Software

New Google CEO Larry Page: Here are your top two priorities

On Monday, Google officially changed horses as co-founder Larry Page took the reins as CEO. Here are the two top priorities that should be on Page's mind as he looks to reinvigorate Google.

When you think about how deeply Google is ingrained in the everyday culture of people across the planet and how its brand has become one of the most powerful names in the history of business, it's easy to forget that the company hasn't even been around for 15 years yet.

Despite its relatively recent arrival, Google has a preeminent place among the most important organizations on the planet. Sure, Apple and Microsoft make a lot more money than Google, and there are plenty of older companies and even governments that employ a lot more people, and service organizations like the Red Cross and the United Way that outwardly provide greater services to humanity. But, Google's primary mission "to organize the world‘s information and make it universally accessible and useful" is arguably the most important work of the early 21st century. A hundred years from now, when people look back at this period of time, that's likely to be the thing they point to as the biggest turning point of this era because of its ability to empower people economically, socially, intellectually, and politically.

On Monday, Google co-founder Larry Page took the reins of the company at a time when it has reached a crossroads. After being laser-focused on information search for its early history, the company has strayed in lots of different directions in recent years with many experiments that have largely ended in failure and a lot of head-scratching (e.g. Google Wave).

As Page takes over the CEO job from Eric Schmidt, who navigated the company through its coming of age, it's time for Google to refocus on what it wants to be now that it's all grown up. Here are the top two priorities that should be on Page's mind.

1. Get serious about product quality

Google became Google for two reasons: 1.) The quality of its search results were so much better than everyone else's, and 2.) The company refused to use display ads on Google.com and consequently rewrote the rules of Internet advertising. Let's put the second point aside for now, since Google isn't having any problems in the revenue department.

However, the quality of Google's search results are definitely under duress. Entire cottage industries and content farms have developed around gaming Google's algorithm in order to get their (often worthless) pages to the top of Google's search results. While Google fights a constant war with these "SEO spam" sites, it's not doing a very good job of keeping up. Experian Hitwise reported that Google's search success rate (users who visit a site after a search) dropped by 13% in 2010.

Even long-time Google and Web supporter Tim O'Reilly said, "It's clear that Google is losing some kind of war with the spammers. I think Google has in some ways taken their eye off the ball."

Page needs to devote more of Google's resources to fixing this problem and rally the troops around the idea of attacking this issue since it threatens to undermine everything that Google is trying to accomplish.

However, the quality problem isn't just an issue in search on Google.com. Google continues to release products into the market before those products are ready and let product problems languish for months or years before fixing them or simply pulling the plug on the product. For example, the first version of Android was a disaster when it was released in 2008 (a year later, the 2.0 version was finally acceptable). Google Apps had badly inconsistent features across its various office products for years after it was first released. And, products like Google Wave and Google Buzz were so badly conceived and poorly executed that they should have never been released to the public.

Page needs to rethink Google's product development and launch strategy and demand a much higher standard of quality before going to market. That doesn't mean Google should stop experimenting or running beta programs. Perish the thought. It just needs to get a lot more serious and discriminating about the way it launches products. And, it needs to devote more resources to search.

2. Forget Facebook

The worst thing Google can do right now is to get jealous about the media fawning over Facebook the way it used to fawn over Google. So what if magazines want to put Facebook's twentysomething CEO on their dead-tree leaflets. Google is 10 times more important than Facebook, which is rapidly devolving into a MySpace-like waste of digital bits.

Every few months there's a new rumor about Google launching its own social network to compete with Facebook -- Google Me, Google Circles, etc. The best move Google could make in social is to not react to Facebook but simply play its own game. Continue to integrate social controls into search. Let the crowds help vote down the spam and worthless content in search. Allow people to connect to friends from their Google profile -- if they choose -- and allow friends' searching preferences, votes, and favorites to add a social filter to search results (and let the social filter be toggled on and off).

Google is already doing some of those things, but the point is that is the kind of stuff Google is really good at in the social space and that's the stuff it needs to focus on. On the other hand, building a social network does not play to Google's strengths. If you look at what the company created with Google Wave and Google Buzz, it's abundantly clear that this is not the kind of stuff Google engineers and product leaders should be spending their time doing.

