Google: A Digital Ceramic Brake Pad

July 17, 2008

TechCrunchIT is one of my favorite Web information services. I read Nik Cubrilovic’s July 16, 2008, analysis “Why Google Slows own Acquired Companies”. You will want to read the full text of the essay here. In addition to offering a compelling array of data to support his assertion that Google hobbles its acquired companies, he includes a snapshot of the Google Technology Stack. I have a different view of the technology stack in use at Google, but it contains more layers and includes such exotica as Google janitor bot engine, Haskell, and other nerd-xotica. You will also pick up some useful insights to the perils of a once-limber start up struggling like a Marine recruit on a double time run through the desert whilst taking fire. That’s a hurry up, lay down, hide, rest, run like the devil, and duck down process. A 1,000 meter stretch can take quite a bit of time to traverse. No one is shooting live rounds at the GOOG, but lawyers, being transparent, and planning a space flight have much the same effect.

However, I think there are several other factors that one must consider when thinking about the fate of Google acquisitions. These ideas are developed more fully in my 2007 study, Google Version 2.0 here. Let me highlight three and, as always, invite your comments.

  1. Google buys companies for people, not technology, business models, or traffic. The need for talent, particularly in math, physics, and engineering is tough for Google to satisfy with traditional recruiting techniques. This is the “just buy ’em and put ’em to work” motivation for an acquisition.
  2. Google buys companies because the company is cool. I have identified several acquisitions that fit into this category. Nothing happens with the company and the founders often leave, annoyed that Google handled the acquisition as if it were a toy in Google’s flak-attracting day care center.
  3. Google buys companies and keeps it secret if possible. I have identified one such acquisition. The technology is quite important to Google, and the company goes to great lengths to minimize outsiders’ awareness of the purpose of the technology and the identity of the individuals working on some of these crucial areas.
  4. Google buys a company and converts or modifies the technology to fit into a larger Google service. The rework may be done in a matter of weeks or it can take longer. The rework time is not important. The key factor is when Google wants to slipstream the building block into a larger service.

You can find a reasonably complete list of Google acquisitions here. In Google Version 2.0 I plot most acquisitions by year and I discuss a handful of the more important buy outs prior to 2007 when my study was published. I have updated the material, but this is available as part of my for-fee work. One acquisition is the subject of a for-fee report by one of the world’s best known research firms. The announcement of this report will come from that company. My agreement with the firm prevents me from providing specifics.

Stephen Arnold, July 17, 2008


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