Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Tragedy Of The Google Commons

The tragedy of the commons is that responsibility is divorced from individual profit, i.e. there's no feedback loop telling you to stop grazing your sheep because it's destroying the pasture. Large corporations have a similar problem internally with resource allocation, particularly ones as intrinsically entrepreneurial as Google (or as entrepreneurial as Google would like to think itself); with so many potential projects, which ones do you back? And how much? When none of these small projects are themselves expected to turn a profit, answering those questions is impossible.

This was my thinking process when reading Ars Technica's fascinating article about the Google stripping Google+ from everything in sight. Started in 2011 as a belated and somewhat panicked reaction to Facebook, it's frequently (and accurately) described as a ghost town. Google started this process with the rollout of the confusingly named Google Photos, which replaced the better and similarly-named Google+ Photos. Likes? Usable albums? Full size images? Who cares? It's almost as if Google had no interest in the quality of their offerings, and was run by some schizophrenic emperor with ADHD. As Ron Amadeo points out in Ars, it wasn't the first time Google torpedoed a much-used product in favor of something no one wanted: Google Reader, an RSS-driven blog aggregator, got killed in favor of the pointless and short-lived Google Buzz, which itself exited this veil for Google+ after only two years. Google Hangouts, their instant messaging app, "feels like one of the most unimportant and poorly backed products at the company" and is "so poorly supported that making fun of it has practically become a meme in the Android community". It echoes Microsoft in mobile telephones, a market they were never able to crack, as evidenced by a string of failed, short duration marriages. That included, most recently, a $7.6 billion writedown of its Nokia acquisition along with 7,800 layoffs. Making billion dollar bets is hard, but smaller bets are no easier, especially when neither are tied to your core competency.

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