Google and the All Play, No Pay Problem

Ann All

I love Google. Who doesn't? I use the search engine all day, every day during the week and pretty darned often on weekends. I haven't had as much exposure to the pseudo-Office applications , though I do use GMail and find Google Docs a handy way to make materials I need available on any PC.


But would I pay for it? That's an interesting question, and it's the crux of a devastating blog post by Sergey Solyanik, a software development manager who recently returned to Microsoft after a year working for Google. In his post, he bills himself as probably the "first person in the Seattle/Kirkland area to do so."


He lays out a number of internal Google issues that I've touched upon in prior posts, including no clear career path, managers with no discernible duties and a culture that treats engineers like demi-gods while project managers and testers are "conspicuously absent," writes Solyanik.


Solyanik's main criticism of Google is that it values "cool" over quality. It largely fails the quality test of being able to charge for its products. He's not going to win any fans in the open source world with his contention:

I need to know that the code is useful for others, and the only way to measure the usefulness is by the amount of money that the people are willing to part with to have access to my work.

I'd venture to say that relentless marketing, ingrained habit and the sometimes scary prospect of change -- not lack of quality alternatives -- are what keep most companies committed to their usual software vendors. Risk-taking is just as likely to get you canned as it is to get you promoted, thus the old saw, "Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM."


Yet Google has had trouble gaining any traction in the business world. One issue, I think, is that too many people remain perversely suspicious of software that is simple -- and even enjoyable -- to use. The biggest deal-breaker, however, which I wrote about last April following outages of GMail that affected some of Google's enterprise users, is the company's apparent inability to live up to service level agreements.


For proof, see the screen shot of a forum of frustrated users fed up with Google's FeedBurner service, which provides site usage statistics for blogs, on Michael Krigsman's blog on ZDNet. Some of their comments:

Does anyone from Google really check into this stuff? It is really bothersome that this would be allowed to continue for this long.


I'm having the same problem for the last two-and-a-half days. I love that you can't contact anyone or get this answered!

The real question isn't, "Do you value Google's products enough to pay for them?" but "Are you willing to use Google's products without a help desk?"


Late last year, Google seemed willing to swap some of its cool for conservatism when it announced a partnership with Capgemini in which the company provides traditional enterprise support for Google Apps. I haven't seen much in the way of follow-up stories, however, other than an item about Capgemini itself using Apps.


I know it's tough to get customers to share their secrets, and I know that Google is gaining some enterprise users, including UK construction and facilities management company Taylor Woodrow, which is using 1,800 seats of Google Apps, primarily for the e-mail and calendaring capabilities. But Solyanik raises some hard questions that Google will need to answer if it hopes to win true enterprise allegiance.

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Jul 2, 2008 2:07 AM Bob Jonkman Bob Jonkman  says:
the only way to measure the usefulness is by the amount of money that the people are willing to part with to have access to my work.
That's the wrong metric for Free/Open Source Software. When software (or music, or books, or any other intellectual property) is distributed at no charge, a more suitable measure of its usefulness is counting the number of people that actually use it, or re-use it (software mashups, audio/video remixes), or who base their own business model on it (third-party support, concert promoters).Google has a valid business model (ad-supported), and isn't dependent on penetration in the business world. However, that's nice to have, and kudos to Google for adding it to their revenue sources. But lack of business world penetration and software sales does not make Google an unsuccessful company.--Bob. Reply
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