If Google gets distracted chasing Facebook, it risks becoming like Microsoft, which has been so distracted chasing Google in the past five years that its core products have suffered considerably and are in greater danger than ever of losing their primacy.

Bottom line

Page needs to remember the mission that made Google great - organizing the world's information. He needs to re-energize the troops around that goal, launch an all-out assault on SEO spam, and keep from getting distracted by Facebook. The task of digitizing the world's data is far from complete -- even just the public data. If Google can pull off more private-public partnerships like the one it's doing in Kansas City, Kansas for high speed fiber broadband than it can help also bring a lot more valuable information to the Web -- from libraries to public documents to historical archives to government data, for example. This is a service for the Internet community and it enhances Google's business model by allowing people to use Google search for even more services.

As my colleague Larry Dignan noted, Google investors are going to be pressuring Page to find a big second revenue source beyond search. However, first Page will need to shore up Google's core mission and get the company refocused on the right product strategy. If he pulls it off, Google has a shot at solidifying its reputation for doing perhaps the most important work of the early 21st century.

Also read

About

Jason Hiner is the Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He is an award-winning journalist who writes about the people, products, and ideas that are revolutionizing the ways we live and work in the 21st century.

37 comments
Bonzaros
Bonzaros

Even though they're trying to de-spam their index, they're not succeeding in getting rid of duplicate local directory listings. Get rid of those and the small business owner might eventually see their site on page one!

StillLearnin
StillLearnin

When their database gets hacked, how much of your info will be available? I think there's a growing concern about the info they're collecting, and its security, that needs to be addressed before a public backlash makes the rest of these items irrelevant.

jamie
jamie

Stop outsourcing jobs to mercenary governments based on who is most willing to short change their public of their taxation receivables.

bkapelas
bkapelas

My non professional view. Search brings up more duplicates and non usable results on first try than ever in the beginning. Getting specs on a product seems to be prioritized below many places to buy. The user experience elsewhere is bad. When I tried to log in to an existing youtube account they wanted me to use a google sign on. That turned out to be horrible exercise of frustration for days. Their mail programs are cumbersome, bulky and not at all efficient. That's my experience...

oldbaritone
oldbaritone

"Google continues to release products into the market before those products are ready and let product problems languish for months or years before fixing them or simply pulling the plug on the product." All I could do was laugh when I read this...

amendez52
amendez52

Couldn't have said it clearer then Jason Hiner has...

mwalker
mwalker

...per usual, Jason!

Drewster2000
Drewster2000

I agree with your 2nd point, Jason. Scope creep happens way too easily, especially when Google has gotten so big so fast. Instead of wanting to compete with Facebook and do EVERYTHING better, they need to stick to what they do well. This isn't an easy task considering their unique position; nonetheless it's important. But I don't agree with your 1st point. While it may be true that they should pull back some of their forces to concentrate on the spamming war since the search engine is what made them great, part of their company philosophy includes the honest willingness to make mistakes. They have in effect said they aren't afraid to put things out like Google Wave and see what works & what doesn't in the public arena. Web 2.0 (or whatever's next) is in a lot of flux right now. These are very fluid times. An app they put out today could suddenly gain a following 1 year from now -- and they're OK with that. Their stance seems to be that they aren't afraid to take a chance on people. So while they need to not lose focus of their main business, serving up a bunch of free apps for the public to try out may not be their first name, but it's definitely the middle one.

pacsguy
pacsguy

Pretty cheeky for a technical writer to tell Larry Page what his priorities should be. A technical writer who apparently hasn't discovered spell check, no less. What a joke. Thanks for the laugh, just what I needed this morning =P

jhecker
jhecker

I certainly understand both time and budgetary constraints. As one who does a fair amount of technical writing, (nowhere near your volume), I find it very entertaining to go back and review what I wrote and see the numerous typos. I highly value the information you present and will do my best to stifle my little "spelling and grammar nazi" tendencies :-).

