Blog Post

This is why Google is losing the future

Stay on Top of Enterprise Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

“Google is like a crack dealer,” one frustrated startup founder told me recently. “They give you something that gets you hooked, but you end up strung out. You’re so dependent on somebody that you can’t do anything about it.”

He was talking about a now-familiar bait-and-switch that Google (s:GOOG) keeps running on web businesses. First, the search giant offers a little traffic boost to sites that organize data in certain useful ways. Then it turns the game on its head and — without any notice — starts using that structured data to inform its own services. Finally, with a disturbing inevitability, it launches its own competing product that steps in and replace yours.

By the time it starts happening, you’re already in… and there’s no way back.

Google has done this across a number of areas, perhaps most famously in local listings — witness the clash between Yelp and Hotpot — and travel (upsetting Kayak)… and it just keeps on going.

“What’s happened in the past has made us wary of them,” said the founder, who asked to remain anonymous.

“I can’t imagine Apple or Facebook behaving like this. I mean, why build for Google?”

Little respect

Those comments are not unusual. In fact, they come as just the latest in a series of growing frustrations and irritations that seem to be building among the developer community. Initiatives like Google+ and Search Plus Your World want to turn Google’s substantial reach inside out and become a serious platform, yet the company treats third party developers with little respect.

The result is that it gets very little love back.

Last year our own Barb Darrow highlighted problems with Google App Engine and its cloud services in a piece called “Why Google gets no respect from developers”.

 Google’s cloud, as massive as it is, is seen as something of a roach motel for applications: you can check them in, but not necessarily check them out should you opt for another deployment choice. Developers say once they write for GAE, the application is locked in.

That’s difficult to stomach from a company that has built its vast mobile business — among others — on the idea that closed is bad and open is good. Faced with privacy concerns, the company is happy to trumpet data portability for users (though quite where they can take their liberated data is unclear), while at the same time developers and information are effectively locked in.

And then there’s the problem of delivering on your promises. Android developers across Europe have been reporting that payments due from Google have not been delivered.

All of this has built to a point where, now, the people who build web applications are becoming incredibly cautious about the company that is, for many users, synonymous with the web.

Take the decision by Foursquare to drop Google Maps — part of a trend of companies to defect to other mapping services. Yes, there are financial considerations — but there’s also an issue of trust.

Just this week, in a notorious post why he left Google for Microsoft, former engineering director James Whittaker suggested that there were few reasons for builders to trust a company that is increasingly losing its focus on innovation in favor of a focus on advertising:

The Google I was passionate about was a technology company that empowered its employees to innovate. The Google I left was an advertising company with a single corporate-mandated focus.

Technically I suppose Google has always been an advertising company, but for the better part of the last three years, it didn’t feel like one. Google was an ad company only in the sense that a good TV show is an ad company: having great content attracts advertisers.

Take it with a pinch of salt, but it’s an important signal.

Would you trust them?

Mathew wrote yesterday about the problem with Google+ not being design, but demand. That’s true. But there’s a deeper, longer-term problem taking root here too.

Google realizes that its services must be platforms to succeed. After all, the companies it now eyes up enviously did precisely that. Facebook only became a truly significant force when it turned into a platform. Apple (s:AAPL) too, leapt up the ladder when it became an app platform that enabled developers to connect with users all over the world. And, of course, Microsoft (s:MSFT) blazed the trail by turning the whole operating system into the most powerful platform (there’s a reason Steve Ballmer made a fool of himself by shouting “developers”.)

Of course all these companies have had their problems in relationships with developers — whether it’s money, access, transparency or something else. But there’s no doubt that where the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, developers will vote with their feet.

And, as an increasing number of developers feel that Google will treat them poorly, or that it is simply too much of a threat, it’s lost the future. Yet Larry Page is even telling his own engineers that they should leave if they don’t agree with his plan to focus on a “single, unified, ‘beautiful’ product across everything”. If that’s what’s happening inside the Googleplex, what hope for those on the outside?

Let’s go back to where we started: the startup founder who sees Google as a drug dealer looking to offer him a sweetener that gets him addicted. Since he doesn’t want that to happen, he’s left with that single question.

“I mean, why build for Google?”

Why indeed.

20 Responses to “This is why Google is losing the future”

  1. Gunther Sonnenfeld

    There’s a fine line between being predatorial and going through the motions of navigating a consumer and privacy landscape that is completely unpredictable for everyone. We know Google has had its design problems, patent disputes, market collusions, etc. etc. but so have all of its competitors. We’re forgetting one critical element here: Few companies have the money, the time and the resources to vet out the market (by essentially sticking their necks out) and make significant mistakes in the process. All great innovations have taken this path, and no one is immune to its respective challenges. Google isn’t losing the future, it’s adapting to the present, and doing so in ways none of us on this thread possibly could. I don’t disagree that Google’s approaches can be myopic (like its ad edict, or its new direction for curated search), but I also see it continuing to innovate in ways that go well beyond the web page or the search box (smart grid, open source dev, application rollups, etc.).

  2. Investigate Google

    Google’s biggest bait and switch is search. Now they turned it in pay-per-click in e-commerce by banning competitors and promoting their advertisers. On almost all major searches, Google’s advertisers occupy the top 10 spots. Matt Cutts and Amit Singhal say “it’s beautiful,” and no doubt it is, they are shareholders.

