Another Xoogler, Another Repetitive, Sad, Dispiriting Story

March 2, 2023

I will keep this brief. I read “The Maze Is in the Mouse.” The essay is Xoogler’s lament. The main point is that Google has four issues. The write up identifies these from a first person point of view:

The way I see it, Google has four core cultural problems. They are all the natural consequences of having a money-printing machine called “Ads” that has kept growing relentlessly every year, hiding all other sins. (1) no mission, (2) no urgency, (3) delusions of exceptionalism, (4) mismanagement.

I agree that “ads” are a big part of the Google challenge. I am not sure about the “mouse” or the “maze.”

Googzilla emerged from an incredible sequence of actions. Taken as a group, Google became the poster child for what smart Silicon Valley brainiacs could accomplish. From the git-go, Google emerged from the Backrub service. Useful research like the CLEVER method was kicking around at some conferences as a breakthrough for determining relevance. The competition was busy trying to become “portals” because the Web indexing thing was expensive and presented what seemed to be an infinite series of programming hoops. Google had zero ways to make money. As I recall, the mom and dad of Googzilla tried to sell the company to those who would listen; for example, the super brainiacs at Yahoo. Then the aha moment. had caused a stir in the Web indexing community by selling traffic. became (run by super brainiacs, remember) bought Overture. But Yahoo did have the will, the machinery, or the guts to go big. Yahoo went home. Google went big.

What makes Google the interesting outfit it is are these points in my opinion:

  • The company was seemingly not above receiving inspiration from the,, and ultimately “pay to play” model. Some people don’t know that Google was built on appropriated innovation and paid money and shares to make Yahoo’s legal eagles fly away. For me, Google embodied intellectual “flexibility” and an ethical compass sensitive to expediency. I may be wrong, but the Google does not strike me as being infused with higher spirits of truth, justice, and the American way Superman does. Google’s innovation boils down to borrowing. That’s okay. I borrow, but I try to footnote, not wait until the legal eagles gnaw at my liver.
  • Google management, in my experience, were clueless about the broader context of their blend of search and advertising. I don’t think it was a failure of brainiac thinking. The brainiacs did not have context into which to fit their actions. Larry Page argued with me in 1999 about the value of truncation. He said, “No truncation needed at Google.” Baloney. Google truncates. Google informed a US government agency that Google would not conform to the specifications of the Statement of Work for a major US government search project. A failure to meet the criteria of the Statement of Work made Google ineligible to win that project. What did Google do? Google explained to the government team that the Statement of Work did not apply to Google technology. Well, Statements of Works and procurement works one way. Google did not like that way, so Google complained. Zero context. What Google should have done is address each requirement in a positive manner and turn in the bid. Nope, operating independent of procurement rules, Google just wanted to make up the rules. Period. That’s the way it is now and that’s the way Google has operated for nearly 25 years.
  • Google is not mismanaged from Google’s point of view. Google is just right by definition. The management problems were inherent and obvious from the beginning. Let me give one example: Vendors struggled with the Google accounting system 20 or more years ago. Google blamed the Oracle database. Why? The senior management did not know what they did not know and they lacked the mental characteristic of understanding that fact. By assuming Googlers were brainiacs and the dorky Google intelligence test, Googlers could solve any problem. Wrong. Google has and continues to make decisions like a high school science club planning an experiment. Nice group, just not athletes, cheerleaders, class officers, or non nerd advisors. What do you get? You get crazy decisions like dumping Dr. Timnit Gebru and creating the Stochastic Parrot conference as well as Microsoft making Bing and Clippy on steroids look like a big deal.

Net net: Ads are important. But Google is Google because of its original and fundamental mental approach to problems: We know better. One thing is sure in my mind: Google does not know itself any better now than it did when it emerged from the Backrub “borrowed” computers and grousing about using too much Stanford bandwidth. Advertising is a symptom of a deeper malady, a mental issue in my opinion.

Stephen E Arnold,March 2, 2023


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