Google, it's kerrrazy. The wacky primary colours in its logo, the eccentric doodles, the constant beta products, the new age offices, the informal "don't be evil" company motto. Google is a breath of fresh air across a stagnant corporate landscape, a business determined to do things differently. Or is it?
On Thursday Google announced it is shutting down Labs. "While we’ve learned a huge amount by launching very early prototypes in Labs, we believe that greater focus is crucial if we’re to make the most of the extraordinary opportunities ahead," said Google SVP for Research and Systems Infrastructure Bill Coughran. He justified the decision saying the company was now "prioritizing our product efforts" wanting "more wood behind fewer arrows".
Dodgy metaphors aside Labs' experimental features will remain in Gmail and Maps, but the wider closure is just the latest example of a sea change going on at the company. An evolution from the fun loving, trend setting, hippy business that started its life in a friend's garage and down a path determined to emphasise corporate accountability and responsibility. The change has been coming for some time.
The hints first came with Chrome. Google's browser had been on the market for just 100 days when it was launched out of beta in December 2008. Contrast that with Gmail which took five years and three months to toss its beta tags – some seven months after Chrome. The intention was clear: corporations don't like beta products and their approval was now paramount. Google VP Marissa Mayer admitted as much speaking to Le Web in 2008. She confirmed the motivation was to enable OEMs to ship Chrome preinstalled on PCs. If Google was to appeal to corporations it needed to behave more like them.
The biggest change came this year. In January, while unveiling its fourth quarter earnings, Google announced long term CEO Eric Schmidt would step down to be replaced by Google co-founder Larry Page. From April Schmidt would move to the role of Executive Chairman, focusing externally on deals, partnerships and broader business relationships. Page's fellow co-founder Sergey Brin would alter his role to spend more hands-on time developing new products.
"We've been talking about how best to simplify our management structure and speed up decision making for a long time," said Schmidt's official statement. "By clarifying our individual roles we'll create clearer responsibility and accountability at the top of the company. In my clear opinion, Larry is ready to lead and I'm excited about working with both him and Sergey for a long time to come."
The key words here? Yes: responsibility and accountability.