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July 1, 2011 / kaigani

Why Google is a utilities company – not an innovation company


My obligatory Google+ post.

There’s not a lot to say about Google+ as a product – other than that it’s just like Facebook, no more, no less.  And yet, as a Google product, that’s exactly what’s remarkable about it.

Google– who usually try to reinvent *everything* by shooting for the moon, but hitting themselves in the foot– has simply made a well-designed, easy and intuitive Facebook clone.

And this suggests that Google is finally maturing in its approach to product development.  That is to say– Google is realising that it is a utilities company, not an innovation company.

It has been a long-standing conflict for Google to come to terms with its inward sense of identity and its outward perception– and that its unconventional corporate culture doesn’t reflect the practical use of its applications.  Like a middle-aged man on a skateboard– how Google sees itself doesn’t always match up to how the rest of us see it.

You can’t blame them.  They’ve hired the best and brightest talent of the digital world.  Of course these guys want to push the boat out.

We don’t want innovation from Google. We want scale, reliability, ease of use.  We want web apps like search and mail to behave like always-on utilities.

So how do you behave like a utilities company? Just as you don’t want your energy company to start changing the voltage on your power outlets in a ‘beta test’ or your water company changing the scents and flavours of your tap water – we don’t want Google mucking around with the core services we depend on.

A utilities company adopts standards and pushes them out to its customers. And that’s exactly what Google has done with Google+.  Facebook has spent the last 7 (nearly 8) years refining and promoting the standard of social networking platforms.

Google can’t not have a social network.  It’s a hygiene factor for them at this point– you can’t have a service without social integration of some sort. So it was the right decision to not call upon their considerable brain-trust to ‘reinvent social networking’ – and just do what works.  The web savvy public already ‘speaks Facebook’ – so don’t invent a new language.

One thing Google does very well, however, is openness of data– and by acknowledging that Facebook’s social networking model is the fabric of the current online universe– they’ve exploded a giant ‘g’ shaped hole in Facebook’s social data monopoly.


Leave a Comment
  1. David Haddad / Jul 1 2011 6:00 pm

    Google Plus is exactly the counter example to your argument.To the trained eye there are hundreds of little features that make Google Plus different than Facebook, some for better and some for worse. Their friend model is different. The way their feed works is different. Their user interface is different. They use different nomenclature throughout the site. And those product features are innovative, some of them not seen on any other site before. Google Plus is a different product than Facebook just like Facebook was a different product than MySpace just like MySpace was a different product than Friendster. I am not saying they’re going to kill Facebook. But you’re so wrong to say that Google is not an innovative company.

  2. Kai Turner / Jul 1 2011 9:23 pm

    You might train your eye on the actual point of this article – which is not to say that Google isn’t innovative, but that they are not in the business of innovation.

  3. Dave Nattriss / Jul 3 2011 6:34 pm

    Ironically, Facebook have always seen themselves as a social utility (see its meta description on Google: “Facebook is a social utility that connects people with friends and others who”).

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