Can Google Flex Like a Start Up?

June 21, 2018

Short honk: I read a “real news” item from a company. The title was “U.S. Lawmakers Want Google to Reconsider Links to China’s Huawei.” In my opinion, the Google reacted to employee pressure, killed off Maven (a US government project), and assumed that its Googley actions were okay. Good idea. Flex and move on. But, according to the write up:

A group of Republican and Democratic U.S. lawmakers asked Alphabet Inc’s (Google on Wednesday to reconsider its work with Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, which they described as a security threat.

A bump on the information highway? A tactical move with unintended consequences? I am not sure.

Dumping government contracts is somewhat unusual. When I was working in Washington, DC, I recall that one day word diffused through the green halls of bureaucracy that Mr. Brin, a Google founder, wore a T shirt and sneakers to meet with elected officials.

But Google is no longer a start up. China is a topic of interest it seems. Flex does may not translate to surprised government entities. Procurement teams are usually averse to surprises in my experience.

What’s the trajectory of this Googley flex? Interesting for sure.

Stephen E Arnold

Google: Arm Wrestling with Oneself

June 13, 2018

A typical fiction trope is human vs. creation. The most famous work with this concept is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, followed closely by an endless science-fiction list that deals with humans vs. robots. While most humanity vs. creation stories focus on a dystopic future, the real life drama focus h job replacement and human skill obsolescence. The New York Times reports that “Early Facebook And Google Employees Form Coalition To Fight What They Built.”

Former Google and Facebook employees banded together to form the Center for Humane Technology. Partnering with Common Sense Media, the Center for Humane Technology’s purpose is to educate parents, students, and teachers about the social media’s dangers. The Center for Humane Technology’s founders built the social media technologies and companies, so they know what Facebook and Google are made of and the their potential health dangers.

“The effect of technology, especially on younger minds, has become hotly debated in recent months. In January, two big Wall Street investors asked Apple to study the health effects of its products and to make it easier to limit children’s use of iPhones and iPads. Pediatric and mental health experts called on Facebook last week to abandon a messaging service the company had introduced for children as young as 6. Parenting groups have also sounded the alarm about YouTube Kids, a product aimed at children that sometimes features disturbing content.”

Among the members are Dave Morin, Justin Rosenstein, Lynn Foxx, Jim Steyer, and Tristan Harris. Inspired by anti-drug campaigns, the Center for Humane Technology aims to understand the affect technology has on children’s brains. They also plan to lobby Congress to curtail tech companies’ power.

Now there’s a subplot. “Inventor Says Google Is Patenting Work He Put in the Public Domain” asserts that Google took another’s work and seeks to obtain a patent for a compression system and method. Both Facebook and Google appear to have adopted some of the open source technology.

Is Google arm wrestling itself? What happens if it loses the contest?

Whitney Grace, June 13, 2018

Short Honk: Contracting Newbies

June 4, 2018

I read “As Google Quits Controversial Project Maven, Mystery Deepens over Role of Other Tech Firms.”

Google has employees who do not want Google to do certain types of work.

I find this darned interesting. I circled this statement from the write up:

Google has also reportedly pledged to unveil new principles guiding its ethical use of artificial intelligence technology. That promise has already been met with skepticism by the Tech Workers Coalition, a group calling for Silicon Valley companies “to stay out of the business of war” and develop ethics standards for AI.

There are companies doing work from the US government and other countries’ governments as well. How does one handle work which is tagged “secret”?

The management approach which Google is using is almost as interesting as having employees create a situation which, in effect, is quite different from those within which I worked before I retired.

I noted a reference to a company for which I happily labored. That firm? Booz, Allen. The write up points out that Booz, Allen declined to comment for the write up.

Partitions, need to know, separate facilities, and other mechanisms exist to provide technology, engineering services, support, and products to governments.

This is a surprise or somehow improper now?

I suppose a company could allow its employees to vote on which tender offers to bid. I am not sure how that approach would match up with requirements for secure facilities, employees with clearances, and expertise in the specific task with which a government seeks assistance.

This management by squeaky wheel will be interesting to track as the management wagon is pulled by workers who agree to providing motive force. Contracting newbies at work methinks.

Stephen E Arnold, June 4, 2018

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Alphabet Google: Rumblings Centered in Mountain View

May 31, 2018

I noted an interesting article suggesting that Google wanted or hoped to hire the brains behind Ethereum, Vitalik Buterin. Ethereum, as you may know, is now supported by Amazon. Why not use open source Ethereum?

Answer: Google likes to have the smartest people in the world. Merely using is just not the same as having the brain itself.

