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I, Cringely - The Survival of the Nerdiest with Robert X. Cringely
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The Pulpit
Pulpit Comments
May 24, 2007 -- The Final Days of Google
Status: [CLOSED]

Yeah, but....

That "I'm quitting because I can do it better myself" is no different to any other tech corp. All Google has to do to benefit is turn themselves into a passive VC and seed fund the people who are leaving. Upside - uncapped. Downside - the initial investment. No management input, no resource clashes. First call on the technology / patents etc that these Googlets produce.

Mark | May 24, 2007 | 9:41PM

Bob, did you ever ask a Google employee what their contract reads like? Do the ideas generated become "work product" and hence cannot be taken to another company?

Just wondering about that?

Eric | May 24, 2007 | 9:47PM

Bob, are you not actually describing the Drake Equation and then applying that to Google?

You are correct though, the sands of time grind slowly but grind everything. Our copper on Earth is from long ago massive stars. Google is its own kind massive star and its intellectual copper will seed worlds and ideas beyond our current imagination.


Jim Burke | May 24, 2007 | 10:01PM

I'm pretty sure the boys at Google thought of the downsides mentioned here already, Bob, but also gave more value to the Google-endorsed creative "self-time", which isn't necessarily very quantifiable.

Scott | May 24, 2007 | 10:07PM

I recently left Microsoft. I didn't work in research, but research is a huge organization. Steve Ballmer recently said something like research is the reason Microsoft is still the leader in software. However, the truth is that almost nothing comes out of Microsoft research. As we all know, most researchers are over educated nerds who really want to spend their time analyzing the growth rates of their own toe jam and the algorithms for such analysis. This is largely what MIcrosoft research does.
So why even have research? Because these smart people could be very useful in the hands of someone who knows what to do with them and can distract them from their own toe jam long enough to be productive. But given a decent salary and plenty of toe jam to study, they'll just live the good life and be unprodutive. That's just how Microsoft likes it. Remember, being number one is not about being the best, it's about preventing anyone else from being the best.
You might think I'm a bitter ex-employee. And you'd be right. But my argument is still correct. Look at Microsoft's history. They've never been the best to anyone who knows about software but they destroyed, tricked, or distracted anyone they thought might become the best.Google doesn't have anything to worry about. It's PhDs aren't going anywhere. I hear Google just secretly built 5 huge toe jam plants, and now we know why.

Kody | May 24, 2007 | 10:09PM

1. Google may well own those ideas under their contract, as pointed out previously.

2. Not all of those ideas will compete with or be a danger to Google.

3. You write as if there is a finite supply of educated, talented individuals. In the absolute sense, I suppose there is, but Google can hire for a long, long time before that well runs drive.

Brian Little | May 24, 2007 | 10:23PM

It doesnt matter if these people leave, the work they have done stays as does the revenue it generates - which will last for quite a while. What is the probability that these worker bees come up with a new business idea of the same quality as Google? Slight, I believe. If the idea is good enough and makes money, no doubt Google will just buy it up. In fact, its probably cheaper and faster for Google to let employees go out on their own to create a new business on their own rather than devote the organizational and process overhead, then buy it up later. And considering they are ex-Google, who do you think will be the first company they shop their idea to?

Ryan | May 24, 2007 | 10:33PM

I can see how this would happen, but I don't see how it would be at all harmful to Google. In fact, Google could profit immensely, just by offering their departing talent some seed capital, in exchange for an equity stake.

Silicon Valley grew up around Fairchild Semiconductor, and the companies founded by its alumni. Google could be the Fairchild of this generation.

Kevin | May 24, 2007 | 10:36PM

And considering they are ex-Google, who do you think will be the first company they shop their idea to?

Why, Microsoft, of course! ;-)

Interesting post, Bob, but I think the real thing here is for workers to be passionate about and stimulated by their work. Even here in Silicon Valley, that's pretty rare in most cube-farms. Giving researchers 20% time to pursue their project interests is a huge benefit, and only if a user has a slam-dunk of a company idea (and only if it's ignored) are they going to be crazy enough to start a company (to which Google might be entitled to some of the IP anyway). And let's face it, you have to be crazy to start a company.

I concur with Kody's comments above.

John | May 24, 2007 | 10:40PM

There used to be a company in the Boston area (I vaguely recall it's ThermaElectron or some such name) that had a policy of encouraging its own employees to start new businesses. The company will even invest in it as partial investor. I think such a policy at a place like Google is wise and smart. Google can't possibly do everything. Let others do it and share the benefit.

Dyung Le | May 24, 2007 | 10:51PM

It does happen occasionally. I personally witnessed the beginnings of Garmin. The founders worked at the company I worked for at the time, pitched their idea to management and were rebuffed, then went out on their own. Now they are directly competing with the company they once worked for, and mopping the floor with them.

