Saturday, May 23, 2009

Google's Growing Pains

I've always been a huge fan of Google.  I use iGoogle, Gmail, Chrome, Google Reader, Google News, Blogger and even Google Voice.  I've watched them grow from a quirky search engine in 1999 where less was more to become a verb and the leader in technology and innovation.

Through out their glorious rise and ambitious plans to change American Business and society, I've been an ardent supporter and admirer.

However, lately I've begin to see a few signs that their growth and seemingly monstrous size (20,000 employees) are starting to take a toll.  I also wonder if it's not difficult for the founders of the company to stay focused on world domination when tempting diversions like flying your own private military jet are sitting within in a 10 minute drive from the office.

The end of Google?  Hardly, but I think the culture must be changing because I'm seeing some aspects of the company that in the past would probably not have been acceptable.

Usability is a big thing to Google and is one of the reasons I use so many of their products.  Google has always approached development and interfaces in a very zen like manner.  This leaves the user feeling as if the programs are an extension of their thoughts as opposed to a complicated tool they must get training on to operate.

In the past year or so, I've begin to see instances where Google's normally outstanding approach to usability have seemed to slip.  Google Bookmarks is easily the best example with Google Reader coming in second.  Each one is usable, but not nearly as intuitive as they should be and in some areas almost impossible to manage.  How do you add a label to a bookmark?  You used to be able to use a simple text box, but that has been replaced with some odd process that a user must click around on to discover.  It isn't impossible, but it's a far cry from Google's typical user interfaces.

Usability aside, recently I noticed what I would consider a large faux pas by the Internet giant that truly shows their age.  Google has been doing custom logos for a while now and they've always been met with delight because of their ingenious ways of incorporating the logo in a relevant picture.  On May 20, 2009 Google put up a logo of a fossil.  I thought it was weird, so I hovered over the logo to see what the search would be if I clicked on it.  It was the recently announced Darwinius masillae or as some news agencies are calling it, the missing link.  

This was extremely odd for a few reasons.  

First, Google was clearly choosing a side in a political discussion.  Darwin represents evolution, which for some reason has become a debatable topic among American politics.  Regardless how you feel about evolution vs. creationism, to do a logo clearly showing support of a political point of view seemed odd to me for a company that seems to be very sensitive to not engendering negative feelings.  I wonder if there are any Google employees that believe in creationism and how they felt when they saw the logo.  

Secondly and probably the most disturbing to me, Google was being rash in their support of a such a fossil.  How many times has the missing link been found only to later been debunked as a hoax in American history?  A lot.  And considering some of the circumstances surrounding this particular fossil (i.e. it had two separate parts that were later joined together with one part being the crucial piece proving evolution) I wouldn't be surprised if this fossil later ends up being a complete fraud.  Google with all of their PhD's and rational thinkers should recognize this fact and maybe hold off on celebrating a fossil not yet proving the evolution of man.  The consequences of such may seem minor, but in my eyes it demonstrates another example of Google slipping a little.

I wouldn't short Google's stock or anything, but it is interesting to watch history repeat itself as another idealistic contender begins to make the same mistakes of those who went before them.

1 comment:

Rachel said...

I like your post. I too am a googler, gmailer & blogger. Although, I am somewhat miffed at the google docs. I tried to put all my word and excel info into google docs so that most everything I have is a one stop shop, but when printed out it's not the same layout as when I printed it off from my desktop and isn't "viewer friendly". They haven't perfected it or maybe I'm wanting it to be something it's not yet suppose to be....either way I'm not going to stray from google just yet. Enjoyed the post! Hope you and the fam are doing well!