Google: Innovation Desperation?

May 3, 2018

I have lost track of the ways Google tries to spark innovation. Years ago there was something called Google Ventures and before that “20 percent free time.” Today Google has demonstrated its hunger, need, and thirst for innovation by crating an investment mechanism for the Alexa killer, Google Assistant. “Google Starts Throwing Cash at Google Assistant Startups” explains:

Google is launching a new investment program for early-stage startups working to broaden Google Assistant hardware or features. The new program provides financial resources, early access to Google features and tools, access to the Google Cloud Platform, and promotional support in efforts to bolster young companies. Google says its investment program will also support startups focusing on Google Assistant‘s use in travel, hospitality, or games industries.

Like Apple, Google is watching the Alexa McLaren eat up the miles. I know it is silly to compare Amazon, Apple, and Google. Amazon sells books and plans to become a policeware hub. Apple sells hardware and wants to be a services vendor as iPhone X devices provide evidence that peak mobile phone day has arrived. And Google? It is after 20 years of trying to be different, still sells online ads.

The fix is to pay “entrepreneurs,” high school students, MBAs, and homeless FORTRAN programmers to build and expand the Google Assistant ecosystem.

Will the play work? My thought is that Google looks a bit wild eyed with its innovation efforts.

Perhaps it is true that I am worn out by Silicon Valley gyrations. Google, according to the write up, has “passion for the digital assistant ecosystem.”

That’s a plus.

But after 20 years of innovation, Google remains, as Steve Ballmer observed, a one trick pony. Throwing money at the pony is a long shot to change the beast into something different.

Worth watching the transformation attempt, however.

Stephen E Arnold, May 3, 2018

Alphabet Google: The Personnel Slide Down Continues

March 9, 2018

Google is one of the top technology companies in the world and their services are employed on nearly every computer, phone, and tablet. Google is at the most innovative when it comes to developing new technology, but a former Google insider said the opposite. Steve Yegge writing for Medium explains his Google experience in his article, “Why I Left Google To Join Grab.”

Yegge loved Google and still considered it to be one of the best places in the world to work, but he left for some good reasons:

“The main reason I left Google is that they can no longer innovate. They’ve pretty much lost that ability. I believe there are several contributing factors, of which I’ll list four here. First, they’re conservative…Second, they are mired in politics, which is sort of inevitable with a large enough organization; the only real alternative is a dictatorship, which has its own downsides. Third, Google is arrogant…But fourth, last, and probably worst of all, Google has become 100% competitor-focused rather than customer focused.”

Google has reached the apex of its innovative spirit and has gone the way over all corporations and, arguably, politicians. Google has grown so big and powerful, hires the top players in the field, and controls so many products/services that it does not want to lose face, its employees have ego problems, and they serve the almighty dollar. It is a repetitious pattern that has been playing out for ages. One of the greatest examples was the British Empire. The British Empire became so big and powerful that the resources were spread too thin, the ruling parties were arrogant, the subjects suffered, and those in power never wanted it to change. It sounds like Google, does it not?

Yegge then talked about the new endeavor called Grab and stresses the importance of keeping your ear to the ground in order to make and grow a business. Google has gotten too big, but it still has a lot of powerful and it will be awhile before it falls. Another company will pick up the slack. Someone always does.

Whitney Grace, March 9, 2018

Luck: Ask Any Gambler

March 1, 2018

Right now a game-changing startup is begging for funding. That’s a given. But just as likely is the idea that that company is getting completely ignored. It’s a common story that the biggest asset for startups is luck, which was wonderfully illustrated by a recent Quartz story, “Google’s Early Failure to Sell Itself Shows Why We Can’t Recognize Good Ideas.”

According to the funder who wrote Sergey Brin his second check, who advised them to give up on a failed plan to license Google:

“It’s very hard to get anyone else to adopt your baby. I told them, “You have to raise your baby yourself.” They came back some months later, and I don’t think they said I was right, but they’d decided to start their own company because nobody was interested in their baby.”

This has always been the case. These babies that tech gurus design often don’t find sympathetic investors. It’s often like hearing news of a brilliant musician who went unnoticed because of bad luck or a beautiful movie that fell through the cracks. It’s timing and luck and networking and it’s been like this for as long as anyone can remember. Quora was asking how big of a role luck plays in startup success way back in 2010. The results are about what you can expect, but perhaps luck has a flip side.

What about the companies like Excite which decided not to buy Google when Messrs. Brin and Page were stumping for financial love? What about those whose luck runs out?

Ask any gambler in the  Techno Casino.

Patrick Roland, March 1, 2018

Google: Innovation and the European Hassle

February 15, 2018

Google is allegedly an innovator. Forget the GoTo.com, Overture, and Yahoo ad “emulation” hassle. Forget Loon balloons in Puerto Rico. Forget solving death.