But Google is run by MUCH smarter people that my former employers...

Freeman | May 24, 2007 | 10:53PM

Another example...Control Data wished well and financed Seymore Cray and Cray Research, Network Systems and others.

PXLated | May 24, 2007 | 11:06PM

I agree with other commenters that the intellectual property question is intriguing.

By officially encouraging side projects the way they do I expect the rejected presentations are all well documented work product in Google's files.

Is it possible Google is amassing an asset in the form of non-compete agreements from geniuses which it could leverage in the future, the way some companies use their patents?

Speaking of which, how many patents is Google filing?

Jeff | May 24, 2007 | 11:11PM

A challenge to Google, when it comes, will have to come in the form of a paradigm shift. Start-ups that simply develop a good minor idea that Google overlooked will simply be bought when they become successful. After all, today's internet users expect new services and software to be free of charge -- largely because Google leads at establishing and extending that precedent. Therefore, start-ups are by their nature money losers today, with little hope of ever becoming profitable (since the largest players, and Google especially, have pretty much cornered the web's advertising revenue). But start-ups don't have to turn a profit -- they just have to sell out to Google or some other large player, as YouTube did, once they have a nice user base.

This phenomenon of Google eating all the small fish as soon as they become medium-sized means most new ideas don't escape and become competition for Google (as your article suggests). They just cost Google some cash to get them back into he fold. But Google has plenty of cash. Its only cash-rich competitor, really, is Microsoft. So it's actually easier for Google to let the market select the winners, rather than to try to fund them all internally from the get-go. And it doesn't require any foresight or special wisdom -- just lots of money.

So, what WILL eventually supplant Google? Only an idea revolutionary enough to change the prevailing business model. Google is supplanting Microsoft (slowly but surely) not because it has better engineers but because its advertising revenue model is more scalable, more renewable, and less hateful than Microsoft's software sales model (which is essentially just a monopoly-imposed tax on new computer purchases). It won't be supplanted until an even better business model comes along.

What could supplant Google's advertising-based revenue model? Remember that Google is a proprietary software company (just like Microsoft), even though it makes it money indirectly (not from direct sales of software the way Microsoft does). The code Google runs on its server farms is very proprietary -- that's why only Google can build and serve up a Google database and Google services. And it's closed, so other providers can't connect to it without a commercial relationship with Google. It's actually more closed than Microsoft's operating system -- users don't even get binaries, because the Google 'operating system' only runs on Google's farms.

So the challenger that will unseat Google (eventually) will have to be an open source creation. Nothing else can do it. Whatever it is, it will have to turn the web inside out, by moving control from giant sites like out to thousands of smaller sites, binding them into an effective non-proprietary counterforce for the delivery of distributed (as opposed to centralized) web applications and services.

Think it can't happen? It can, and it will, eventually. The web itself is an existence proof of how open standards can supplant proprietary technologies, no matter how well entrenched the latter are. Remember how Microsoft and Novell fought for a decade over their respective proprietary network standards? And then lost the entire networking war to TCP/IP, an open standard with no installed base outside of universities and Defense Dept labs, when Berniers-Lee came up with the www protocols?

The paradigm shift, when it comes, will be ushered in by new protocols. If we're lucky, this revolution will much of the control all the way out to the edges of the web, where the users are. It will reclaim the promise of the web as a decentralized, packet-switched network, short-circuiting the giant proprietary service that is Google's plan for it. That plan is truly retrograde: it looks more and more like the timesharing systems of the 1970's writ large, rather than a world-wide network of personal computers.

David Christie | May 24, 2007 | 11:21PM

It's seems that "No One Can Beat Google!". The improvement of this company is too fast to catch up by another companies. Just sit back and watch it, soon we'll see the evolution in the way human activities.

suray | May 24, 2007 | 11:48PM

FYIFV buttons are an urban myth. Just try and find a picture of one.

mahlen | May 24, 2007 | 11:57PM

Considering that in the late '70s, Hewlett-Packard rejected employee Steven Wozniak's design of a microprocessor-based personal computer, you certainly have a valid point, Bob. But, just as HP survived what turned out to be a horrible decision, those kinds of mistakes may not be enough to take Google down. HP survived because their business was, and still is, far broader than just the PC market. Given the way Google is broadening their base, ('tain't just search anymore) the same may well apply to them. Also, I'll wager they will buy any spin-off that looks like it's becoming successful. They may even supply the venture capital to employees who want to pursue their own ideas. Google will become an incubator but I doubt it will let its fertile eggs stray far from the nest.

Don Groves | May 25, 2007 | 12:28AM

Eh. Smart people will keep being born and recruited by Google. Being bought out by Google will still be the goal of many a startup. In fact, having Google-loving ex-employees get venture funding for their own ideas is a low-risk way for Google to allow those ideas to succeed or fail on their own merit.

