Google Press Day

You can watch Google Press Day here starting at 9am PST. Stare in shock and awe as the company announces whizzy new revenue-less and incomplete products & services. Watch in amazement as assembled journalists ooh and ahhh at all the pretty Google logos.

As I said last night on CNBC, the trouble with Google’s throw-it-at-the-wall approach is, in part, that software is so seductive. It’s easy to release something (and easier yet with online services). Matter of fact, as the old joke goes, a software product is 80% done the day you start it. It’s just the last 20% that takes two years. In a sense, Google, in its ADD-driven style, is building up a sizable engineering liability here, one that it will eventually have to ‘fess up to.


  1. there has to be a middle ground between Google lite and SAP heavy…what I admire Google and 37Signals and other recent start ups for is they are showing respect for constraints – smaller development teams, smaller demands on users etc. May be too small, but incumbents have kinda got us used to the other extreme…

  2. Agreed Vinnie, but this scattered “Just Ship It” slogan by which Google apparently lives creates its own risks and obligations. I don’t want to return to the dark days of waterfall models, giant teams and endless dev cycles for narrow and expensive enterprise markets, but there are other risks in floating hordes of half-baked ideas for revenue-less consumer markets.

  3. I hear you. I live in the enterprise world and help CIOs negotiate with the SAPs, Oracle, IBMs and Accentures. It is depressing to see the time scales, budgets that corporate users have become conditioned to accepting. If anything with recent focus on compliance, security etc the overhead is just stifling. Even the offshore vendors primarily offer rate arbitrage. They have over engineered methods etc.
    Anything remotely “agile” is a step forward in my mind. I hope your concerns and mine lead to some vendors in the middle ground. When corporate IT spend 15% on compliance and the average s/w vendor spends 40 to 50% on SG&A, there is a lot of fact to be removed in the s/w supply chain…

  4. Paul,
    I think you are being overly cynical.
    The mandate for Google is to leverage the infrastructure. They do that well, and they blend perhaps 20% innovation with 80% me-too copies of known traffic generating applications.
    Google does cull projects that don’t work or aren’t adopted fast enough.
    If in the past year I’d count Google Video, Base, Calendar as very promising, while they’ve also managed large scale updates to maps, AdWords, news, mobile and search.
    Overall, their engineering track record is much more impressive than you make it sound.

  5. Me, cynical? Never.
    More seriously, give me three examples of projects Google has launched and culled. And then given me three examples of new products for which Google has worked out a coherent way to get paid.
    I’m not saying Google is incompetent about engineering. Far from it. I think they’re great. I just know that that the most boring part of a software project is the last 20%, and Google is creating a massive portfolio of internal “last 20%” projects. Not the kind of thing the Mensa sorts at Google are going to find very fun.

  6. brofeld says:

    The problem with google not finishing and revving their secondary products is just plain ill will. The crap I put up with on a daily basis from is bordering on ridiculous. I know it’s free and you can’t bitch about free but…
    Good selection of music on the press day stream though!! pizzicato five ftw.

  7. Franklin Stubbs says:

    Maybe the Googlers are banking on the fact that they still have the good guy mojo and people are willing to wait?
    Meaning, even the incomplete products are intriguing… and they show a lot of potential even if they haven’t reached it yet… so they figure a lot of folks are willing to get ‘stuck in’ and wait for the add-ons to come sooner or later.
    Kind of like gmail… very cool from the moment it rolled out, though lacking in more than a few important features… but folks flocked to it anyway because they realized, correctly, that the missing features would eventually be filled in.
    I’d imagine Google is also differentiating between the demands of sophisticated users and the demands of ordinary users… the bulk of ordinary users probably aren’t as anxious for the high-end upgrades that sophisticated users are anxious for.
    They probably have at least half a dozen PhDs who wrote their doctoral thesis on Game Theory figuring out the best way to maximize strategy in this area.
    If they screw up and fumble, which is certainly possible, I’m guessing it would be more of a rocket scientist type mistake (bad calculation) than a dunderheaded gee whiz type of one…

  8. Google lacks follow through as Paul keeps pointing out. And this I think does come done to the personalities of management handling these products. “Ship early, ship often” is all fine and dandy but you still need to ship a nearly complete product.