  3. > Finally, with a disturbing inevitability, it launches its own competing product that steps in and replace yours.

    This is exactly what killed Yahoo as I predicted it would back in the 90s. We were doing personals, buying hundreds of thousand of dollars in advertising from them and they started to compete.

  4. Marc Schulman

    It will only get worse now that Google is about to institute there new organic search, where there goal is to give answers, instead of providing links to get the answers. They will be effectively cutting off all the web sites that provide information. I work with all three, Apple, Google and Microsoft but Google is the one who has a policy not to give any customer service to its “partners” . Sometimes you can get lucky and find a real person but its only if you are lucky

  5. Karthik Karuppannan

    This article seems biased. I have concerns with Google’s privacy issues, but other than that I don’t see any merit in any of the above complaints, especially with regard to their technology. Facebook and Apple are the real evils with their open APIs and their walled gardens. GAE takes care of scaling/loan-balancing, so they require you to adhere to their APIs. AWS, Azure or any other guys do not provide auto-scaling and you have to do some plumbing work to get scale your app. there’s always trade-off, and you cannot just blame GAE.

  6. Most of Google products are a design mess (have a look at the new Gmail and feel free to puke over your keyboard). The failures are also piling up..Google+ (utter disaster with the Vick Gandotra clown), String of bad acquisitions (Googrola is a disaster in waiting), DOJ probe and now roughing up their most valuable advertisers…the Developers.

    Clearly, this is the beginning of the mediocre existence. Google will not go under but they sure will join the ranks of utterly mediocre companies.

  7. Damned if the do…

    Go back a couple of years, and note all the articles about Google’s clusterfeck of poorly integrated products that looked like they were designed by engineers. They needed to figure out what they wanted to be “when they grew up,” yep — take a page from Apple.

    Jump forward two years…

  8. Manpreet Singh

    Google is among the best and most transparent platforms to develop out there, not to mention the plethora of services that the users and developers get for free. Sure, they charge and raise prices when they have to. They’re not a non-profit anyway.

    What better platform options do you see anyway? Facebook? Microsoft? Apple?

  9. Jeff Putz

    I generally defend Google on consumer issues, particularly the (non-)privacy issues, but dealing with them as a business is a different animal.

    For example, I use AdSense to pay the bills on a number of Web sites. I allocate inventory and set pricing thresholds based on their performance. So imagine my horror when they say they’re only paying me half of what I allegedly made last month.

    If that wasn’t bad enough, I have no recourse. There are no humans to contact. Short of flying to California and suing them, there’s nothing I can do.

  10. Really ?? Why won’t I build for Google ? Who is giving me better maps API for nothing , till I get to the point where I can afford to build my own infrastructure. Who is giving me developer tools like Closure library for nothing ? Microsoft ? And what makes the Anonymous Founder Guy thinks that Microsoft, Apple , Facebook or Twitter will not get into his territory sooner or later ? Everyone is doing it and I am little disappointed to see this poor quality bitching on Gigaom. If you want to bitch, bitch good, and don’t quote that guy who worked for 3 years with Google as a developer and as a non contributor.

  11. Future Lost

    Google wants to make money NOW, their pages are so full of ads and Google junk it’s sickening. Matt Cutts and other Google spinsters should be ashamed of the lies they tell for money.

  12. Kirk Patrick

    Yup another FUD article courtesy of Microsoft. I thought Microsoft smear campaign against Google has stopped.

    For those who reads this don’t believe what this author said. Research it for yourself be informed with untwisted information.

  13. The idea was to adopt outside technologies, extend DOS to include them, then eliminate as a competitor the original developer of the technology. This was before Microsoft figured out that it actually needed third-party developers.[1]

    Google has one focus, number of eyeballs it can sell to advertisers. Hence if a developer brings eyeballs sooner or later they will try to capture those. Apple has a variety of services and products to sell, hence a focus which spans all “better”. But I would be really surprised if they “open” up SIRI for example, they guard these products and services while Google tries to take over like the good old MS.

    1. Lessons from Redmond

  14. “Google, Google, Google …”
    What’s with the constant Google bashing?! Also “bait and switch” and “drug dealing”?! are you now shilling for their competitors now?

    Also that alleged Page quote was refuted.

    • Ah, the old standby, “bashing!”.

      When meaningful discourse isn’t availble, we trot out the old, “silence the messenger” bit by calling all disagreement, “bashing”.

      It’s the intellectual equivalent of, “Yeah, sez you!”.

  15. Ram Kanda

    Google is big enough and has enough money (and, I think, self awareness) that it can still course correct. They have been innovative in a few key areas (search, mapping, advertising, and online documents) and I think they should stick to what they know. What troubles me a little bit is the scepticism rampant on blogs of James Whittaker. This is a guy who was ON THE GOOGLE+ TEAM. His statements are not hearsay. This is THE guy who should know what their goals were and if they met them. It was indeed conceived as a direct competitor to Facebook and it has failed, despite what Google fans might want to say. It couldn’t be clearer.

    Google is having the problems in the search space that Apple is having in the media space. Their service was so far ahead of competitors and so successful that they now get to name their terms and wield incredible power. Obviously their partners will be on the losing end of negotiations and are left with the option of doing business with the also-rans or giving in.