November 17, 2013

Google's Decline Really Bugs Me

Google is going down the drain.

That isn't to say they aren't fantastically successful. They are. I still use their products, mostly because I don't put things on the internet I don't want other people to find, and I'm not female, so I don't have to worry about misogynists stalking me. They still make stupendous amounts of money and pump out some genuinely good software. They still have the best search engine. Like Microsoft, they'll be a force to be reckoned with for many decades to come.

Google, however, represented an ideal. They founded the company with the motto "Don't Be Evil", and the unspoken question was, how long would this last? The answer, oddly enough, was "until Larry Page took over".

In its early years, Google unleashed the creativity of the brilliant people it hired to the world and came up with a slew of fantastic products that were a joy to use. Google made huge contributions to the open-source world and solved scalability problems with an elegance that has yet to be surpassed. They famously let engineers use 20% of their time to pursue their own interests, and the result was an unstoppable tidal wave of innovation. Google was, for a brief moment, a shining beacon of hope, a force of good in a bleak world of corporations only concerned with maximizing profit.

Then Larry Page became CEO. Larry Page worshiped Steve Jobs, who gave him a bunch of bad advice centered around maximizing profit. The result was predictable and catastrophic, as the entire basis of what had made Google so innovative was destroyed for the sake of maximizing profit. Now it's just another large company - only concerned about maximizing profit.

Google was a company that, for a time, I loved. To me, they represented the antithesis of Microsoft, a rebellion against a poisonous corporate culture dominated by profiteering that had no regard for its users. Google was just a bunch of really smart people trying to make the world a better place, and for a precious few years, they succeeded - until it all came tumbling down. Like an artist whose idol has become embroiled in a drug abuse scandal, I have lost my guiding light.

Google was largely the reason I wanted to start my own company, even if college kept me from doing so. As startup culture continued to suck the life out of silicon valley, I held on to Google as an ideal, an example of the kind of company I wanted to build instead of a site designed to sort cat photos. A company that made money because it solved real problems better than everyone else. A company that respected good programming practices, using the right tool for the job, and the value of actually solving a problem instead of just throwing more code at it.

Google was a company that solved problems first, and made money second.

Now, it has succumbed to maximizing stock price for a bunch of rich wall street investors who don't care about anything other than filling their own pockets with as much cash as they possibly can. Once again, the rest of the world is forced to sit around, waiting until an investor accidentally makes the world a better place in the process of trying to make as much money as possible.

Most people think this is the only way to get things done. For a precious few years, I could point to Google and say otherwise. Now, it has collapsed, and its collapse has made me doubt my own resolve. If Google, of all companies, couldn't maintain that idealistic vision, was it even possible?

Google gave me a reason to believe that humanity could do better. That we could move past a Wall Street that has become nothing more than a rotting cesspool of greed and corruption.

Now, Google has fallen, along with the ideal it encompassed. Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? Or is it a train, a force of reality come to remind us that no matter how much we reach for utopia, we will be sentenced to drown in our own greed?