Sunday, May 23, 2010

Why on Earth do We Trust Google?

Of all the companies in the world, which ones would you admit to trusting? It seems compulsory to hate big companies these days. The bigger they are the more people feel obliged to mistrust and fear them. Many times it is for good reason. The tendency of companies to ignore the needs of their people and the potential for abusive actions to make bigger profits, makes us all wary and down right sceptical. We do not even trust the list of ‘most ethical companies’ asking who is qualified to make up those lists anyway? Who really puts their trust into the magazines that the companies advertise in?

However, in a discussion about companies and their nefarious pasts which included some of the giants like Nestle, Pfizer, Philip Morris and many others, Google’s name came up but with out the vehemence and stories that the others evoked. Google is big and everyone has to notice an elephant when he wants to stand next to you. It’s a primal fear of just getting crushed but if he stands there long enough, he’s just one of us after a while.
Google Earth knows a lot about our location, our homes and the search engine knows even more about our lives and our interests. That makes people feel like they should be wary but they can’t quite muster up any real worry about it. Instead of us really believing that Google is “Big Brother” with the power to control and dominate us, we seem to feel like Google is “little brother” watching, observing, imitating and learning. It tags along almost everywhere we go now, but it’s not noisy, it doesn’t spoil our dates and sometimes it’s down right useful. The final note of the dialogues that I have been in lately is always the same: that for the average man Google is pretty good.

Google the Good makes our lives simpler. In a world of harried people where the news of the future is often complicated or fear inducing Google quietly helps us get through the day. It may be funny to think about it but we do trust Google. Recently, I began to ask myself why this was. Even though it is a mammoth entity with a great deal of power and even more access to our lives than government, Google is not that scary. They haven’t hurt us yet. They show no inclination to do so. Am I being na├»ve?

Admittedly, I do not have all the information. There is too much to get my head around. However, the information that I do have is pretty meaningful to me. Ranking first in the order of important facts is that they hired Dr. Larry Brilliant. Although he just retired, I think he likes to ally with like minds and good spirits and I think it unlikely that he could be easily fooled.

The initial entrepreneurial approach of Google seems to me to have been like trying to control an explosion that had no timing device but the founders sure tried and succeeded. Brin and Page knew that they had something amazing on their hands –like a key but they had to find the lock. They had a powerful insight into one half of what makes business work. They had a service that could propel the search for information. It took trial and error to find out how to plug in the tool that they had discovered. I guess that is not all they had in the beginning. They had access to a good network of minds- professors, literature and family support as well in terms of knowledge and feedback. They were at the right place (Stanford) at the right time in history. Venture capitalists were continually sniffing around then for the next great advance in IT.

I would call their entrepreneurial approach careful. Like many brilliant people they were conscious of what they did not know which as young men was a lot. They were forced to rely on their basic values to guide them in a world where everyone was pushing them in one direction or another mostly with dollar signs behind their motives.

They had a strong sense about how to treat people and they worked from the old adage to treat people as they would want to be treated and this, in no small part, led to their massive success.

Just look at their original motto: Don’t be evil. They knew that they had great power in their hands and they set one rule for the guidance of all. That’s a lot like “if it’s wrong don’t do it”. If you think about it, that should be enough for most of us. Their motto indicates to me that they were less cocky than has been attributed to them. They did not see themselves as “do gooders” but as decent men with a desire to make the most of what they had found. In addition, they offered their product to most of us for free and that allows us to be patient with them and allow them to improve with time – after all it isn’t costing us anything!

They were good to their friend and employees. That counts for something. (For the people who wanted a job from them and didn’t get one- its time to get over the grudge).

It makes perfect sense to me that they were trying to guide ‘their baby’ from the cradle to maturity and not hand it over to corporate daycare. They were guided by their values when they discovered a business model that worked far better than anyone could imagine. Targeted ads were every marketer’s dream fulfilled. They offered their valuable product for the use of the masses for free (like the original business model for TV) and they billed the advertisers. They were careful in every step and they needed to be because they were unleashing a force that would change the world. They kept everything as close to the vest as possible just as those that had found a diamond mine might. I do not believe that they would ever have gone public but that their initial generosity and initial need for capital forced their hand. I think this is very different from the planned and almost forced growth of Starbucks. They simply aimed and held on for the ride while doing their best to keep innovating.

As a mother of grown gifted kids, I am not surprised that they were once deemed customer unfriendly. That is simply a manifestation of the founder's own personalities. They did not see any upside to fame. They had too many balls in the air of innovation to want to stop for the things that they were ambivalent about. Just as the venture capitalists diagnosed their lack of knowledge and skill in organizational business matters and suggested a CEO, they also should have noted their ambivalence to ANY business model. They were not comfortable asking people for money. That ambivalence led to a better business model that changed the way business itself does work. Gifted kids tend to care about morality. They see the big picture and don’t always understand why others do not see what they see. Once they understood their limitations - Google the good was on track!

They do continue to innovate. Recently, they created a disruptive business model that will change the business again. It has been called the ‘less than free’ business model. Google’s free navigation feature is crushing GPS device businesses like Garmon and TomTom but that was not their real goal. By offering the service to cell phone users, they gain more data about every area of the planet and may be able to offer even more tailored advertising by location! To do so, Google will pay people to use their operating system. Anyone like Dell or HP that builds a notebook based on Google Chrome will create a revenue stream from advertising splits. WOW!

Google now has built an empire that is amazing to all. It is now trading at $562 as share with market capitalization of almost $179 billion. Not bad for a business that started less than 20 years ago. They are still guiding their baby and it’s just my guess but I think they want it to be an energy giant when it grows up.

Google people breathe the same air we do. They even give tracking capacity on the state of forests which help to generate our oxygenated air free to tropical countries to help preserve their forests. They understand that poor people have to use what they have unless someone gives them a better alternative. They also understand that finding a truly clean, inexpensive power source for the planet is a great thing.

To its efforts concerning green-energy vs. coal, I say BRAVO! I went on their website and they seem to be invested in the idea of harvesting power from the earth’s core and they suggest that it is feasible and practical for the large scale. Google Earth probably has no trouble translating the effects of the huge coal fired industries -in India (which has a wealth of coal and little in terms of power sources) and in China- on the environment through their day to day data. If they can show my house, they can see the pollution in Bombay and Beijing and measure its consequences. Perhaps Google will become an energy giant after all. If it does, I bet it will be trustworthy.

Hartley, R. F., (2009) Marketing Mistakes and Successes, 11ed. Online version
Gurley, B. Google Redefines Disruption: The “Less Than Free” Business Model

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