I thought about Google’s “hire the guy already” approach to company and new product management. From my vantage point which one wild and crazy entrepreneur described as clueless, Amazon appears to be heading a different direction. Google, it seems, is hunting for a direction in which to go.

As a reference point, Amazon, in my opinion, knows where it is heading. Google, it seems to me, is not sure which compass point is calling to them. Therefore, the management approach seems to be hire smart people and let those individuals figure it out.

The consequences of that approach formed the guts of the story “AI Deal with Pentagon Crates Schism at Google.” To read the printer version you will need the dead tree version of the newspaper. The story appears on the first page of the paper and jumps to page A 15 in the version of the paper which sometimes gets delivered to me in rural Kentucky. There is also an online version of the story which has a different headline. Helpful, right? That version of the story is at this link.

For starters, let me say that I do not believe there is one Alphabet Google. There’s the YouTube thing. There are the low cost death ray services purpose built to kill off Microsoft Office. There are venture firms galore. There are the whiz kids at Google X who are in charge of moon shots.

From here in Harrod’s Creek, the many and duplicative products and services create a grey haze which is a “gaze” as harmful as the Hawaii “laze”.

Glowing in the middle of this digital universe is pay to play advertising centric search. That’s the money machine spewing lava like a Puna vent. After two decades in business and trying really hard to diversify is Google with its advertising revenue.

The NYT story makes a point about Googlers who want smart software to be used for “good.” News flash, Googlers: technology available to the US government is applied to specific problems given priority by a federal agency, department, unit, or inter agency working group. When those projects are classified, it is possible the companies providing the technology have zero idea about certain government activities related to a technology.

Here’s another old chestnut from the cobbled streets of Georgetown: If a company does not do business directly with the US government, intermediary firms provide a conduit for the needed technology. Obviously chatter about what firms provide these services is not usually circulated widely.

The value of the NYT article is that it provides insight into the management methods at Google. I noted three points in the write up. Let me highlight these, and simultaneously urge you to read one of the versions of the NYT article. Even though the title dates of the versions change, the basic points are the same.

Here are my highlights:

  • Google chased a Department of Defense contract but developed no game plan for dealing with its employees or the individuals who write articles. Net: No tactical planning.
  • Google has factions within the company who are publicly opposed to the use of smart software for warfighting. Net: No management mechanism for its employees. Some of these employees may embrace the now irrelevant “Don’t be evil” catchphrase.
  • Google has been involved in US government projects for many years. Many of these are meaningless like licensing the Google Search Appliance to a clueless US government agency unit. As it turned out, Google demanded the return of the GSA because the government client wanted special customer support. No joke. Other projects are more meaningful and lack the “name in lights” visibility Maven has been receiving. Net: Nothing new with this Maven deal except that it gets the Google a seat at a table which very well could be dominated by Amazon, not just IBM and a handful of other established vendors.

Net net: The issue is not Maven. The issue strikes at what is the central weakness of Alphabet Google: Its approach to managing its employees and by extension, its business.

From jumping in and out of business sectors (remember Orkut?) to buying companies and then marginalizing them (Motorola, remember?) to starting products and then orphaning them (remember Google Answers?)—Alphabet Google has manifested situational decision making, sort of like a Delta force operator on a mission alone.

For many of the under 25 year olds with whom I talk know anything about the legal dust up about Google’s online advertising business. None know about the Yahoo, Overture, GoTo settlement with Google prior to its IPO. That was an operation which yielded revenue success. But the management method used to complete that mission is now under considerable stress. Alphabet Google is in need of more than “operators,” no matter how intelligent.

The bottom-line is that the NYT has explained the Google employee Maven issue. From my point of view, which I want you to know one wizard called me dumb, Google has struggled to diversify its revenue. Like its other efforts to generate significant, sustainable and profitable new products and services, Google has not been the sharpest knife in the kitchen drawer. Heck, I thought I was the dull implement.

When writing about Google, it’s time to leave the lore of Backrub behind. Forget the bits and bytes, Alphabet Google has reached an important way station in its new revenue journey. The question is, “What must be done to arrive at a destination?” Too bad Peter Drucker is no longer alive. Perhaps he and Vitalik Buterin (the Ethereum wizard) could share an office at Google?

Stephen E Arnold, May 31, 2018

Google Magnetism Weakening? High Profile Wizard Allegedly Sidesteps Job Offer

May 22, 2018

Who knows if this “real” news item from a crypto currency online service in India is accurate? I find it interesting because it adds another straw to the pile on Googzilla’s back.

