach to corporate culture has shifted paradigms, and their strategy for rolling out new applications by way of beta testing is common in the software world, the company as a whole may be under greater scrutiny as their popularity expands to discerning consumers with traditional expectations. One of those expectations is a product that seems to “just work.” Unlike technophiles, common customers do not understand, nor are they appeased by experiments and testing, and software applications with the potential to operate in a buggy fashion are viewed as “broken” rather than a work in progress. Google’s recent iOS app failures will earn a critical eye. From a consumer standpoint, it calls into question their integrity, warranted or not. Do they know what they are doing? Will they continue to deploy technology lemons?
I believe common consumers also wonder what the company is really about. So many ventures. So many ideas.
Is Google a software developer? A social networking company? A think-tank that thrives on creative ideas? A search engine company? An internet advertising agency? Or an organization with a vision for creating operating systems for phones and computers?
At this point in time, the answer to all those questions is, “Yes.” But I wonder if a company with such broad interests is sustainable? At some point, all ventures should connect the dots to a central vision and mission. Maybe this is what Google desires, to be broad and not easily pigeon-holed. Time will tell whether it is a wise business strategy. From the outside it feels more like throwing ideas at a wall and hoping they stick while rushing new services out the door before they have been completely tested and polished.
I can think of no other time that consumers have had such power, much of that attributed to social media where people can quickly let their endorsements and criticisms be shared with spheres of influence. Can and will Google understand the momentum their customer base harnesses? And will they be willing to structure the organization to the end of meeting and exceeding customer expectations whether or not those values mesh with their central vision?