When they fail (98% of the time because a good idea is not enough), the ex-employee will be welcomed back, and when they succeed, Google can buy them out, because the original entrepreneurs are no longer majority owners and VCs want exit.

Rebecca | May 25, 2007 | 12:29AM

Wow. Robert, I wrote about this exact same scenario back in 2006: I called it "The technology graveyard is littered with Google ideas." It's almost word for word what you are saying. Perhaps we'll both be proven right.

Excerpt from my post:
Let’s say (just using some random numbers as an example) an employee that Google pays $100,000 per year creates a project in his or her “20% time” that is successful. The project, funded by pageview ads, grosses $250,000 per year. That employee does not spend the majority of his or her time supporting the project… perhaps just the aforementioned “20% time”. What does Google do with this project?

“Well, keep it, of course!” you say. “It’s profitable!” Well, not exactly. Now that Google is a publicly-traded company, its shareholders are expecting big things. With annual revenue of $1 billion+ per year and stock prices in the stratosphere, it’s clear that both shareholders and Wall Street are not interested in a project that nets approximately $200K per year after expenses. The question that Google execs will have to ask themselves in the future is, “Is this developer’s time (even part of it) better spent on a project that will never net more than $200-$300K per year, or on a project that has the potential to make millions (or billions)?”

read the rest at

SlashChick | May 25, 2007 | 12:31AM

I love how your major insight into the achilles heel of big established corporations is that their thinking never changes, and thus they apply last year's analysis to this year's problem. So what happens when you do YOUR analysis? You apply old models to new situations... Good job!

Darrell Moore | May 25, 2007 | 1:23AM

As long as the Google employees aren't dropping their really good ideas in the sugestion box (email, presentations, files on the servers, etc.) the IP issue shouldn't be a problem.

Having worked in the research division of the seed industry for over 12 years if there is one thing I know about most PhDs is that they hate managing people and dealing with the business of business. That being: Human Resources, Accountants, Lawyers, etc.

I see a symbiotic relationship developing. Maybe Google is happy to provide all of these necessary evils that go along with making money, while the creative ex-patriot Google employee creates something really great that they can then sell back to Google. Both sides win.

drewby | May 25, 2007 | 1:56AM

Great Robert you get it. This is the quiz in the Knowledge Society. You cann't put wall around the ideas.

juantomas | May 25, 2007 | 3:05AM

I think that what you've proclaimed, Bob, is that damned nearly every company will fail for wome reason included in the list you generated for Google.

You may be right, but only time will tell.

You ccontinue to be interesting to read, so keep up the good work.

Stan Skirvin (AKA CactusCritter) | May 25, 2007 | 3:49AM

That's a nice neat American view of the world. Perhaps the company that is going to beat Google already exists and is building dominance in India and/or China...

Graham Chastney | May 25, 2007 | 4:10AM

I'm a former Google product manager. I was fast tracked, was getting opportunities thrown at me left and right, working in the highest priority parts of Google (read: a small team generating an incremental billion dollars a year), and I left to do my own company. Before I was fully vested. And I'm not the only one who has done this in the last few months. It's not some mass exodus, but it's definitely >0% attrition. I consider the people leaving now the canaries who will signal to everyone else what can be done by former Google employees.

I think you had a lot of really interesting points in your article and I'm really surprised that the people leaving some of these comments just don't get it. People really under-estimate the psychological affliction of being entrepreneurial and wholly owning your ideas, and they grossly under-estimate the prevalence of that affliction within Google's engineering and product management teams. I'm shocked that more people in the media aren't talking about some of the points you've mentioned and how this plays out in the next few years. The people leaving comments on your blogs about how wrong you are need to go talk to some current and former Googlers. No medium or large sized corporation is going to be able to contain that much young, entrepreneurial, technical talent for more than a short while.

Your prediction is absolutely right and I think it'll be an exciting next few years in Silicon Valley as it starts to happen.

AG | May 25, 2007 | 4:23AM

I'll have to agree with Graham: tons of cool stuff for those of us who read Chinese character (don't know about India), and Europe is doing good too. Closer to home, Yahoo! is moving forward---but that is another debate.

More importantly, Google has the courage to realize that breeding their Brutus is a risk worth taking, because the benefits they get from their innovation process is immense. The only actual difference with not breding it is that they get a chance to make it their own---while without encouragement, it would drop out of their radar faster. You earn more by giving. . .

Bertil | May 25, 2007 | 4:25AM

I'll have to agree with Graham: tons of cool stuff for those of us who read Chinese character (don't know about India), and Europe is doing good too. Closer to home, Yahoo! is moving forward---but that is another debate.