  9. This Elliot guy in charge of global communications is one annoying and condescending individual.

  10. “Google lacks follow-through”
    Right. Look, I think Google can prematurely launch broken stuff with the best of them, but if you have any objective sense at all, you’d see that they are very diligent at rapidly improving what they put out there.
    For all the easy pot-shots from Paul, it’s obvious that “release early” is the current best strategy on the Internet. In contrast, a company like Microsoft cannot master this basic approach. Look at their inability to release working products – adCenter is a barely working product, for example – and it doesn’t support Firefox or Mac users!
    Paul challenges me to name products that Google has launched and culled:
    Google Voice search
    Google WebQuotes
    Google Viewer
    Google Compute
    Google X
    These were all covered by the press when they came out, and all were quietly ushered out the back door.
    It’s rather disingenuous to demand that every Google product have some kind of distinct monetization plan. All the products they put out bascially share one thing in common: data / reach. The more data and reach Google has, the more money they will make. If you can’t see that, then there’s no point…
    In any case:
    New products Google gets paid on via more ad inventory:
    Google maps
    To be obstinate and claim that something like Base or Video is not part of a plan to make money is just being disingenuous.
    Google may not perfect the last 20% of any given product for a long time – however, that’s not how the software industry works. Fact is, people expect new features. Ask Microsoft.
    Simple: More is better. Perfect is the enemy of the good.
    Google’s basic plan is: yes – throw stuff up and see what sticks, and maybe we’ll find the next big traffic generator that way. In the meantime, learn and improve as we build our data / reach on the 80% of the internet we touch every day.

  11. John: We don’t disagree on some level — perfect is the enemy of the good, but I’m not asking for perfect. Nevertheless, Google needs to show some service culling, plus major revs on existing services, to convince me, and I’ve seen neither.
    To your cited “services” that Google has “killed”:
    Google Voice search
    – Not a launched service, beta or otherwise. A lab feature at best
    Google WebQuotes
    – A feature, not a service. Never made it out of labs.
    Google Viewer
    – A feature, not a service. Never made it out of labs.
    Google Compute
    – Still alive
    Google X
    – A feature, not a service. Never made it out of labs.

  12. So you’re getting all semantic on me… just because these “throw it out there” services “never made it out of labs” they don’t count. Who knew you bought into the Google nomenclature so much? Besides, as I said, they were all covered by the likes of ZDnet and others…
    On the rest of – say Picasa – Why would Google take anything away that potentiallial thousands of users are using?
    Contrast to your implied model: Stop launching new crap until we fix all the bugs with ‘X’. I don’t think that stands up.
    Seriously, haven’t maps, gmail, news, base, adwords, sitemaps, and search all been through “major revs” in the past year. I think they have.
    I don’t think Google is any worse at finishing off the last 20% than any other software organization. They are probably better – due to the constant exposure and use that even their most minor stuff gets.

  13. Hey John — Killing products that haven’t been launched isn’t really very meaningful, which is my whole point.
    Anyway, we apparently disagree on this one.

  14. Richard says:

    I don’t know if Google break it down by product yet, but the ‘coherent way to get paid’ is clear enough, eyeballs -> adwords -> $. Sure it’s not great diversity wise, but it seems to be working.

  15. Paul,
    one look at alexa stats will show that Yahoo being #1, gets 53% of traffic via mail and 9% via search. Rest is scattered in single digits.
    Now a look at google reveals, 84% from search and 8% from mail. Only way Google can become #1 is increasing the traffic on other google services. Like say finance or calendar or homepage. If google isn’t offering products in some of these areas, it will lose the attention and mindshare to Yahoo or MSN. Its this last 20% of attention or mindshare which is driving these products.
    The whole point is absence of services in any one area, for example social networking ( vs orkut) can become the trojan horse, which drives the momentum towards other products.

  16. I think the challenge is Google’s singular focus leads to their view of this “spaghetti innovation” to be a neccessary evil.
    Google has one goal and one goal only – and they’ve never been shy to share it:
    “Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
    The result is Google spends a lot of time coming up with methods and systems to make data accessible. With search they were fortunate – crawlers could easily peruse the public web and build up their datastores but elements like email, calendars, word processing & spreadsheets were all out of reach, so they bought or brought tools to market to get that information off the desktop and within reach of their servers.
    Blogger is an example of Google trying to capture that information and then finding an easier way. Because RSS has taken off like wildfire they no longer needed a platform where they could “own” and have free access to the content of the blogosphere and I’d bet dollars to donuts the effort that would have been spent on got shifted over to Blog Search.
    Their language tools are another example – I did a blog post a while ago about where I think Google is headed with their translation tools ( – they actually have one of the best machine translation systems in the world. My hunch is there’s no direct monetization plans – language is a major barrier to providing users with the most complete search results (autmatically translated search results could easily result in a factor 5 or 6 increase in results)
    Individually their actions seem pretty random – but under the big umbrella of their vision I think there’s a whole lot of method to their “madness”.