OakvilleMyKey
OakvilleMyKey

I often receive these emails a few days apart. (Not notices of posts but actual emails from TechRepublic with the exact same thing)

stephen.bryant
stephen.bryant

It seems that every book I read has at least one typographical error in it. I even have one algebra book that gets the sum of 8 + 13 wrong. As long as the message is easily understandable, I'm amused by these goofs, not bothered by them. I send the better ones to my wife, who sometimes thinks she's the only one with proofreading problems,

Sarnath
Sarnath

I did not feel anything wrong with the article... It conveyed its message and good enough for a casual read.. I am not turning away from TR...

cfc1900
cfc1900

I couldn't agree more with this article. Excellent stuff. Google should ignore the hype about facebook and concentrate on its core applications. While they're at it, please do something about Google calendar, which is very good, but needs finishing. EG allow mass delete of items.

bsharpe37
bsharpe37

Have you ever used Google Apps. SinisterSlay here had mentioned Professionalism. I'm sure a larger amount of people would have more incentive if there was some kind of help line we users could call for Google Apps. I can't tell you how frustrating it is to have to wait days for a reply from another USER because there is no support and the HELP files are outdated. Don't get me wrong here, I love the things Google Apps can do, but it's the almost right but not quite things that annoy me. It's as if Google said, 'hey look at this cool new thing! I've built 98% of it, it's all done now...' That extra 2% would really make the world of difference. I wont go into details of known issues, like the article said, "...it???s easy to forget that the company hasn???t even been around for 15 years..." But I believe if they want to stay around they should finish their projects and not just leave them and their users hanging on the cloths line hoping it wont rain.

vangeaux
vangeaux

In November of 2010 I became a Google user because my company went to Android based phone's and I had to add Gmail to my system. As a MS Outlook user for years I got use to a great Mail Management, Contact Manager, and Calendar. I still use outlook for most of my important emails where I need a receipt, mutiple signatures,spell check, and great contact management. I may have to use Google/Android for most of my incoming email because of my android phone, but beleive me Google has got a long way to go with the rest of their product. Vangeaux

dtrnelson
dtrnelson

Google could either change horses or riders. If Larry Page took the reins [sp; taking reigns amounts to succeeding your mommie or daddy, Queen or King So-and-so, or overthrowing one], Google changed riders, or perhaps, cowboys. If Google really did change horses, Larry has taken the "bit."

jhecker
jhecker

Please don't get me wrong, I write a lot of technical user guides AND I MAKE MISTAKES! But I review my work and find many of them and then I have it proofread to find the rest. I read a number of these blogs daily and there are blaring mistakes. Second paragraph, "...and there are plenty of older companies and even governments that employee a lot more people,"; employee??? I realize the volume of work that is generated by TechRepublic, but where is the professionalism? I know it is off topic, but it finally got to me. I rely on these blogs. Thanks for letting me blow off steam.

mattohare
mattohare

Even when all the revenue comes from advertisers.

BarbaFroid
BarbaFroid

I've a google blog. There is a problem to be improved: In my profile I write my town, my best music, my interest and so on... So I can find other blogger wit my single one interest, but I cannot do more complex query. I can find who like "John Coltrane", I can find who likes the book "Divina commedia" but I cannot find if someone likes "John Coltrane" and "Divina commedia"

faisal_asif
faisal_asif

I agree with your post Jason, Google must focus on what they are specialized in, secondly, it's not important to put every successful business as a competitor, if Facebook can be the greatest social network, why don't Google focus on their search engine and introduce more innovative ways of 'organizing world's information'.

TG2
TG2

Google's two top priorities should be listening to the people, and providing real feedback loops. First they should have been listening to people LONG ago.. a few key items would have helped avert their problems with search results. number one in those are the malicious websites. The second someone finds a malicious site, it should be flag-able, after 10 (?) such flags it should automatically be scanned. higher weight given to some logged in individuals.. ie.. security professionals should sign up, prove their merit, and then be able to get higher ranking on the flag-o-meter.. 2 for 1? 3 for 1? Next.. the Feedback loop ... problems exist in many forms ... right now it seems people reporting issues with googles sites do so in a vacuum. Such reporting without giving merit or weight to a report, a tracking number, and updates/feedback from google staff, only enrages those who know the problems exist, and can't get google to look at, and fix them. an example of this would be Youtube playback preferences.. every few days, weeks, or even a month or two, I suddenly find captions and annotations turned back on .. its been proven that its held in a user side cookie .. and there-in lay the problem .. where something resets that cookie without a user's direct knowledge or authorization .... it just happens.. and google has had post ontop of post on top of post ... yet no acknowledgement from google.. nor will they offer to start doing settings saved to Youtube space .. so that the cookie can be maintained externally, rather than some rogue script nail it because it can... No feedback from google.. vacuum effect used on all posts and submissions.. never giving a real credible case to track, never posting they've made a fix, or are even recognizing there is an issue.. again.. hatred of google grows.. if not for youtube.. Picasa, their picture program.. features added, yet interface dumb ... etc..