More importantly, Google has the courage to realize that breeding their Brutus is a risk worth taking, because the benefits they get from their innovation process is immense. The only actual difference with not breding it is that they get a chance to make it their own---while without encouragement, it would drop out of their radar faster. You earn more by giving. . .

Bertil | May 25, 2007 | 4:25AM

1. The alarming situation ( for an investor ) is why
a media company in the advertisement business is not led by trade persons but rather by engineers.
2. On the wild side - Page and Brin REALLY want to
be entrepreneurs and are using the current business to fund their next toy.
They may even sell google when the next toy is ready.
They are just acting as any other venture capital but with an edge.
This idea may give a rather good explanation to the questions and quips in your article.

ml | May 25, 2007 | 4:59AM

I agree with what you are saying. This is very insightful. However, I have noticed that a lot of companies generate intellectual property that they license to others so that they can make a profit without having to incur all of the risks. Perhaps that is how Google will deal with it. That stock option problem still seems like a tough one.

Prize | May 25, 2007 | 5:08AM

You're right, but I don't think it matters as much as you think.

Not all great ideas are equal. Goole's strengths are online services that leverage their search and advertising technologies. Google are proven to be very good at picking winners in this space. Combine this with the fact that many of those great ideas don't play strongly to Google's strengths.

So only a fraction of those great ideas are of real interest to Google, and Google have a high likeliehood of picking the best that are. Google still can't lose. A lot of people will leave Google and found great, successful companies but that's not a bad thing for Google.

A competitor to Google or Microsoft has to be doing what Google or Microsoft does to be a threat. By the way, that's why Google isn't actualy a threat to Microsoft. If only MS could see that, stop trying to be a second rate Google and get back to being a first rate Microsoft.

Simon Hibbs | May 25, 2007 | 5:15AM

Bob is right. Ownership of ideas that become sucecssful businesses really matters - for recognition, respect, reputation and remuneration reasons. Entrepreneurs typically have a little more control over ideas they own versus ones they create for an employer, no matter how benificent that employer might be (though other articles I've seen made it clear that Larry sometimes doesn't even remember how some ideas came to be or who created them - deduct marks for a deficit of benficence here). Control over one's destiny and the evolution of the fruits of one's mind is psychologically important to many. And let's never forget - as many stock options as a Google intrapreneur may have - they'll never have as many as Sergei and Larry!

Michael | May 25, 2007 | 5:47AM


"A competitor to Google or Microsoft has to be doing what Google or Microsoft does to be a threat. By the way, that's why Google isn't actualy a threat to Microsoft. If only MS could see that, stop trying to be a second rate Google and get back to being a first rate Microsoft."

I do not agree. Any company that does the same as Google or Microsoft doesn't have *any* chance of beating them. It's the opposite. Any serious threat must be doing something so exponentially different that it is changing the rules of the game. Then and only then it stands a chance of beating the established big boys. That is why Google is the first serious threat to Microsoft in the history of Microsoft. It's changing the rules of the game -- from desktop to web.

Tim Molendijk | May 25, 2007 | 5:49AM

Universities profit from their incubator operations. Google will do the same. Combine the 'dna' you mention and fund the best and peddle others to the VCs giving them relatively free founder stock in the process.

Pinky and the Brain are poised to take over the world. They are innovative thinkers and can take advantage rather than be destroyed by your doom scenario. Next department they set up with be to build business plans wholesale.

KenP | May 25, 2007 | 5:55AM

The premise of the article is somewhat wrong. In my experience, the number of 20% projects that could be standalone startups is: zero.

Given the incentives at Google, the ideal 20% project is a short-term thing that gives Google bang for the buck and raises you in the esteem of your peers. So most 20% time is related to what the engineer was doing already -- just some sweet optimization, or an extra feature, or maybe some improvements in the development environment.

There are lots of bigger ideas too, but they invariably leverage some advantage Google has. For example, Google Reader is only viable because the company is crawling all of these RSS feeds.

That said, are the alpha-est of the alpha geeks going to be satisfied extending the Google search/ads platform, forever? No! But that's a different article.

Neil K | May 25, 2007 | 6:25AM

Some may be 'unfulfilled', but few are disgruntled (or any kind of gruntled), so they won't be on a mission to destroy Google.

In fact the most frustrated ones are likley the ones who wanted to be more aggressive with competitiors, and told not to bother ... they be leaving with half developed plans to undermine well-known Google competitors.

But let's not forget the many graduates of Google labs .. this 'petri dish' always offers a potential future for an insiders ideas; how many other phd-rich companies do that.

This guy's dreams of google destruction don't stand up once you compare how Google treats its PHDs compared with how virtually every other company treats theirs. Perhaps he doesn't realise that hundreds of other companies also have PHDs feeling unfullfilled - and NOT getting free sushi?

They are much more likely to spawn groups of random brains; and much more likely to share this blog's Google-envy.

