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The Changing Face of Google

Gordon Kelly



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.


July 24, 2011, 6:43 pm

Innocent or Innocence?


July 25, 2011, 3:54 am

A highly philosophical question!

Though I suspect you just spotted a typo?


July 25, 2011, 8:25 pm

Yes, on the front-page no less, though as with most typos, by the time this comment gets approved, it'll probably be fixed :)

(As an aside, very much enjoying these frequent opinion pieces - though he'll be missed on news, I think Gordon's new role makes up for this.)


July 26, 2011, 5:17 am

Very kind Pbryanw. I cannot say opinion pieces will always be quite as frequent as they are currently, but they should certainly be at least weekly. The aim being to cherry pick and analyse the most interesting topic of the week's news.

Daniel Gerson

July 29, 2011, 5:02 pm

A very good piece of writing.

I think it's incredibly challenging for big companies to keep their corporate culture. Fortunately/unfortunately most big companies will fail with time. It's simply too difficult to be bold when designing products by committee. The path to either dinosaur, graveyard or alternatively being bought out by a new rising star seems inevitable by a corporations own design.

Having said that I think Google has faired better than most. I think practices such as their 20% alternative work week have been paramount here. How many companies do you know that practice this or even have copied Google here? So I think Google might be on form for as long as the original shareholders are inside the business.

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