People often wonder why Google has launched multiple social networks, and countless products, only to have them wither and die.
I think people are confused about Google’s failures because they’re confused about what Google actually is. At times I count Google among those who don’t understand this.
At its heart, Google is an advertising company that puts all its effort into engineering.
They have more of the smartest engineers than anyone, and they’re focused on the hard problem of remaining the best in the world at search. And they are so good at their core business, and so dominant, that it’s like they don’t even have competition.
One side-effect of their massive and brilliant engineering team is side projects. They’re famous for them.
This is where an engineer, or a team of them, will be working to solve problem X in search, and they will in the process build something that helps them accomplish that goal. Or maybe they’re just tinkering around in their 20% time. Doesn’t matter.
The point is that great projects just fall off of Google as a byproduct of having the largest and smartest team of engineers working on their advertising framework.
This is where the industry makes the mistake. They see all these interesting projects coming out of Google, and they immediately think:
Wow, Google is a product company! I can’t wait to see how they compete with Microsoft and Apple in home automation or entertainment or in the enterprise!
It’s not just common folks that are confused about this. It seems like Google steps in the trap as well.
Someone tells them that Facebook is popular, so they build Google+ as if they’re a company that builds and curates ecosystems.
The non-ad-focused products that come out of Google are nothing but brilliant debris flying off of their unbelievably dominant advertising company.
They’re so smart, and so talent-rich, that when they write a simple little tool for solving a problem on their ad platform, it’s good enough to look like a product from another company.
The disconnect comes in the lack of everything around that product. Other companies create products that aren’t nearly as crisp or brilliant as theirs, but they drop them into a strategic context that includes integration into existing offerings, marketing, long-term support, etc.
Google doesn’t, because it’s not their business. Their business is selling ads.
So when people say that Google’s Reader project failed, or that Google+ isn’t nearly as good as Facebook, they’re missing the point.
Reader “failed” because it was some random project that got out of hand and stopped being worth their time as an advertisement company. And Google+ is ultimately a massive digression from what they’re best at—selling ads.
Seen in this lighting, Google doesn’t look like a company with lots of small bets that failed. It looks like what it actually is—a terrifically brilliant advertising company that produces scraps that look better than most company’s actual products.
But don’t confuse it…they’re just scraps.
Google isn’t failing at being a product and ecosystem company: it’s succeeding at being an advertising company.