Andrew Heenan | May 25, 2007 | 6:33AM

There's always this obsesion with finding the next big tech company but more likely there isn't one. Google makes money advertising which is hardly tech. Most of their tech projects don't make money. Microsoft's tech projects don't make money either. Their profits come from the monopoly they set up years ago that no one even tries to break because it's not worth it. The best they could do is force Microsoft to lower it's fees. The article is not far off the mark though. All this tech spending will lead to something. More than likey it will be foreign people and countries that benefit from it. In fact, this has already happened. There are dozens of countries around the world that have shot ahead based on tech. Most of these countries were behind before and simply caught up through flattening. This will simply continue so that America runs in place and the rest of the world catches up. Nothing we do changes this anymore than Google's projects turn into anything. Many of the things we do actually causes harm, like allowing so much immigration and encouraging foreign people to take over our colleges. If anything shocking happens in the next few years it's likly to be a response to that.

frank p | May 25, 2007 | 7:31AM

Google has acquired many companies to date. I don't know the exact number, but I'm sure it's tracked by some blog, somewhere. To my knowledge, none of those was started by a former Google employee, or we would have heard. (Tell me if I'm missing something here.) Regardless, many talented employees have left Google since it went public, fully vested or otherwise, and it stands to reason that several of these would have launched new startups that are now turning into promising businesses. But is anyone acquiring those businesses? Seems it's yet to be proven that businesses formed by ex-Google employees are actually acquirable in any significant numbers. If so, then the jury's still out as to whether Google is really fertile ground for growing successful new entrepreneurs. Granted, these exiting employees are greatly enrichened, but is that a help or a hindrance to them becoming hungry, obsessed new-company builders who want to rule the world?

Graeme Thickins | May 25, 2007 | 7:37AM

Well i just finished reading this article, and it looks very logical, as every Giant will go down one day, like it happened before with the romans, greeks, and others... so it is in business, me personally believe that Google was the competitor who could bring Microsoft domination to the computer and internet world, and now they r on the top the leaders... but soon which mean after years for sure at least 15 years from now, we wont see a new Giant.

i've wrote a lot of things about Google and their growth on my blog, and i think i will recommend this artilce soon,


Jean Ghalo | May 25, 2007 | 8:02AM

There's a problem with your math, I think: You're mentioning 4,000 $100MM ideas.

I'm pretty damn sure that at least some of the people at Google have brilliant ideas that are oriented on a smaller volume of capital and a certain number of ideas that are oriented entirely on cost savings.

Danno | May 25, 2007 | 8:52AM

That MorganStanley deal is not as good as you think. There are serious tax implications and it may have the (intended?) effect of capping the stock price. (The MorganStanley people were not born yesterday...)

Also, you say "Of course the price will be higher..." Past performance is no indicator of future gains.

Miles | May 25, 2007 | 8:55AM

Could Google be the next Xerox? They could provide the world with the next PARC. Weather or not they can capitalize on too many broad ideas is another question.

Brad | May 25, 2007 | 9:04AM

One niggling thought: wouldn't ideas hatched/developed whilst in the pay of Google belong to Google? Any idea of what staff contracts say about this point?

Ian Goss | May 25, 2007 | 9:09AM

BTW, Bob, there are problems with the comments pages on this site.

I still don't see how Google is a threat to Microsoft. If PC prices go way down, Microsoft can make a cheaper Windows and keep collecting their tax til doomsday.

Rick | May 25, 2007 | 9:19AM

The guys running Google might be smart enough to act as angel investors for the employees that want to pursue their own ideas. Google has a lot of cash and a smart way to invest it is to provide their (ex-)employees with venture capital to go with their sushi. Then when that Google-killer comes, Google will own a piece of it.

Better to be deposed by your kid than by a stranger right? Can't say for sure, never having been deposed...

randomjohndoe | May 25, 2007 | 9:45AM

Regarding options, Google probably grants new options each year to employees that perform well. That means that while you could cash in your options after 4 years and leave the company, you'd be leaving a lot of money on the table as well. That would keep a lot of people from leaving at their 4 year anniversary.

That said, I'm sure a lot of future companies will start-up as a result of employment at Google.

Geoff Perlman | May 25, 2007 | 10:20AM

"That number of new ideas is far too high to be practical and too high even to be considered safe."

Love the line :-)

Pete | May 25, 2007 | 10:28AM

It doesn't matter as long as they keep Search relevant.

Nate | May 25, 2007 | 10:45AM

One thing Google could do is begin to sue startups run by former employees whom they suspect of developing their IP on Google's time. Many companies do this. But Google's motto of "do no evil" might preclude this. Actually, what will happen is a rich environment of new ideas that spin off from Google and fertilize the rest of the world, whether it takes Google down or not.

