James Whittaker: Why he left Google.

James Whittaker on why he left Google.

Choice cuts:

It wasn’t an easy decision to leave Google. During my time there I became fairly passionate about the company. I keynoted four Google Developer Day events, two Google Test Automation Conferences and was a prolific contributor to the Google testing blog. Recruiters often asked me to help sell high priority candidates on the company.

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.

Under Eric Schmidt ads were always in the background. Google was run like an innovation factory, empowering employees to be entrepreneurial through founder’s awards, peer bonuses and 20% time. Our advertising revenue gave us the headroom to think, innovate and create.

Think about this for a minute before you read on: This guy was all-in on Google. All-in.

It turns out that there was one place where the Google innovation machine faltered and that one place mattered a lot: competing with Facebook.

Google could still put ads in front of more people than Facebook, but Facebook knows so much more about those people. Advertisers and publishers cherish this kind of personal information, so much so that they are willing to put the Facebook brand before their own.

This is the war Google has been fighting for years, and losing…in their core business: advertising.

Larry Page himself assumed command to right this wrong. Social became state-owned, a corporate mandate called Google+. It was an ominous name invoking the feeling that Google alone wasn’t enough. Search had to be social. Android had to be social. You Tube, once joyous in their independence, had to be … well, you get the point. Even worse was that innovation had to be social.

I know just what he’s talking about. As soon as corporate doesn’t listen to, and work with, engineering things go south, especially if engineering provides your core business.

Suddenly, 20% meant half-assed. Google Labs was shut down. App Engine fees were raised. APIs that had been free for years were deprecated or provided for a fee.

I have written about this before (no link, just scroll down): This is a bad idea, and companies like Apple, Yelp and Foursquare are jumping ship.

Officially, Google declared that “sharing is broken on the web” and nothing but the full force of our collective minds around Google+ could fix it.

As it turned out, sharing was not broken. Sharing was working fine and dandy, Google just wasn’t part of it.

I could’ve told them that. Google’s public image is not “social”, it’s “search” and “ads”. It will take more than forcing their users into Google+ (and counting a YouTube visit the wrong way), to get people to use G+ – unless you’re Robert Scoble.

I couldn’t even get my own teenage daughter to look at Google+ twice, “social isn’t a product,” she told me after I gave her a demo, “social is people and the people are on Facebook.” Google was the rich kid who, after having discovered he wasn’t invited to the party, built his own party in retaliation. The fact that no one came to Google’s party became the elephant in the room.

…and this, in a nutshell, is what I’m talking about above. Google has no idea how to do social. They’re getting killed by Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and the likes.

When Gmail displays ads based on things I type into my email message it creeps me out.

Perhaps Google is right. Perhaps the future lies in learning as much about people’s personal lives as possible. Perhaps Google is a better judge of when I should call my mom and that my life would be better if I shopped that Nordstrom sale. Perhaps if they nag me enough about all that open time on my calendar I’ll work out more often. Perhaps if they offer an ad for a divorce lawyer because I am writing an email about my 14 year old son breaking up with his girlfriend I’ll appreciate that ad enough to end my own marriage. Or perhaps I’ll figure all this stuff out on my own.

Google is wrong on all of this. They need to get back to what they do well, or they won’t matter in a few years.
Others are cutting them off their main revenue stream. Just look at Siri, which I wrote about a few posts down. This is high noon for Google, and I don’t think they (corporate) know.

Read the whole blog post here. It’s well worth it.


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