James Whittaker: Why I left Google

“It wasn’t an easy decision to leave Google. During my time there I became fairly passionate about the company. I keynoted four Google Developer Day events, two Google Test Automation Conferences and was a prolific contributor to the Google testing blog. Recruiters often asked me to help sell high priority candidates on the company. No one had to ask me twice to promote Google and no one was more surprised than me when I could no longer do so. In fact, my last three months working for Google was a whirlwind of desperation, trying in vain to get my passion back,” James Whittaker blogs for JW on Tech.

“The Google I was passionate about was a technology company that empowered its employees to innovate,” Whittaker explains. “The Google I left was an advertising company with a single corporate-mandated focus. Technically I suppose Google has always been an advertising company, but for the better part of the last three years, it didn’t feel like one. Google was an ad company only in the sense that a good TV show is an ad company: having great content attracts advertisers.”

Whittaker writes, “It turns out that there was one place where the Google innovation machine faltered and that one place mattered a lot: competing with Facebook. Informal efforts produced a couple of antisocial dogs in Wave and Buzz… Larry Page himself assumed command to right this wrong. Social became state-owned, a corporate mandate called Google+. It was an ominous name invoking the feeling that Google alone wasn’t enough. Search had to be social. Android had to be social. You Tube, once joyous in their independence, had to be … well, you get the point. Even worse was that innovation had to be social. Ideas that failed to put Google+ at the center of the universe were a distraction.”

“Officially, Google declared that ‘sharing is broken on the web’ and nothing but the full force of our collective minds around Google+ could fix it,” Whittaker explains. “As it turned out, sharing was not broken. Sharing was working fine and dandy, Google just wasn’t part of it. People were sharing all around us and seemed quite happy. A user exodus from Facebook never materialized. I couldn’t even get my own teenage daughter to look at Google+ twice, ‘social isn’t a product,’ she told me after I gave her a demo, ‘social is people and the people are on Facebook.’ Google was the rich kid who, after having discovered he wasn’t invited to the party, built his own party in retaliation. The fact that no one came to Google’s party became the elephant in the room.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: We just popped over to Google+ (hadn’t been there in months). It’s like a totally empty, lavishly furnished luxury hotel. While looking at lots of white emptiness, we have half expected Jack Nicholson to axe his way through our screens, stick his head through and announce, “Here’s Johnny!”

21 Comments

  1. Gee, I’m surprised that Google+ is so empty. After all, Google hired the Muppets to promote it. Nothing like using characters from middle-aged people’s childhood to attract young social media users.

    1. At first I was pissed that +1 button was showing up on porn websites where I could accidentally publish my fetish of Japanese nurses in stockings crushing things with their high heels (j/k). But now I know that no one would see it.

  2. In an attempt to stave off the inevitable “WTF? This isn’t GoogleDailyNews!” type comments, the reason why this article is relevant is because Google is one of Apple’s primary competitors, and this article shines an important light on the ways Google has been changing in response to competing with Apple in earnest.

    This is stuff any Apple fan needs to know, as it helps us make sense of the moves Google has been making recently, and the fact that those moves reflect significant changes to the way Google previously used to operate.

    And I know few here will want to hear positive words about our favorite former Apple board member, Eric T. Mole, but based on this article it sure sounds like Whittaker misses him being the CEO of Google. The changes Larry Page has made since becoming CEO sound like attempts (possibly a poor ones) to emulate Apple, and may perhaps be directly related to the advice Jobs gave to the Google founders before he died.

    All of which hopefully illustrates why this article is indeed relevant to us here.

    1. Larry trying to take a page out of Steve’s play book but failing miserably. You can’t replicate Steve’s or Apple’s DNA that Steve built no matter how hard you try. In fact the harder you try the less you are able to grasp what makes Apple tick. It’s not just design elegance but how the whole is melded together by great software at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts.

      1. I actually refuse to get a gmail account or register with youtube. I refuse to be constantly tracked by google an give up what privacy that is left in the online world, which is also why I utilize whatever anti-tracking functions are available in my browsers. If everyone did this, Google would be out of business tomorrow, as their ability to track you is the only value they bring to their advertisers.

    1. You’d better watch out, buddy. One o’ these days soon you’ll be doing real work on a sleek, Flash-running, 7″ Android device because that iFad crap will be history. It’s just a toy. You just watch. I don’t want to say I told ya’ so, but…

  3. I wonder if Steve gave them bad advice on purpose, while on his deathbed. How cool would that be? Seriously, though, if one reads the Jony Ive interview about Apple and this blog about Google, the differences in the companies become so obvious. Apple never makes anything to make money. They make things to make them simpler, prettier and better for the user, hence the sale of real polished products and not perpetual betas, geared to fleece the end user of their souls so that they can target advertising. I love the way Google markets this soul stealing as a feature.

  4. “We just popped over to Google+ (hadn’t been there in months). It’s like a totally empty…” I have to disagree with you MacDailyNews. I use G+ heavily and my G+ stream is alive and kicking (far from empty.) I’ve always felt that the enemy is Facebook, not Google. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to give up my iPhone for an Android device but I’ve had nothing but a great experience using G+.

    1. Agreed. People seem to be quite confused about G+, thinking it’s just a FB clone. You’re not going to just pop in there and join your friends and family like you do FB; you have to create your own circles of people with interesting material to provide and interests to share, and meet new people based on those. Google+ is by far the best social network on the web in my opinion, even if it’s lacking in the “friends and family” department.

  5. As Jony Ive said the other day : “Our (Apple) goals are very simple — to design and make better products. If we can’t make something that is better, we won’t do it.”

    Google didn’t approach G+ like that, it was ‘Facebook is stealing our Ad money we bloody heck have to do something… ”

    Google’s G+ was something reactive, a RESPONSE to a threat, not something that they passionately wanted to do to “make something better” so at BEST it was small evolutionary advances over Facebook (and not an Apple type revolution and many say they didn’t even beat Facebook in evolutionary steps . )

    G+ is like if Apple had come out with iPhone looking like a Blackberry with small ‘improvements’ like iTunes connection.

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