I know what you are saying about all the bright PhDs eventually leaving is true, but I'm not sure the conclusion is foregone. I was at Intel in 1996, and since then it has suffered an incredible brain drain. Although it has lost its mojo, Intel still exists.

francine hardaway | May 25, 2007 | 10:45AM

Allowing its employees to develop new ideas and then venturing out on their own is good business for Google. OK, it picks a few ideas to invest in itself and take the profits. But, by acting as an incubator for good ideas, it can use someone else's money to incubate ideas as well and then invest in them later when the wheat has been separated from the chaff.

There are lots of potential future injection points for funding and that investment can be leveraged.

And of course, as far as the core business is concerned, more traffic on the Internet and more searches are good for business. Growth on the Internet, no matter who is generating it, is good for Google's core business and they don't want to cut it off for short term gains.

Brian Smith | May 25, 2007 | 11:04AM

They could open their own VC arm and let their employees pitch the rejected ideas there first. Make sure that the people who rejected the ideas in the first place have no influence over the VC decision makers.

They can also use this arm to get in on the ground floor of even more new technologies.

Scott | May 25, 2007 | 11:05AM

Years ago I read about a technical based company with the same problem. Their solution was to aid an employee who was really passionate about his idea that the company didn't want to pursue to set up his own company. The technical company would provide startup money and management expertise in exchange for 49% ownership. Win, Win for both.

Jerry | May 25, 2007 | 11:07AM

The IP will be owned by Google, so simply leaving to start a company based on one of those submitted ideas is false. The 20% of the day that people are coming up with new ideas, is still Google time, so Google owns the ideas.

I think it is more likely that the people with the great ideas will be leaving after vesting stock options. Smart people will continue to create good ideas, and will have used their entrepreneurial skills to pursue some new idea that they come up with after leaving Google, or certainly on time that Google does not own.

Steven Scott | May 25, 2007 | 11:08AM

Of course if Google is smart, rather than simply jettisoning their best ideas off, they will create a friendly relationship with their former employees, by setting up a specific VC fund to incubate them.

That way all that 20% work at Google that executives are already somewhat familiar with, becomes a potential investment for the company, even if it doesn't fit inside Google's charter or manageability. A safety net.

DLG | May 25, 2007 | 11:08AM

Macbeth shall be king.
If they were not thinking about it this morning, they will be tonight.

Doug | May 25, 2007 | 11:15AM

@francine hardaway

"But Google's motto of "do no evil" might preclude this."

Google's motto was never "Do no evil," rather it has always been "Don't be evil:" a significant difference in implied meaning.

However, the key factor that the author ignores is the fact that wonderful 20% time isn't regulated by executives about which ones they are going to follow up on. 20% time projects, if you follow the Google Labs page, seem to take a democratic life of their own, and the employees can join and leave them as they please or as it interests them. Some 20% projects have resulted in a lot of exposure or even added a service, but the point is, they still have the 20% time to continue to pursue the work or not.

I never understood why the Dodgeball founders left in such a huff about lack of engineer time after they were acquired. Don't they still have the ability to do just as much as they were doing on it? I can't imagine they themselves were forced to work on other projects. Even still, I would imagine they could use their 20% time along with other employee's 20% to make some progress on it.

If someone has a great idea that they've been developing in 20% time with another employee, they'll lose access to the nearly infinite Google resources that they would use to make it available on their own. I think most employees see the huge benefit of that access. And besides, if they leave Google and create a startup based solely upon that idea which takes off, won't Google just acquire them anyway?

Wayne | May 25, 2007 | 11:19AM

I can't imagine that the team building and bonding and talking about projects is completely worthless. Those are the type of things that make a company feel like a death march when it is absent. And there are a lot of those things in the 20% time that Google seems to allow their employees to share with the public on the side. See Mihai Parparita's Google Reader scripts as an example.

That dribble or deluge of jobs only means a better change for me to become a Google guy! =)

Ernie Oporto | May 25, 2007 | 11:23AM

1) You seem to have neglected to mention that even the projects developed in employee's '20% time' that are not pursued by google are still google's property. It is typical when you start working at a large company to sign a agreement that everything you work on and everything you think of while working there is that company's property.

2) I am imagine that a ridiculous number of these '20% projects' are related to search or to google's current business. I imagine that most google employees are not working on the next generation of desk lamps. Thus many, or dare I say it: most, of these projects are not feasible as a standalone company by any means.

3) This 'comment preview' field is the really great and intuitive. writing Typing html tags in real time online is very intuitive.

Shay H. | May 25, 2007 | 11:48AM

Interesting ideas-- I totally agree. A few other points:

1) PhDs don't have much to do with intelligence and they have virtually nothing to do with innovation.

2)You're absolutely right that Google can't and shouldn't pursue more than about 5 ideas per year... at Google. The funny thing is that most great startups build great things with TINY teams removed from the politics/complexities of big business.