Wrenj
Wrenj

Google can not escape the dynamics of any other organization that is successful unless they never let go of the entrepreneurial spirit of the early years. For the records, the survival rate of companies on the DJIA since inception is precisely one. It's best not to cultivate notions of invincibility. Google's top priority is to find the next growth market. Android represents opportunity here. In search, Google represents the establishment. In mobiles, they are the underdogs. All establishments are vulnerable. Ask Microsoft, IBM, Novell, Intel, Nokia, Dell and other champions of yesterday. The life of underdogs is more exciting, especially when you get it right. Ask Apple, Netflix and even Google's mobile division. The secret is to keep maintaining the position of underdog, because upon discovering the next growth market, there's all the space and freedom ahead to grow. Apple and Netflix provide good examples. So yes, Larry, keep your eyes on the ball. Don't fall in love with your search engine. The first goal always remains to make the profit that can drive wind farms, X prizes and all else. The profit also drives the experimentation required to give us not only the results that failed, but the ones that succeeded. When the next growth market is discovered and delivered, you'll find even the mature markets registering improvement, simply because you have more resources to send to those teams. Case in point, the resurgence of the Mac.

nwallette
nwallette

I think TR posted a gallery of failed MS products recently. It really is amusing to look at how often MS tried to stray from their core product lineup. And how often the core products are the ONLY ones that have managed to stay successful. They co-designed a watch that delivers stock and sports updates. OMG! *face-palm*

YoungJules
YoungJules

...as the piss-poorness of the writing standard at TR takes another dive upwards :-D

OakvilleMyKey
OakvilleMyKey

Thank you for pointing this out. I often see pluralizations with apostrophes and it drives me crazy!!! Thanks from Toronto!!!

Slayer_
Slayer_

It's been long since proven that you only require the first few and last few letters of a word to be correct for an experienced reader to understand it. Yuo haev beeen vted douwn becuse of yuor anoaying nazi splling and gramer.

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

The majority of users have told us again and again that they'd rather have it quickly than have it be perfect. There's a willingness to deal with typos, just not errors in fact-checking. So, we publish stuff to the site as soon as it's ready and then go back and fix any typos, make updates to the story if we get new information, and clarify points in the discussion thread. We used to have three layers of editing when TechRepublic first started a decade ago. The copy was nearly perfect back then, but it wasn't as conversational and it took a week before an article reached the site. We also had a much larger budget back then. ;-)

john.a.wills
john.a.wills

"reigns" for "reins", "engrained" for "ingrained"... I stopped reading soon after that.

nwallette
nwallette

Finding new growth markets is gambling. What are the chances that any company you mentioned is going to succeed in disparate areas with equal aplomb? The Mac has indeed had nine lives, but I dare say the iPod saved the company. If they tried to capture the server market, would they have the same luck? Turns out no, unless your data center is filled with X-Serves.

JoleneMcKenna
JoleneMcKenna

Jason was spot on with this article - going a level deeper into quality I would plead with Google to improve their release management methods. I have invested a lot of time in using Google Docs to help a local non-profit, specifically utilizing the spreadsheets using Google App Script for automation. Too often we discover the script fails because Google made a change without any warning and no notification when the change is made. Just a failed script with a non descriptive error message. I'm a die hard fan.

starr.cruise
starr.cruise

Geez, I thought it was a great article. Who cares about the friggin spelling unless its out of control? I am a little surprised at the adamant response to that??? Anyways, I agree with the blog (typing really slow so I don't misspell :-) because FINALLY someone validated what I was experiencing. I Google constantly - that's how I found you guys, while googling for access 2007 code tips. Where I used to experience finding what I really wanted within the top 5 links, now, it seems, I quite often have to wade through almost the entire page of links. And yes, we should be telling the CEO what his focus should be. We ARE the consumer, we drive the "demand" part of the "supply and demand" machine. Anyways, my 2 cents.

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