Tuesday, 8 September 2009

What's google philosophy?


I'm not gonna profess to know their exact philosophy. I am interested though in how they want to grow and mature. They're such a big organisation and weild such considerable power that they're certainly going to shape the future. Since googles main influence is through the products and services it produces and lets us all use I think their approach to licensing can be viewed as a key part of their philosophy. After all it's ultimately how Microsoft have gained such a strangle hold on the consumer pc market and how apple control their vast empire.

I am just reading a fascinating article titled 'Google: Open source lets us control our destiny'. I haven't finished it yet but already I'm fascinated. Mainly because they so openly commit to freedom of the user. I keep hearing that Google want to open up markets and give power to the people. They're actually doing it in their licensing and approach. It's good to see.

I just think it's a fascinating time. I still remember my parents and their generation commenting on this or that organisation who've turned their back on previous commitments, often similar in principle to Googles pledges here, only to become more restrictive and controlling as they begin to lose their dominance in the market . We all know Google are way out in front now, but what will they do when their lead is reduced or even lost as we all know is an inevitable consequence of time?

My hope is that we're now in an era of openness and constant backup. Such that if in 10 or 20 years we see Google change their stance, we'll actually have the records to prove it. Of course, being cynical, if they still have some dominance in search, and don't forget searching is how many of us find out what's happening, they'll still be able to present the picture they want us to see. Much like microsoft had a strangle hold on the web through their terrible internet explorer browser. They managed to hold back the web for many years. Finally I can see their dominance being completely eroded but it took awhile.

What am I mumbling on about you ask? if I'm not completely clear it's because I'm just putting my thoughts directly out there. I like and support Google because I feel their philosophy is from the current age, of openness, not the previous locked era. I think that in their hearts they get the concept that open highly competitive markets are actually better for organisations because, done properly, there's plenty of cash and customers to go round. Each company can do its little bit of innovation and the whole market benefits. Costs of production also inherently fall and each company can take advantage of this so everyone gets to survive as long as they keep up. I think Google enjoy keeping up rather than resting on their laurels.

My faith in this comes from myself. I'd get so bored if I didn't have anything to do. I think google employees can genuinely make a difference and this spurs them on. The difference they make helps secure their future not bring about their demise simply because they are open.

Again I don't think it's perfect and I'm really relying on faith here. I don't know how much into the core of google I've ever seen and I don't know how far their reach goes. Still I do often find that there statements are true, for example they are releasing the source to their work, that is a fact. I feel their strength at this time relies on this. So if it changes. Even if it's over time then whilst it will strengthen their position in the short term. It will bring their downfall in the long term.

Cool, I feel like I'm on a sandbox. any way in essence. Time will tell but for now I think the outlook is good. At least while Google have no real competitors.

edit 20090922
A big part of this debate is about who to put your faith in when choosing applications. For years most of us, like myself, have put the faith Microsoft mainly because there was no real viable alternative. I find it useful to get a lot of my tools and apps from one supplier simply because they're designed to integrate better so the whole is better than the individual parts. I know that only some of Googles products are market leading but as a an integrated virtual suite that's in the cloud and free, it's way ahead.

In the desktop arena I've gotten used to Microsofts approach. What I have found is that they make great software but they charge first i.e. consider themselves, and then consider me and my needs. They don't put me first. Apple do the same. They have a great reputation but from my angle they just charge even more than Microsoft. They also lock their products down too much. That's how they deliver so well. If you want to do something a little different or in a way the product isn't designed. You can't. Unless apple has thought of it and made it possible then you can't do it. It's what I don't like about iPods. Apples products don't adapt to me I have to adapt to them and use them in exactly the situations they were designed for.

So Apple create tools that just work but  are expensive and inflexible. Microsoft is cheaper and more flexible but more buggy. Both companies also approach product development as though we're still in the 80's where they're the company and we users only have a choice of which of their products to use and thus no where else to go. Things have moved on . Google on the other hand use their strong market position to put me first and my needs and then figure out how to make a business model from it in time. Sure that's a pain in the neck for companies trying to compete. But as a user and customer I love it. Bringing paid ads to software. I love it with google because in Gmail the ads fit around me. The software and the way I use it doesn't fit around the ads. the product design methodology fits my methodology. do what you need to do and find a way to make it pay.

Ads within software just follows the tv model and we're all used to it. It could get very annoying but it hasn't so far. If it does then I'll switch tools like everyone else will. Google and the current generation of developers are smarter. Ads in the background become useful when delivered in context. Thus they have a higher return and actually help the user. I remember that google were the first to target their ads so highly and even now I actually find the ads they deliver useful simply because they listen to what I have to say and so know what ads to show. As some one who's used their adsense program I also feel they care more about their advertisers.

There's lots more I want to say but I better finish for now. I keep asking why I stick with Google and stay away from others. It's mainly because Google match  my philosophy and so I trust them. What inspired this edit is they're advice on secure passwords. I've read lots of advice before but this is the most detailed and informative I can remember and it's a typical example of how they deliver. Every thing I find out about them fits my world view. They're designing for this new open age and figuring out a business model to fit. They need to make a living but enjoy doing it by facilitating not blocking. That's what I see with Google but not what I see with Apple or Microsoft.

edit 20091205
Another piece to this puzzle is how the two operating systems Android and Chrome OS evolve under Google. Sergey Brin has stated that the two operating systems are likely to converge in time but for now they support different markets. How and when this occurs will really tell us most about googles real philosophy. What I do like is the inherent competition between google products this produces. It's not the first of its kind within Google and I think it's important. In any company there are always different views of how to solve a problem. I think good companies find ways to let employees put their efforts where their thoughts are and put something out. They also look to take the best ideas from each solution and evolve both into one more complete solution with the people behind it all happy because they got to express their ideas and values and have been part of making the end solution. That's the theory I have anyway.

update 20091214
When google runs your life is a fascinating insight into where Google is going and recaps how they were formed and their approach to getting things done. It struck me how simple their philosophy is

Google aims for products that can be used by a billion or more people, getting there via incremental software and features that it can improve as it watches and learns from how consumers take to new tools.

We offer cheaper cost of ownership and zero cost of install, but if you don't take on the philosophy of the tools you don't get the full benefit. Bradley Horowitz, oversees product management for Google Apps. 

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