The write up is called “Google Tries Hiring Ethereum Founder Vitalik Buterin and Fails.” Now Ethereum may not be a big deal in Harrod’s Creek and similar rust belt cities. Amazon sort of has a thing for Ethereum. And despite the chatter about deanonymizing some of the blockchain-centric services, Ethereum continues to generate interest in its “platform.”

The write up states:

Search Engine giant Google tried hiring Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin to work for them. Buterin posted a screenshot of the mail he received from Google on twitter, asking his followers if he should take their offer.

The “offer” was made via a Tweet. I love that type of approach. Very trendy.

The write up adds:

Like most Silicon Valley startups, Google has also been exploring Blockchain for the past few months. In March, Google revealed that they were working on two different Blockchain products; a tamper-proof auditing system and a cloud operations platform. The recruiter may have reached out to Buterin for these projects or any upcoming unannounced projects.

Google does not allow crypto currency ads. However, the Google may have been monitoring some of the actions of super successful company and realized that the train is leaving the station.

Several observations:

  1. Google appears to be going for a home run play if we assume the information in the write up is accurate
  2. Google may be in a position which it finds uncomfortable: Back in the pack when it comes to the platformization of blockchain centric innovation
  3. Google may be losing its magnetism which once pulled wizards to the land of  pay to play search.

Fascinating piece of possibly semi accurate, possibly real Twitter delivered information. Communicating by tweet is the new thing I assume.

Stephen E Arnold, May 22, 2018

More about the Math Club Syndrome: Hey, Bro!

April 16, 2018

It was not that long ago that being a geek or nerd had negative connotations. Geeks and nerds were and continue to be targets for bullies, but the social stigma has changed. It is now okay to be smart, to be interested in science-fiction and fantasy, to watch cartoons in your adulthood, and to be good at something other than sports. Geeks and nerds always knew they would inherit the Earth…er…rule over society…er…find acceptance. Just as the underdogs thought they were gaining a foothold, Scientific American springs this on them: “Superior IQs Associated With Mental And Physical Disorders, Research Suggests.”

Being smart has many advantages, the article points out, including longer life, have healthier lives, and less likely to experience negative events. The journal Intelligence published a study that shows the downside of high IQs. Ruth Karpinsku from Pitzer College emailed a psychological and physiological disorder survey to Mensa members and the results found that smart people are more likely to have some serious disorders. The questions included ones about mood, anxiety, autism, and ADHD disorders and also asthma, allergies, and autoimmune problems. The respondents were asked if they were diagnosed or suspected they had the disorders and 75% of the Mensa said yes. Here are some more numbers:

“The biggest differences between the Mensa group and the general population were seen for mood disorders and anxiety disorders. More than a quarter (26.7%) of the sample reported that they had been formally diagnosed with a mood disorder, while 20% reported an anxiety disorder—far higher than the national averages of around 10% for each. The differences were smaller, but still statistically significant and practically meaningful, for most of the other disorders. The prevalence of environmental allergies was triple the national average (33% vs. 11%).”

Some of Karpinski’s findings and interpretations have been discussed in the scientific community before. Most of the findings that state more intelligent people spend more time analyzing and feeling anxiety over events like a boss’s comment is not new. The better question to ask is if Mensa people are more different from the average person, because they spend their time with intellectual pursuits instead of exercise or social interaction.

This is just another study about the difference between average and above average people. More research needs to be done before definitive conclusions can be drawn. Equality? Sure, anyone can join the Math Club. Will the real members tell you when the “real” meeting is? Duh.

Whitney Grace, April 16, 2018

Leadership: The Google Way

April 14, 2018

Lead, follow, or get out of the way. Nope. Lead by keeping a low profile and tackling “projects” in a stealthy manner.

That’s how I interpreted the information in “Google is Pursuing the Pentagon’s Giant Cloud Contract Quietly, Fearing An Employee Revolt.” The write up states:

The Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, or JEDI, program has since morphed into a single contract potentially worth $10 billion over a decade, to be awarded by year’s end…. Google has kept its own interest in the contract out of the press. Company leaders have even hidden the pursuit from its own workers.

Interesting Math Club / Silicon bro management method. Lead, follow, or get out of the way. Oh, don’t sign petitions asking your boss to turn down major military contracts. Trust is important in leadership.

Stephen E Arnold, April 14, 2018

When Employees Protest, Management Has to Manage

April 12, 2018

The online information drum has been pounding out messages about the Google employees who don’t want Google to do evil. The issue pivots on the GOOG’s tie up with the US government. The application? Smart software for DoD type challenges.