If Google wants to continue to innovate, they need to simulate the environment that is right for entrepreneurship (which is incredibly challenging).

Alternatively, they need to do what the rest of the business world does (for the most part). Wait for small and nimble teams to build something great and then buy it.

tony wright | May 25, 2007 | 12:02PM

Maybe Google will establish a VC firm and fund some of those ideas when they walk out the door. I agree it isn't practical for Google to pursue all the best ideas in-house; investing in a startup is a lot less work.

Tim | May 25, 2007 | 12:24PM

That quote from Bill was a bit more accurate than his one about just needing 64K ;-).

John | May 25, 2007 | 12:43PM

He's right in saying that Google will never be able to predict the ideas that will work. Remember that Google's founders would have sold their own company to Excite for $1.5 million, had Excite upped their offer to that level. So they couldn't even predict their own success - they were almost off by five orders of magnitude.

Dan Cashman | May 25, 2007 | 12:49PM

He's right in saying that Google will never be able to predict the ideas that will work. Remember that Google's founders would have sold their own company to Excite for $1.5 million, had Excite upped their offer to that level. So they couldn't even predict their own success - they were almost off by five orders of magnitude.

Dan Cashman | May 25, 2007 | 12:50PM

He's right in saying that Google will never be able to predict the ideas that will work. Remember that Google's founders would have sold their own company to Excite for $1.5 million, had Excite upped their offer to that level. So they couldn't even predict their own success - they were almost off by five orders of magnitude.

Dan Cashman | May 25, 2007 | 12:52PM

The biggest danger to Google is from anti-trust laws!

John | May 25, 2007 | 12:52PM

If Google is indeed the Microsoft killer, it will be because Google innovates and Microsoft assimilates. And not well. (Looking at Vista, it's hard to see where MS spent all that R&D money and time.) Sure employees will cash out, burn out and leave in a pique when their ideas are ignored, but as long as Google remains intellectually vibrant it will still attract the smartest and most creative people. Five great ideas a year is plenty to keep the Google steam-roller rolling. The rest they can fund in-house or out.

Richard Munde | May 25, 2007 | 1:08PM

If anything takes "The Google" down it will be click fraud. It's a 100 pound gorilla in the room being ignored by the press at large. When it erupts, the fall-out will be nasty.

Wayne | May 25, 2007 | 1:10PM

Are you on vacation and letting your understudy do the articles for a while?

For as long as I can remember people have been predicting the death of Microsoft, but not only Microsoft. IBM, GM, Chrysler, AT&T are all going to cease to exists... any day now. But somehow the brand names survive, the stock shares get traded for other shares on a two for one basis and life goes on.

It would probably be almost impossible for Microsoft to cease to exist in our lifetimes and Google has either achieved that status or soon will.

Google *is* on shakier ground that MS in one respect, and that is that they do not have a steady revenue stream generated from new PC sales, nor do they have a large installed base for products that most businesses run on, nor are they a favored vendor of the US government.

The largest monopoly in the world, is in fact the US government, and people forget how transformative it was when that entity announced the switch from Word Perfect to Office for applications and from Novell to Windows for networking. Since those days, Microsoft has done nothing new of any significance and has spent all of its time and energy trying to guard the hen-house.

Google will never be the monolith that Microsoft has become. Google represents a paradigm shift away from "one big vendor for everything" and furthermore, they know it and embrace that reality.

I can't say how that ton-o-money that is Google will persist into the future, but I'm fairly sure it will, and it will do so without ever resembling Microsoft in any way. Microsoft on the other hand is going to go down the same route that IBM has gone... invisible to most individuals, important to large institutions, and maybe 10 years from now you will be predicting a major layoff at Microsoft, a company having little or now relevance to people at home on their PCs (or network appliance). The paradigm represented by Google however, even if the Google name isn't prominent will be in full force, and there is a good chance that the google name WILL still be prominent, but maybe it will just be a VC fund by then. Hard to say that yet.

macbeach | May 25, 2007 | 1:16PM

I think what Google can do to help manage this is provide an ecosystem to publish these projects. Take something like the labs sections of Google and create a pet projects section. Those projects that take off can be chosen as mainstream and moved from the 20% pet project realm up to Google Labs and eventually the home page. Then Google doesn't have to try to find those 10 projects, the users will do that for them. In this environment you keep the best people who are working to become rich and famous on their pet projects without having to leave Google.

Scott Kuhl | May 25, 2007 | 1:42PM

@Richard Munde : Just what innovation is Google doing? Sure there is probably a lot of behind the scenes stuff (largely with scaling), I'm sure there is also plenty with ads but outwardly, I don't consider anything I've seen from them as innovative. Most of the stuff they have these days is from companies they've bought.

