Surprise! Prabhakar Raghavan Runs Google

May 20, 2021

The revelation that the Google boss is Prabhakar Raghavan, a former Verity executive who jumped to Yahoo and bounced into Google. The article/interview “Prabhakar Raghavan Isn’t CEO of Google—He Just Runs the Place” is an entertaining romp through search and a number of other topics. Please, read the interview. I want to highlight three statements from the article and offer a few observations.

Dr. Raghavan is quoted as saying:

 Even now, with all the resources of Alphabet, if you remove one of the biggest constraints, such as competition, the problem doesn’t become easier.

My interpretation of this statement is that Dr. Raghavan has admitted that Google has no competition. Perhaps the “if” is the word that allows my conclusion to be disputed. Nevertheless, search is tough; there’s no competition; and the first page of most query results are ads and Google-ized content. “Objective” and relevant search results may appear on subsequent results pages. Hunting for the optimal result is as tedious as digging through the pages of the paper version of the Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature circa 1964.

Here’s another interesting statement:

 For instance, if you ask, “What’s today’s weather?” I show you a module of the weather, I don’t send you off somewhere else.

I think this means that Google engineers stickiness into its search results. Google does not want the user to click away and possibly not enjoy more Googley goodness. Over the years, the stickiness has ossified into what is a walled garden. Google caches the most clicked on content and serves it from a point close to the user. The originating site is not involved in some cases. The walled garden is replacing Wild West swinging doors with those one-way doors found in secure facilities. Easy in but no way out.

My final circled item from the article/interview was:

There is no circumstance under which I would say let’s toss that out and become a conventional company, because that is not what is going to lead us to innovate and serve humanity.

Google does not want to be conventional.

Interesting. Google seems to be evolving into an entity which has not been seen for decades: A quasi-country which operates in a way that gives it as much control over what information flows as an old-fashioned dictatorship. The list of Google prohibited words is fascinating. The banned creators on YouTube is varied and evolving. The company’s approach to innovation is “me to, me to”. The short attention span for products and services is a challenge to developers.

How will Google fare in the harsh light of more legal scrutiny? Will Google’s handling of “ethical AI” become the standard for the emerging smart software sector? Will the learnings imparted at Verity transfer to the Google environment? Will Google deliver relevant search results without the curve balls that seem to be the go-to pitch for the core service?

No answers are available for these questions. Maybe in the next round of European Union and US legal activities.

Stephen E Arnold, May 20, 2021


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