Apparently this past week was a good one for Dear John letters to your former employers, because James Whittaker, who left Google for Microsoft, has posted his take on why he left. Read it yourself, but as far as I can tell, his argument is basically that Google shouldn’t have thrown so many resources into Google+, and that the trend of gathering more information about users via their social networking leads to overly invasive ads.
I think he’s right that Google+ is pretty obviously a fizzle so far, and it’s doubtful that it will succeed simply because there’s just limited market space for social networking in general, since each social network requires a huge number of people to participate in order to be worthwhile. That said, I think Google had to give some kind of integrated social networking a shot, since they already had millions of users with Google accounts and sites like YouTube, Picasa and Reader that all had some kind of stand-alone social networking component.
But what I see in Google isn’t too much Google+ or too many ads (those are always going to be with us if we’re going to get free services from any provider), but rather a lack of innovation. Google’s list of great products includes search, Gmail, Maps, Chrome and Android. Lately, there’s not only Google+, but Google Music, Video and Books (which have been bundled together under the name “Google Play”). Google+ has a bit of innovation with hangouts and circles, but Play is strictly a me-too offering, and it’s tanking just like Google+.
When I started to use Google search, I was amazed at how good it was compared to the other alternatives. Gmail was so much better than any other web-based email at its time of introduction that having an invite was a big deal. Maps was remarkably better than the competition at the time (and still is), Chrome was the best browser on the day it was launched, and even with its fragmentation, Android’s integration with Google Mail, Calendar and its maps and navigation are standouts. The same can’t be said of Google’s latest product offerings, yet they seem to be devoting a huge amount of time and energy to developing and promoting them.
The deai with being a Googlebot has always been that you tolerate the ads in return for using incredibly good products for free. Whittaker seems to think that ads are the deal-breaker, but for me, the deal-breaker will be spending the time of one of the best engineering teams on earth grinding out me-too copies of Amazon, iTunes or Facebook.
(h/t reader MW)