Google's Future

John Batelle has some interesting thoughts up about how Google is going to continue to thrive. Is it reaching a point where it is just not going to continue to attract and retain the very best talent? Commenting on Tim Armstrong’s departure to head up AOL he writes:

But Tim’s leaving Google strikes me as yet another signal of how much Google as a company has changed. Good people, whether engineers or top executives, are leaving the company to do other things, regardless of how wonderful the place is, how wealthy it made them, or how hard the company strives to create a culture that encourages retention.

I’ve had several discussions with folks who’ve left Google lately. Here’s a direct quote from one of them, who is starting a new search related company:“It’s very hard to take risks at Google.”

Batelle goes on to compare Google’s situation with Microsoft some 15 years ago since, like Microsoft, Google is heavily focused on its one cash-cow.

Coincidentally, on the heals of the Google Voice announcement last week, I ran across this article at TechCrunch from July of last year about how Google causes acquired companies to dramatically slow down, stall, perhaps die entirely. Google Voice was acquired as Grand Central, which then went into closed status (no new members) for over a year and a half. This is not unusual at Google, as the article describes:

In Febuary of this year Google re-launched JotSpot as Google Sites. Google had acquired Jotspot some 16 months earlier, during which time Jot was only available to existing customers and closed to new signups. What happened during those 16 months and why did the process of integrating with Google take so long? Looking through the list of companies that Google has acquired, Jotspot would be considered lucky as many others have died, stalled or lost out to competitors because of the acquisition process.

Google has a proprietary technology stack that was originally developed for massive-scale search, but which makes it challenging to integrate in new disparate products. New-hires also have to come up to speed on it, which takes time, and on the flip side, someone leaving Google after a few years does not have the immediate experience in more common platforms that other employers would seek. For the time being that shouldn’t be a barrier to hiring an ex-Googler, but in the future it could well be.

As smart as Google is, they are not immune from some of the organizational and strategic problems that plague much older companies in “traditional” businesses.