Why Google Has Lost Its Mojo

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Google went from startup to behemoth in record time. But there are increasing signs that Google has become just another fat, happy, and even arrogant company, no longer the lean, industry-changing giant of the past. And that spells good news for Microsoft.

There are numerous signs that Google has lost its mojo. Let's start with the way it treats its employees. Google has prided itself on the many perks it offers those who work for it. The pact has always been clear: Google will treat you like a king, if you in turn work long, hard hours. That free food, after all, is fuel for those willing to work harder and longer hours.

An eye-opening article in the New York Times, though, shows those days are gone. In it, Joe Nocera details how Google has decided to nearly double the cost of day care for its employees, who have complained bitterly about the change.

The story reveals a surprisingly high level of arrogance. It claims the following happened at a company meeting:

In June, the Google co-founder Sergey Brin said he had no sympathy for the parents, and that he was tired of "Googlers" who felt entitled to perks like "bottled water and M&Ms."

A Google spokesman denies that it ever happened, of course.

This is far from an isolated instance. There are many other similar signs as well, notably numerous Google employees heading for the exits, with unpleasant tales to tell. Most telling of all is Sergey Solyanik, who recently left Google for, of all places, Microsoft, where he had previously worked. In his blog, here's one thing he notes about the atmosphere at Google:

There are plenty of silly politics, underperformance, inefficiencies and ineffectiveness, and things that are plain stupid.

Instead of focusing on them, though, he talks about the actual engineering work and the underlying business plan, and he's not impressed:

I was using Google software -- a lot of it -- in the last year, and slick as it is, there's just too much of it that is regularly broken. It seems like every week 10% of all the features are broken in one or the other browser. And it's a different 10% every week -- the old bugs are getting fixed, the new ones introduced. This across Blogger, Gmail, Google Docs, Maps, and more.

Ultimately, he believes, Google business practices are not sustainable, because the focus is on engineering and the "coolness" factor, rather than on services that people will actually find useful:

The culture at Google values "coolness" tremendously, and the quality of service not as much.

There are plenty of other Googlers who have left as well. There's the blogger who calls himself the Digital Hobbit, who said that he left Google in large part because the company had simply gotten too big.

Another troubling sign: Google stock has plummeted. Back in November, it was at $744. Today, as I write this, it's at $546 -- a precipitous drop. The entire stock market has gone down, you say? So what? In the past, Google has defied market gravity. If it's now tied to the movement of the market itself, its salad days are gone.

The New York Times article concluded that the daycare debacle is a microcosm of what's happening at Google in general. I think its conclusion sums up the problem best:

Google has shown that it thinks about day care the same way every other company does -- as a luxury, not a benefit. Judging by what's transpired, that's what Google is fast becoming: just another company.

So why is all this good for Microsoft? First off, there's a chance it can pick up talent from Google, as the defection of Sergey Solyanik has shown. Beyond that, though, if Google's best days are gone, it gives Microsoft more time to figure out how to finally take advantage of the Internet, something it has yet to figure out.

This story, "Why Google Has Lost Its Mojo" was originally published by Computerworld.

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