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

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

Summary: 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.

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TOPICS: Security, Browser, Google
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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

This was originally published on TechRepublic.

Topics: Security, Browser, Google

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

    I liked the Forget Facebook.
    I was expecting,
    Concentrate in the Android OS with Apple IOS and Windows7 - Smartphones and tablets to better serve facebook...:)
    Continue to lead on visual Standards for web 2 applications (map, location, street view, navigation)
    is the goign after office paying back?
    Julio
    jcsalgado
  • RE: New Google CEO Larry Page: Here are your top two priorities

    I think you are dismissing Facebook too easily. You say it is "rapidly devolving into a MySpace-like waste of digital bits" but that is simply not true. Facebook is not facing a decline in usage at all and is only becoming more and more popular.

    If Facebook launched a search service that delivered accurate results, lots of people would use it. Facebook can include social results.

    If Facebook offered a program like Adsense (for third party websites) then it would attract a lot of users. (Example: I see an ad for Gilette on zdnet.com and 5 of my friends like it.

    Those are just two examples that Google doesn't want happening. They have no choice but to counter attack.
    worthyful
    • RE: New Google CEO Larry Page: Here are your top two priorities

      @worthyful I'm not saying Facebook is less popular. I'm saying that the stuff that's on Facebook is increasingly worthless and inconsequential. It's a water cooler and has little value beyond that.
      jasonhiner
      • I would agree with you on Facebook, but, at the same time, they should look

        to create something to compete with Facebook, but DIFFERENT, do NOT copy. You are right that Facebook has become a fancy water cooler.
        DonnieBoy
      • Another thing, they need to keep taking risks. They need to make sure that

        employees are not punished for failures to encourage more risk taking. You can not have innovation without risk taking.
        DonnieBoy
      • RE: New Google CEO Larry Page: Here are your top two priorities

        @Jason Hiner
        Google remains a one trick pony: they are a spyware company that delivers advertisements tuned specifically to the eyeballs on the page at the moment based upon their extensive knowledge of those eyeballs' owner. Facebook is a *better* spyware company that knows *more* about the people behind the eyeballs and may be able to deliver *better* tuned advertisements. Thus, Google's one trick is in serious jeopardy. I see Google's lack of an answer to Facebook being its undoing more than anything else.

        In other words, forgetting about Facebook will be a disaster for them. Just imagine if MS or Apple *buys* Facebook; if the former especially, Google will be in *serious* trouble.
        x I'm tc
      • But the watercooler is where everyone hangs out

        @Jason Hiner
        and Google see the potential in advertising to them while they're there hanging out.

        The problem is they don't understand it so they'll never be able to duplicate it or compete with it, no matter how many billions they dump into it.
        Will Farrell
      • jdakula: Companies have been doing targeted advertising for a long time.

        MS also uses targeted advertising with Bing. In any case, Google is completely open about what it is doing and advertisements are clearly marked as such. They use advertising to pay for free services. To see who is in trouble here, look at stock prices. People are investing billions of dollars in Google, Apple, Microsoft. The stock prices tell you about investor confidence.
        DonnieBoy
      • Will Farrell: Obviously, any way that you can get, and retain eyeballs, you

        can monetize that with advertising. So, Facebook has done a good job there, and Google would do well to think about how to compete without copying, doing something very different. You can not disrupt another company by simply copying.
        DonnieBoy
      • RE: New Google CEO Larry Page: Here are your top two priorities

        @Jason Hiner: Events and keeping track of people's birthdays alone make Facebook more than a water cooler.
        bradavon
      • RE: New Google CEO Larry Page: Here are your top two priorities

        @jdakula

        Absolutely spot on.

        And.. Facebook didn't devolve or 'become' a watercooler...it always was one, lol. 99% of the stuff on there has NEVER been of any real significan't meaning... that has nothing to do with how well it can be monetized though. As others have stated, however worthless the stuff on facebook is, the eyeballs are there... LOTS of em, and with more significant information about the eyeballs owner which makes them that much more valuable.
        Worthless crap has always been a favorite passtime of people- especially that prized target deomographic... look at MTV! Nothng but worthless trash on there, but definitely valuable to advertisers :)
        thisnameisok
    • I think they DO need to go 100% for online office suite, Android, and

      something different that Facebook, to compete with Facebook. Well, of course they need to make gmail even better.

