Google Needs to Develop a Heart and Soul

Apr. 6.09 | About: Alphabet Inc. (GOOG)

Click to enlarge

In 2006, I wrote an article called Google is the 21st century’s version of Standard Oil and Microsoft, the next generation monopoly. In search and in video, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and its video unit YouTube certainly have become monopolies. In search, Google is galvanizing market share at a breakneck pace, in video, challengers are shutting down or trying to find a raison d’etre.

I don’t think that “Google being a Monopoly” in and of itself is bad, for consumers actually get a better experience when Google and YouTube fully index the respective text and video content ecosystems and make sense of it.

In business, this is an altogether different story. YouTube is one of’s business partners and I personally think that the company and its people are improving each and every day with how it manages partner relationships. I also think that in my old experiences with, invidually their employees did a fine job.

But, when taken in aggregate, Google Corp. simply lacks a heart. The kid grew too fast, grew too powerful. It didn’t have any real friends. Today, it shows. It’s moving around too fast, making sudden changes in strategy, saying different things. You almost think - on some days - it is about to implode.

Sunday morning, The Guardian’s Henry Porter called “WWMs - worldwide monopolies”:

Exactly 20 years after Sir Tim Berners-Lee wrote the blueprint for the world wide web, the internet has become the host to a small number of dangerous WWMs - worldwide monopolies that sweep all before them with exuberant contempt for people’s rights, their property and the past.

It is worth noting that Mr. Porter is both a magazine editor (of Vanity Fair) and an author of books, two sub-segments of the print industry that is being ravaged by players led by Google. The crux of his article touches on Google’s assault on the print industry. Now, as a web entrepreneur (but also author of two books), I certainly don’t gain much by criticizing Google, though I have on numerous occasions.

I don’t think Google is as bad or ferocious as some think, however: in practically every other sector other than search, it lost the corresponding battle and war, which explains why in some cases it had to pay top dollar to acquire the challengers, in video, that being YouTube. In some cases it was a success (if YouTube can be called that, despite the massive alleged losses, which I think it is a success bar none), in many more, it wasn’t.

Yes, search is very important. But as the web evolves and moves from a text-based world, to a video-based world, it has a lot to worry about. I won’t list them all here.

Don’t Blame Google, Blame the System (everyone else is…)

But the fact remains: Google isn’t a big, mean, monopoly. It is a symbol of American Capitalism, and in 2009, we have come to learn that this comes with pros and cons. It is because many in the print industry were too slow or too blind to realize the risks that Google did what it did. But it’s also with the heightened expectations that Google needs to push the envelope too aggressively. To blame Google, you must blame the system altogether, and we’re doing lots of that these days, anyway.

Ultimately, Google Corp. in its entirety is sadly, a soul-less machine, a black box with no feelings or emotions or understanding the very basic principles of human interaction, psychological and sociological dynamics.

Extending this one further step into the macro: capitalism lacks heart, too.

People Skills Trump Quant Models

But ultimately, Google lacks people skills. I’ve said this all along.

- How else do you explain that its co-founders on the one hand pledge allegiance to improving the world then turn around and buy a couple of jumbo jets?

- Or other odd holier-than-thou stances on things like “Book-Ripoff” (which is what Mr. Porter is largely alluding to) or “Camera-In-Your-Face”.

- Ever email the company regarding a problem? I guarantee you it wasn’t addressed or fixed, but you did get a neat auto-reply, didn’t you? Of course, that is more Google than YouTube. I work more with folks over on the YouTube side, and I can attest, that slowly but surely, the powers that be are coming around and understanding that to generate profits in video you need to actually talk to people. Go figure.

In other words, its mathematical model-driven, tech-centric approach to search cannot be duplicated to replicate success in video. It has not in video advertising. And with media companies as partners required to develop a real business, it is slowly putting on a human touch. It will take time. And due to its massive size, it might not right the ship fast enough.

No One is Perfect, Worry About Your Own Shortcomings Before Worrying About Others’

The point is: nobody and no one is perfect. Google is an example of that. Ditto about capitalism. But considering there isn’t a better system out there, it’s pretty good, as is Google.

But… for it to avoid the fate of MSFT or Standard Oil (which, let’s face it, were not all that bad as outcomes), Google does need to develop a heart and a soul. Right now, it lacks either.

But trust me, once you get to know the beast: you don’t fear it, you sort of pity it… and in more ways than one, you come to love it, too.