Thursday, March 14, 2013

Google's Happy Face

Yesterday's Official Google Blog explained the end for eight "features of services" in terms that brought to mind the doublespeak of George Orwell's, 1984! In fact, there are good reasons why Google should jettison some of its thousands of projects—"Open the pod bay doors, Hal." But before I fall into a black hole of dystopian revery, let's examine Google's statement, beginning with the introduction: 

We’re living in a new kind of computing environment. Everyone has a device, sometimes multiple devices. It’s been a long time since we have had this rate of change—it probably hasn’t happened since the birth of personal computing 40 years ago. To make the most of these opportunities, we need to focus—otherwise we spread ourselves too thin and lack impact. So today we’re announcing some more closures, bringing the total to 70 features or services closed since our spring cleaning began in 2011:
Skipping ahead to the end, the responsible person is listed thusly:
Posted by Urs Hölzle, SVP Technical Infrastructure and Google Fellow
Am I the only one who finds this explanation ingenuous? The first three sentences are pure bloviation! How does one live in a "computing environment?" And where does Google get off claiming that we haven't seen this rate of change "since the birth of personal computing," which was really more like 35 years ago. 1984, the Orwellian year when Apple introduced the Macintosh, was only 29 years ago. You'd think Google, king of data, could supply a graph showing the rate of change in computing over the past 40 years. I'm guessing it's a fairly straight upward-pointing line, which as a graph of rate, would indicate exponential growth.

Next, SVP Hölzle, with no segue, we get the following, which I've converted into algebraic notation for your convenience:
"new kind of computing environment" = "these opportunities" = "we need to focus"
From which we draw the logical(?) conclusion:
"otherwise we spread ourselves too thin and lack impact"
Or more (or less) precisely:
If "new environment" then ("opportunity" and "need to focus") else ("spread thin" and "lack impact")
What's wrong with this logical statement, it appears to make semantic sense? Unfortunately, semantic sense doesn't necessarily yield good sense. For instance, this new kind of computing environment; what is it? Most simply, it's mobile—mobile devices, ubiquitous services, data access from anywhere. Even before the ubiquity of mobile devices, Google existed in the ubiquitous-services/data-access-from-anywhere universe—it's services are Web-based.

New for Google has more to do with the competitive, rather than computing, environment. As a mobile device and operating system provider, Google is in the thick of the most competitive, rapidly-changing market since… (choose whatever you like, because I can't think of a good comparison).

In addition to the changing competitive landscape is the changing landscape within Google, itself. I don't pretend to know what these changes really are, but we can't get some sense from this little example of software amputation couched in terms of positive growth. One of the most exciting aspects of Google has been its willingness to attack just about any problem. Inevitably, this has led to a huge number of projects of various degrees of quality, usefulness, and success. This is all the explanation they need for an everlasting string of spring cleanings!

Things change. This is neither surprising nor remarkable. Yesterday's clever hack becomes today's useless garbage—out with the old, in with the new. It doesn't take a Senior Vice President of Technical Infrastructure and Google Fellow to tell us this obvious fact. But in this new kind of competitive environment, Google somehow feels the need to obfuscate the obvious and ordinary. Pity.

In conclusion, I give you Professor Walrus's 4 Black Holes of Marketing Doublespeak:
  1. Bad news is an unmeasurable opportunity for…
  2. Senior executives poccess unquestionable farsightedness into a past that never really existed.
  3. Trust us. We're sorry we cut off your toe, but we promise to grow you a new one better than the first.
  4. You agree to believe everything we've told you and then forget that we ever said these things.

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