What if innovation didn’t come down to who had the brightest mind, but who has the biggest collection of data? That’s an interesting thought that is gaining steam in the tech community, especially among venture capitalists. We got a hint of this growing world from the Harvard Business Review article, “Are The Most Innovative Companies Just The Ones With The Most Data?”

According to the story:

“[I]nnovation is founded on data rather than human ideas, the firms that benefit are the ones that have access to the most data. Therefore, in many instances, innovation will no longer be a countervailing force to market concentration and scale. Instead, innovation will be a force that furthers them.”

Google’s employee push back warrants observation as the company tries to guide itself through choppy high technology water.

Patrick Roland, April 12, 2018

Google Wobbles

April 8, 2018

I noted that some of Google’s employees are not happy with the firm’s decision to apply its smart software to US government projects. What’s interesting is that for years, grousing at Google was low key. When Xooglers began posting their thoughts about the company, there was some activity which fizzled quickly. I wondered why no one was doing Google “tell all” type writing.

Now Google faces yet another management challenge. A UPI story reports that Google employees are protesting. The Googlers don’t want the ad supported search giant supporting the Pentagon’s drone strike program. (Tip: If you are a target, a mobile phone with a GPS capability is not your friend.)

According the story:

In a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, the employees voiced opposition to Project Maven, “a customized AI surveillance engine that uses ‘Wide Area Motion Imagery’ data captured by U.S. government drones to detect vehicles and other objects, track their motions, and provide results to the Department of Defense.”

From my vantage point in Harrod’s Creek, Google may face some challenges with regard to staff management.

With this UPI story in mind, I noted an essay titled “Google’s Near Monopoly May Be Crumbling.” The article asserts:

The broader point is that the awesome market power of behemoths like Facebook and Google may be far more vulnerable than investors and rivals have assumed.

That strikes me as a bit of wishful thinking. The notion that a metasearch engine which relies on Bing or another Web index for results can challenge Google is a bit of a stretch. Alternatives to Google are available, but neither Qwant or Yandex is likely to deliver what users of Google seem to want.

I do think that Google’s management capabilities are showing signs of weakness. I believe that the real challenge to Google resides within the firm’s 60,000 staff and thousands of contractors.

The idea that a union or federation of employees may gain some traction. Human resources, not technology or user loyalty, may be the most vulnerable component of Google.

The reason is that from its inception, Google favored an engineering approach to management. The firm’s engineering may not be top drawer, but it is good enough. I think Google’s handling of its human resources and personnel problems will make clear if the “soft” or “illogical” aspect of running a business is an asset or a liability.

Stephen E Arnold, April 7, 2018

Google and Search: More Churn Turmoil

April 4, 2018

I read “John Giannandrea, Head of Google’s Cornerstone Web-Search Unit, Steps Down.” I found the phrase “steps down” amusing. I think the wizard went to the Apple orchard. Since Mr. Giannandrea ran search, Google search has become less useful to me. Now I have to use multiple search systems to locate what I think are slam dunk queries. Nope. I get some pretty off the wall Google search results.

Two points jumped out of this story for me.

First, Google is forced to go back to one of the early Googlers from the AltaVista.com team. (I did some work for an outfit called PersimmonIT, which was a provider to AltaVista.com.) What’s interesting is that Jeff Dean is one of the really old Google guard. I know he’s bright and capable but that begs this question: “Aren’t their younger, smarter, and as or more capable professionals to get the over hyped Google artificial intelligence operation underway.” I can suggest at least one candidate from the DeepMind team. But, hey, who really cares?

Second, search must be pretty broken. The job has fallen to another old timer at the GOOG. Same question: “Aren’t there younger, more with it technical wizards who can handle the massively complex, software wrapped, advertising centric systems? (Yep, systems because there is “regular” search and “mobile” search. Two search systems are part of the index puzzle Google has built over the years.) Plus, do you remember Google’s “universal” search which, as aBearStearns’ legend has it, was cooked up over a weekend to deal with a PR problem triggered by an analyst’s report to which yours truly contributed. You know “universal.” One query gets you blog content,  new Web sites, Google Books, Google Scholar, yada yada. That doesn’t exist and probably will never come to pass for some pretty good reasons. But saying something is just as good as delivering I assume.)

Net net: Google is now a mature company. The founders have distanced themselves from the legal troubles in which the company is mired. The company is caught in the Silicon Valley backlash. The Oracle Jave thing is a Freddie Kruger thing for the GOOG. Management change is a companion to the craziness which seems to characterize some units of the company.

I wonder if a query launched from a desktop computer will return on point results in the near future. I sure hope so.

Stephen E Arnold, April 4, 2018

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