Google: Innovation Desperation or Innovation Innovation

December 5, 2018

Google has an innovation problem. The company has tried 20 percent free time. Engineers were supposed to work on personal projects. Google tried creating investment units. Google has acquired companies, often in time frames that seemed compressed. Anyone remember buying Motorola Mobility in 2011? Google created a super secret innovation center because the ageing Google Labs was not up to the task of creating Loon balloons and solving death. There have been competitions to identity bright young sprouts who can bring new ideas to the Google. If I dig through my files, there are probably innovation initiatives I have forgotten. Google is either a forward looking outfit, or it is struggling to do more than keep the 20 year old system looking young.

Image result for archimedes eureka

Has Google tried thinking in the hot tub like Archimedes? Google has bean bags, volleyball courts, and Foosball. But real innovations like those AltaVista mechanisms or GoTo’s pay to play for search visibility? There is Web Accelerator, of course.

I read “An Exclusive look inside Google’s in-house incubator Area 120.” The write up reports that a wizard Googler allegedly said and may actually believe:

“We built a place and a process to be able to have those folks come to us and then select what we thought were the most promising teams, the most promising ideas, the most promising markets,” explains managing director Alex Gawley, who has spent a decade at Google and left his role as product manager for Google Apps (since renamed G Suite) to spearhead this new effort. Employees “can actually leave their jobs and come to us to spend 100% of their time pursuing something that they are particularly passionate about,” he says.

Okay, Area 120. That even more mysterious than the famous Area 51. I am thinking of the theme from “Outer Limits.”

The Googlers “pitch” ideas in the hope of getting funding. A Japanese management expert explained a somewhat similar approach to keeping smart employees innovating. See Kuniyasu Sakai’s explanations of the method in “To Expand We Divide.” You probably have this and his other management writings on your desk, right? Someone at Google seems to have brushed against these concepts. In Fast Company / Google speak, these new companies are “hatchlings.”

Several observations:

  1. Innovation is a problem as companies become larger. Google illustrates this problem.
  2. Google’s approach to innovation is bifurcated. Most of its “innovations” originated elsewhere; for example, IBM Clever, AltaVista technology, GoTo-Overture “pay to play” advertising. The company’s goal is to innovate using original ideas, not refinements of other innovators’ breakthroughs.
  3. Google faces an innovation free environment. A recent example may be found in the wild and crazy Amazon announcements at its Re:Invent conference. Somewhere in the jet blast of announcements, there were a couple of substantive innovations. Google does phones with problems and wraps search in layers of cotton wool. Amazon, its seems, is sucking search innovation from Google.

For these reasons Google is gasping. Even rah rah write ups about Google like the recent encomium to Jeff Dean and Sanjay Ghemawat (both AltaVista veterans) is a technical “You Can’t Go Home Again” description of the good old days.

On one hand, Google’s efforts to become innovative are admirable. Persistence, patience, investment—yada yada. On the other hand, Google remains trapped as a servant to its Yahoo (GoTo and Overture) business model for online advertising.

The PR will continue to flow, but innovations? Maybe.

Stephen E Arnold, December 5, 2018

Changing How Electronics Are Done

July 18, 2018

I read “DARPA Plans a Major Remake of US Electronics.” The write up reports that the US government’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is funding activities to “radically alter how electronics are made.” The idea is to make an engineer skilled in the anticipated art to become more productive. If the funding generates innovation and applied research deliverables, “the effect could be to make small groups of engineers capable of feats that take 100 engineers to achieve today.”

There are some interesting observations presented in the write up. These are attributed to Bill Chappell, who is the DARPA directors for this initiative. The write up is important because the stated objectives are one that will allow some technical and process roadblocks to be removed; for example, acceleration of innovation, increasing productivity, and stepping up activity for open source hardware.

However, there are several ideas percolating in the statements in my opinion.

First, the US is not producing what we call in Harrod’s Creek “home grown electronics engineers.” In part, the initiative is to increase US activity. China and Russia, two cite two nation states, are creating more technical professionals. Now the US has to do more with less.

Second, big picture problems are not what some US projects accomplish. The way innovation works is to make incremental advances within often quite specific scopes of interest. This new initiative is more big picture and less improving the efficiency of an advertising server’s predictive matching in silicon or some equally narrow focus.

Third, the program suggests to me that some insightful US government professionals are concerned about the US electronics industry. The idea that technology from another nation state could create an unknown vulnerability is sufficiently troubling to warrant this big picture program.

In short, the failures of the US electronics sector have become a concern. One hopes that this project will address, in part, this significant issue. In my DarkCyber video news program to be released on July 24, 2018, I comment about the forthcoming Chinese made blockchain phone. I ask one question, “Does this device have the capability to phone home to the manufacturer? Could the device be monitored by an entity in the country of origin?”

Stephen E Arnold, July 18, 2018

Google: The Bibliophile

July 9, 2018

I love to read. Apparently Google is reading more than I ever could. According to Quartz, Google is officially going to start reading more and turning to books to answer questions: “Google’s Astounding New Search Tool Will Answer Any Question By Reading Thousands of Books.”

Google’s brand new search engine is called “Talk To Books.” The best way to describe Talk To Books is that it is like a huge full text, academic database, but instead of the content being listed individually it is all completely searched. Google described it more eloquently: thousands of writers discussing one question. Talk To Books works like a regular Google search, except the search engine searches for results in 100,000 Google Book entries.

What makes this interesting is that this could potentially be an academic and research worthy search engine. Futurist Randy Kurzweil and TED curator Chris Anderson discussed Talk to Books in a recent TED talk and how it will not take over regular Google search:

“Kurzweil noted that Talk to Books is not meant to replace keyword search. It uses “semantic search,” drawing on the ability of the tool’s AI to understand natural human language. Results range from goofy to profound, but semantic search’s goal is to call up a sentence that sounds like a plausible retort a person might say in a conversation.

The main goal of Talk To Books is to stimulate creativity and generate new ideas. As Google struggles to innovate, perhaps this service can jump start Google Ventures, Google X initiatives, and Google acquisitions. Ideas are one thing. Meaningful innovation is another. Google, it seems, is discovering books as a source of knowledge value.

Whitney Grace, July 9, 2018

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

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