      Another big thing the author forgot is that they need to give HTML5 all of the support that they can, including more resources for Chrome and ChromeOS to support HTML5.
      DonnieBoy
    • RE: New Google CEO Larry Page: Here are your top two priorities

      @worthyful No, just no.

      Facebook is devolving into a worthless pile of bits. They lost sight of their initial mission ages ago, and they have dollar signs in their eyes. This is the same mistake that MySpace made years ago, and look at where they are at now.
      ZazieLavender
  • The business model was the key

    The real key to Google's success was that they developed a successful business model around search/advertising. From a technological perspective, DEC's AltaVista is what started the web search/indexing revolution. Google was basically a clone of AltaVista with a moderately better search algorithm (papers I've read suggest Google's results were better, but not dramatically so) and, much more importantly, a successful business model.

    In some ways, Google was actually a technological step backwards, e.g. with weaker support for Boolean queries than AltaVista. Unfortunately, building complex Boolean queries is too difficult for most users, so AltaVista's technological edge there was of little help in the market. Google got the economics right: a simpler front-end with smarter back-end algorithms was a better match for what the market demanded. AltaVista's BabelFish is also what spearheaded the now widespread translation of websites, but again, there was no business model.

    The vital mistake that squandered AltaVista's early lead was the attempt to transform it from a search site (like Google) into a portal (like Yahoo!). Again, this was driven by economics: AltaVista as a search site was basically a drain on DEC/Compaq resources, whereas a portal (modelled on Yahoo!) was viewed as having some kind of business model. The AltaVista portal was a dismal failure, and without proper investment, the search results declined (with a growing number of dead links).

    Web search itself was actually a much more promising business than running a web portal, as Google discovered (either through cleverness or luck). By the time AltaVista's rather inept management came round to realising this too, their early lead had been lost to Google, and they never got it back.

    Organising online information is one of the most important turning points of our time, but it started before Google, and would have happened without Google. Nevertheless, by building a business model around it (which I'm rather sceptical of in the long run), Google have made a substantial contribution.
    WilErz
    • RE: New Google CEO Larry Page: Here are your top two priorities

      @WilErz

      I'm sceptical as well, I think their mission is better expressed as "to organize the world?s information and make it universally accessible and useful, then to spy on people as they browse it so we can build up profiles of web users to sell to advertisers".
      OffsideInVancouver
      • RE: New Google CEO Larry Page: Here are your top two priorities

        @OffsideInVancouver
        As you say. They have taken the notion of spyware and brought it into the light, but they remain a spyware/targeted advertising company at heart. In fact, that is *all they do*.

        They just happen to do it extremely well.

        However, maybe not *quite* so well as Facebook, which makes the "ignore Facebook" argument so wrong.
        x I'm tc
  • RE: New Google CEO Larry Page: Here are your top two priorities

    I do think Google can do some things better as well, but saying they need to rethink their launch strategy because of Android is insane. Android is already one of - if not the - most widely used operating system on mobile devices.

    I would have said the major focus for Google should be sticking to its core and not turning into a giant bureaucratic mess like Microsoft while not being as pretentious as Macintosh. They have earned a lot of user's trust by doing exactly what their mission statement says - not being evil.
    vpel729
    • But they are evil, thats the problem

      @vpel729

      data mining, wifi snooping, Buzz, their mindset is that it really insn't an issue if it's not an issue to Google.
      They've gotten the idea they're above it all.
      Will Farrell
  • Message has been deleted.

    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • RE: New Google CEO Larry Page: Here are your top two priorities

      @Cylon Centurion 0005

      I've been using Gmail for over 2 years now and it, as a web application has never crashed.
      DonRupertBitByte