Google has a way to deal with its “chat” efflorescence. Navigate to “A Google R&D Team Wants to Bring Smart Reply to All Your Chat Apps.” Okay, a meta play. What’s interesting to us in Harrod’s Creek is that engineering free time for innovation, acquihires for innovation, and Google X are not sufficiently productive in the gee whiz department.

The write up states:

The Area 120 project will offer its suggested replies right in the notifications from these chat apps. But to be clear, Reply does not offer a standalone app of its own – it’s just a way for people to respond to incoming messages.

Is an auto responder the big hit? Nope. We just flat out did not know about Area 120. Like Area 51, we assume the innovation team is off the radar.

We hypothesize that the deployment of a meta service in order to “roll up” some functionality may catch the attention of regulators in Europe. Keep in mind this is our nagging concern.

Google may have some of the deepest pockets in the world, but that might not be enough if they cannot adapt to the “new” Europe. The EU is pushing back against the search giant for unfair practices and the battle is coming to a head. One thing seems clear, Google is going to have to bend or suffer impossible sounding debts. We learned more from a recent Irish Examiner story, “Google Under Pressure to Avoid Further EU Fines.”

According to the story:

“Rivals say the search company’s offer to auction advertising space doesn’t work because Google wins most of the spots. “The US company has so far said it is giving competitors the same opportunity to show shopping ads from retailers that its own Google Shopping service gets. “Failing to comply with an EU competition order can cost up to 5% of global daily revenue.”

According to the article’s math, that’s a whopping €9.6m a day. We are sure Google doesn’t have it in the budget to incur such a hit. Google’s best solution may be to conform, but that’s not likely to be innovation as Google seems to define the word.

Stephen E Arnold, February 15, 2018

Startup Success: Cleverness and Lady Luck

February 7, 2018

Right now a game-changing startup is begging for funding. That’s a given. But just as likely is the idea that that company is getting completely ignored. It’s a common story that the biggest asset for startups is luck, which was wonderfully illustrated by a recent Quartz story, “Google’s Early Failure to Sell Itself Shows Why We Can’t Recognize Good Ideas.”

According to the funder who wrote Sergey Brin his second check, who advised them to give up on a failed plan to license Google:

“It’s very hard to get anyone else to adopt your baby. I told them, “You have to raise your baby yourself.” They came back some months later, and I don’t think they said I was right, but they’d decided to start their own company because nobody was interested in their baby.”

This has always been the case. These babies that tech gurus design often don’t find sympathetic investors. It’s often like hearing news of a brilliant musician who went unnoticed because of bad luck or a beautiful movie that fell through the cracks. It’s timing and luck and networking and it’s been like this for as long as anyone can remember. Quora was asking how big of a role luck plays in startup success way back in 2010. The results are about what you can expect: Lady Luck picks her dates often without much thought.

Patrick Roland, February 7, 2018

Google Management: Technology and Managment Wobbles

October 17, 2017

Bloomberg has another “Google is a bum” story. Remember the cheerful days of 2002 when Google was the cat’s pajamas. 23 skidoo now invokes the bum’s rush.

Navigate to “Google Has Made a Mess of Robotics.” Google bought robotics companies. Bloomberg seems to delight is offering this observation:

None of the acquired companies have robots in use beyond the offices of Google’s now-parent company, Alphabet Inc. At least three key robotics chiefs who joined in that 2013 wave left the company in the last few months…

I must admit I like the Boston Dynamics robot reindeer. Tiny children marveled at these devices. Ho ho ho. Santa uses “Terminators” to deliver goodies.

Google may not be doing robots designed the “thrill” children. Bloomberg notes:

For the last year it’s [Google has] also operated what has come to be referred to as the “arm farm,” a room somewhere at its Mountain View, Calif., headquarters where at least 10 robotic limbs are being refined to grasp and manipulate various objects.

Yes, a disembodied limb. Perfect for a K-3 field trip.

The subtext to the Bloomberg write up is that Google’s management is not very good at managing. Come on. It’s the Google. Ease off.

Stephen E Arnold, October 17, 2017

Google Home: A Content Vacuum?

October 12, 2017

i read “Google Is Nerfing All Home Minis Because Mine Spied on Everything I Said.” The write up is interesting because it documents a Google product which has a flaw; that is, the Google Home device in question acts like a content vacuum cleaner. The device allegedly copies what it hears without the user’s permission. Google continues to assume me that it wants to do “better”. I think that doing better is a great idea, particularly when a smart assistant functions as a listening and recording device in a way that surprises a user. The original post cited above contains some nice words for Google, screenshots, and a gentle presentation of the alleged spy function. The European Union may find this device an interesting one to evaluate for privacy regulation compliance. I think “nerf” as a verb means “kill” or more colloquially “brick”; that is, the digital equivalent of shooting a horse. Alexa, what does nerfing mean? I think it means that Google is killing this “great idea”.

