I speak a ton about how Google is largely a company that’s in perpetual beta, and how frustrating that can be for me as an avid user of its services and hardware. It has a vision of reaching the next billion users and with millions of new people coming online for the first time in their lives each week, that’s a pretty ambitious goal. To do this, Google wants to put people at the center of the helpful and inclusive products it builds, but in my personal experience, this feels contradictory to its approach to design.
It’s a company that innovates at breakneck speeds, and as you probably already know, innovation hardly ever (if ever) waits for stability, so most Google services and products tend to be buggy, inconsistent and frustrating, despite their helpfulness. I’ve seen this most in its smart home technology, and I complain about it often. Basically, its ever-shifting approach to design and the fact that it’s in its infancy with many of its endeavors means that there is and never will be a consistent user experience.
I’m not saying it’s easy to build something that billions of users of varying cultures, use-cases, ages, and so on will find useful, so I applaud Google’s approach, even though I often find it infuriating and disagree with it. On some level, I admire that it’s constantly exploring new avenues, keeping up with the times (and often being way ahead of them), and never putting all of its eggs in one basket, even though these things have serious ramifications for the everyday, casual user. After all, nothing really knows what it wants to be right when it’s created, and everything evolves over time to become the best it can be.
Despite this admiration, I do think that Google could benefit from finding new ways to reinstate its personal connection with its users and to reinvigorate and retain that sense of grassroots that it was built and initially operated on. There’s no denying that the company has grown well beyond that, even becoming one of the most important innovators and influencers of the culture of the 21st century, but if it can find a way to make its adoring fans and users feel like they still matter beyond just being just a number, then I think it’s going to achieve something that’s never really been done before.
It can be said that with the introduction of the Google Assistant, Google has attempted to template or bottle this personal connection so that it could distribute it to billions of people, taking the weight of this effort off of its shoulders, but on some level, this feels like only half of the equation. The company itself still needs to have and exude that same sentiment and when users look at how it handles their concerns and how they develop around their needs, they need to feel heard and that these products are still designed specifically for them. At this time, I don’t feel as though Google does this well, but that’s just my opinion.
Despite this, I believe that its goal of reaching the next billion users will be achieved for several reasons. First, it has excellent documentation that’s mostly kept up to date, and the community as a whole supports each other out of a passion for the company’s products and services, so it kind of has free, baked-in tech support that runs itself and keeps itself afloat.
Not only that, but when you’re sitting on a mountain of cash, you hardly have to care about what people think when you’re creating something, even if you’re “creating it for the users”. I’m not saying that’s their heart on the matter, but I do think that the culture at Google has taken on this form, even if the people that make it up wish for the opposite. A well-oiled machine is still a machine, right?
Maybe it should consider slowing its growth a bit to be certain it doesn’t self-destruct or abandon those who gave it legs and a voice in the first place. Maybe it just needs to be more strategic than it has been around that explosive growth. I’m just not sure. Today, I’m just giving you all my thoughts in a stream of consciousness in hopes that we can begin a discussion around these concerns. All I do know is that its current trajectory isn’t sustainable, as proven by the giants that came before it. Those giants have fallen, and if Google continues to stand on their shoulders, it won’t be high off of the ground.
Google has become very good at creating commercials that give you warm fuzzies, but I don’t exactly see that same heart or effort reflected in the way it executes on its products and vision – not all the time. I understand that this growth and maturing process it’s going through as a company takes time, but at what point do we learn to separate the emotion from the action it takes? It can be deceiving, but I think we need to be intentional and hold Google accountable in this way. Call it to deliver on its promises, make better attempts to release functional products that need fewer iterations before they’re usable even on a foundational level, and even to commit to its efforts even after it sees them flounder a bit.
Instead of canceling things, and then waiting five years before releasing another reincarnated version of it, evolving them in real-time as it’s so good at doing. I mean, if it’s going to go at a breakneck speed anyway, and if it’s not going to take any of my above advice in stride, then maybe it should use that weakness as a strength. I’m presenting two paths here, even though I’m aware that one contradicts the other.
What I’m trying to get at is that the rate of its growth and its vision for deep, intentional impact on so many lives feel at odds with one another because, at its very core, Google is a for-profit company. I may be one of the naive ones who truly believe that it’s possible that it can have its cake and eat it too. If anyone can do it, it’s Google, but it’s also on the brink of that identity and can mess it up incredibly easily at this point in time, so it has some decisions to make.
When I think about how quickly Google “sunsets” or abandons projects and ports the DNA of the vision of everything it has canned into new endeavors, I am told to see innovation at its finest, and I do, but I also see rapidly waning trust. Billions of people rely on the company’s services to do business, make money, and change lives all around the globe. In the past, at least its core products like Search, News, Gmail, and so on have remained largely unchanged and unwavering in their identity and ethics, and that’s created a sense of comfort in a rapidly changing, and terrifying tech world for so many.
Today, however, even beyond the uncertainty surrounding Google Stadia, among many of the other big pieces that are in play, even those core services are compromising on their vision and values, and that is what rips the rug out from under people’s feet. Not only that, but for the next billion users who just aren’t familiar with technology, Google needs to do better to provide a familiar, safe space that may be ever-changing but refuses to alter its foundation. To date, I feel as though that foundation is beginning to shift and break down, and that’s where I mostly take issue. I’ve said a lot here, and there’s plenty of food for thought, but I really want to hear yours. Many of us love Google’s tools and products, and I’m sure we all feel a certain way about the company’s approach over the past few years, and I want to pass the mic to you and give you a space to discuss.