Google, Technology and People

Written by Ravi Gummadi

When you look at the graphs below and pay attention to years between 2007 to 2009, two things stand out: Google has more than 70% search share and Facebook is in hyper growth stage adding users at frantic space. Its difficult to grasp how Google, which is data driven and front door for the web, could miss Facebook’s growth. Also remember that mobile hasn’t really taken off during that time period, and Facebook’s traffic is primarily from desktop.

Google Facebook Share Growth

I thought that there had to be something philosophical at Google which should have refuted this data. I recently finished Erich Schmidt’s “How Google Works” and he lays out three pillars for most of the successful products at Google.

  • Create superior products based on unique technical insights
  • Optimize for growth, not revenue
  • Know the competition, but don’t follow it

When you frame the above insights in the context of Facebook, it makes sense why Google chose to ignore Facebook inspite of the data. Social networks are fundamentally not based on any unique technical insight. That’s the reason a sophomore could develop the first version in his dorm as opposed to PhDs. All it needed technologically at that time was a simple PHP website with MySQL database. But it absolutely required an unique perspective on how to translate human communications to online. On the other hand, the Google’s foundation (PageRank) is an unique technical insight compared to other search engines.

Coincidentally, I also finished Biz Stone’s Things a Little Bird Told Me (BTW, paternity leave, Kindle and constant interruptions are perfect for finishing books like this!). Biz, who worked for a short while at Google before starting Twitter, puts this really well.

Google has a strong focus on technology, and it serves them well. My experience there was that they ordered technology first and people second. I believe the opposite. It isn’t all about how many servers you have or how sophisticated your software is. Those things matter. But what really makes a technology meaningful—to its users and its employees—is how people come to use it to effect change in the world. I don’t mean to throw Google under the bus. Obviously they’re brilliant. It’s just that my priorities are flipped. People come before technology. - Biz Stone (Emphasis mine)

A company’s culture and belief system is strongly modelled after their founders and most of their early hires would (and should?) be in sync with that. Therefore its incredibly tough, even though the company employs the smartest people and has billions in revenue, to think outside the early constructs of the founders. Google is no different!

*Disclaimer: I work for Facebook, so this will seem biased. FWIW, I have written this before joining Facebook. this is my personal opinion and doesn’t represent views of Facebook.*

References

  1. Eric Schmidt on three main pillars for good foundation: http://goo.gl/X89guq
  2. How Google Works (Amazon): http://amzn.com/1455582344
  3. Things a Little Bird Told Me (Amazon): http://amzn.com/B00ECEA35C
  4. Page Rank: http://goo.gl/yYbb