Stephen E Arnold, October 12, 2017

When Business Models Fail, Hit the Startup Casino

September 13, 2017

I read “Searching for the Next Facebook or Google: Bloomberg Helps Launch Tech Incubator.” On the surface, the write up is not too newsy. Bloomberg (the terminal folks that Thomson Reuters has not been able to kill off with hundreds of millions in cash pumped into its “innovation” efforts) is getting into the startup casino. The idea is that Bloomberg (the former mayor) is bringing incubators to New York City. The hook for the story is that Cornell University is the big fish which has been landed on Roosevelt Island, the one with the tram thing. With Bloomberg beaching Cornell and Technion (the MIT of Israel) ensnared, I have some questions floating in my rural Kentucky mind:

  1. When an innovation occurs, who will get access to that technology? The universities, the professors, the students, or Bloomberg?
  2. What will Thomson Reuters do to counter this play by the inventor of the famed and incredibly cluttered terminal for MBA clutching Red Bulls and mocha lattes?
  3. Who will be able to hire the bright sprouts who flock via tram to Roosevelt Island?
  4. Has IBM’s MIT play been “trumped” (no pun intended) because Bloomberg can play most of the numbers on the startup casino’s roulette wheel?
  5. Will Facebook and Google just buy Stanford University and leave the old school companies to the backwaters on the East coast?
  6. Which big company will fund the High Technology High School in New Jersey? (Strike that. New Jersey?)

Worth watching?

Stephen E Arnold, September 13, 2017

Me Too Innovation Is Real News. Is It?

August 14, 2017

I saw links to a Wall Street Journal write up titled “In Tech, Imitation Is the New Innovation.” To view the document, you will have to [a] buy a dead tree version of the paper, [b] borrow one from a friendly neighbor or a low rise office building with newspapers scattered inside the entrance because who arrives when one can be on vacation, or [c] pay for an online subscription to one of the outfits wanting the US government to bail the newspaper companies out. (Is this an imitation of the Chrysler and GM bailouts? May be, may be.) You can find the story on page A-1 with a jump to page A-8 in the August 10, 2017 edition.

The main point of the write up is that the titans of Silicon Valley have run out of ideas. In order to get new ideas, the companies copy other companies. If the task of copying is tough, the big company may buy the outfit with the idea. Think how well that has worked out for Dodge Ball.

The focus of the write up is the general inability of the titans to come up with new ideas that capture eyeballs. Facebook is the focus, but I think of Google as one of the premier companies using piggyback innovation.

An interesting example of quasi innovation is the Google patent application 2017/0228436 A1, which is a continuation of a patent series reaching back seven years to 2019. The seven year old patent itself nods its head to a Korean patent dating from 2002. The August 2017 patent application reaches back 15 years.

The idea of “standing on the shoulders of giants” romanticizes the fact that coming up with something that captures users is difficult. Very difficult.

What strikes me as “Providing Results to Parameterless Search Queries” is that Google’s “invention” is similar to the “me too” approach to creating something new referenced in the Wall Street Journal write up. Facebook is doing what seems “natural.” Imitation is natural because the original “good idea” cooked up at Harvard needs oomph. Data enables refinement of ideas that may be decades old.

Innovation is less about innovation by copying or acquiring. Innovation is now a way to exploit comprehensive data.

Stephen E Arnold, August 14, 2017

The Secret to Success for Apple and Google

July 25, 2017

What makes them so special? As part of their 10 Lessons from 10 Years of The World’s Most Innovative Companies series, Fast Company explains “Why Apple and Google Are Titans.” The article examines what these two historically very different companies hold in common. In a nutshell, each was built around purposeful innovation at breakneck speeds. Writer Robert Safin observes:

Innovation is not a onetime activity. It is a philosophy and culture. The fruits of innovation do not unfold on schedule, in a single year, along a straight line. To stay up with—and ahead of—the changes in today’s world, you need to be always moving, trying new things, fueled by an internal restlessness. This is at the heart of both Apple and Google. …

The critical corollary, then, to that need-for-speed: a need for purpose. Having a clearly understood mission behind an enterprise allows everyone to prioritize, in real time, to quickly assess which changes are worth responding to and what lens to use in addressing them. Apple and Google have always had this framework, from Steve Jobs’s mission of ‘making tools for the mind that advance humankind’ to Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin’s pledge to ‘do no evil’ while ‘organizing the world’s information.’

It is easy to underestimate each of these companies, Safin notes. It can seem as though Apple has been simply riding the connectivity wave in its iPhone surfboard, but we’re reminded how Apple has had to evolve and pivot to get and stay, at the fore. As for Google, one might think it has simply been lucky that internet search has become ubiquitous. However, Google has actually taken risk after risk, many of which turned out to be valuable only for their lessons. See the article for more examples about each company.

Cynthia Murrell, July 25, 2017

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