Dale | May 25, 2007 | 1:48PM

I'll find it odd if such a dinosaur as "corporations" survives the next few years of singularity, never mind such an ugly old thing as Microsoft. Operating systems themselves are a concept that only makes sense for a few years, most of which have passed. In the future an operating system will be just a very boring layer between the actual hardware & the virtual machines that everything runs on. Nothing will be platform specific except device drivers. Microsoft can survive if they feel like becoming a game company or a toaster company or whatever sort of transformation they want to attempt; operating systems they can only milk for a few more billions.

Google on the other hand is at least looking forward. They understand how powerfully difficult it is to keep anything worthwhile from becoming free in the midst of a singularity. Just because they're looking at the situation doesn't mean they'll be able to manage it, though. This is a basically unmanageable & uncontrollable situation. Google might suddenly find themselves facing a distributed spider that makes them into a dinosaur overnight. Like any media company, their main asset is free to glance away literally at any second.

Mungojelly | May 25, 2007 | 1:58PM

Your ignorance of R&D "portfolio management" is profound, and the level of your competency in writing about this entire subject is as worthwhile as a treatise from you on new neruosurgical techniques.

The fundamental assumptions in your essay are so wrong as to laughable. Major companies like Exxon, DuPont, Merck, et. al. have a rich process with multiple stages to develop new products. If your assertion that only "10" projects can be pursued at one time were true, nobody'd be generating new products and services. In fact, it's not uncommon to manage a portfolio of a thousand or more "Stage 1" ideas and concepts. That whittles down do the few that real funding for prototype; that probably numbers around 100. After those original projects have past through the first five stages you will have identified three that have real, significant potential, and have been market tested.

Please, stick to subjects about which you have something competent to say. This is piece was a raving of ignorance.

Carol Anne Ogdin | May 25, 2007 | 2:14PM

yea, something about this column seems off... perhaps macbeach is correct and Cringley is on vacation or just rushed. Predicting the downfall of a company just is not interesting to read as it was in the dot com bubble.
Companies will boom and bust; a few rare folks will get rich while others will go broke. Meanwhile IP law and patent lawsuits will choke innovation and software will still suck.

justgimmecoffee | May 25, 2007 | 3:07PM

Google's challenge will be to have a sensitive, enlightened, mature management approach to this opportunity. They would do well to study how Bill Hewlett approached this management challenge as Dave Packard outlined in his book "The HP Way: How Bill Hewlett and I Built Our Company". They have to cross the chasm from frat-house start-up to mature companyto meet this challenge.

Lee Courtney | May 25, 2007 | 3:34PM

Have to agree with some of the comments, Bob.

Your article boils down to: no company lasts forever.

To which I say: Duh! Slow news week? You would have been better off commenting on the Dell Ubuntu Linux desktops like everybody else was.

Richard Steven Hack | May 25, 2007 | 3:42PM

Listened to Cramer last night saying Google should be headed to $1000+ per share.

Dwayne | May 25, 2007 | 3:51PM

I alreay know the next "big thing" that will compete with Google AND all schooling systems at the same time.

98% of all those "teaching"in school systems - from kindergarten to post graduate schools are clueless when to comes to helping people learn.

Why? Because "teachers" don't understand how people, at any age, learn.

But it's unlikely it will be any fat cat leaving Google who will do this killer ap. It's obvious Google doesn't understand how people learn.

Harry | May 25, 2007 | 4:02PM

It's really amazing what the idea of "the need to be appreciated" brings to the table. It's a key idea of adult learning -- that learners will be willing and eager to take in information if they see that sort of positive outcome.

Most of these geeks get their appreciation from hearing that they're smart, good coders, or way cool. But if they don't get that kind of feedback, you're right -- they'll be headed elsewhere.

Dick Carlson | May 25, 2007 | 4:09PM

The "20% time" idea was pioneered by 3M and has been practiced there for nearly 60 years. Does anyone consider 3M to have been "beaten"?

Mark Allerton | May 25, 2007 | 4:27PM

I agree with Bob in his post and AG in his comment. As another former employee, I wanted more ownership than what I could get with '20% time.' Despite all its greatness and push for innovation, it is a largish company.

With so many other brilliant and entrepreneurial ex-Googlers-to-be, I can't wait to see what comes out of these future companies. And, one thing to look forward to, is a bunch of new companies that offer free meals. Oh, how I miss the food!

G | May 25, 2007 | 5:16PM

The interesting thing here is the more subtle dynamics. Along with the 20% time spent by Engineers, you also have mid level management that has been brought in sometime in the past two years. These people are very smart, quite experienced, and more business savvy than the engineers. They are also frustrated because
1. They sometimes work for people far less competent than them purely due to the fact that they came into the company slightly later.
2. They are able to see the business implications of some of the technical ideas, but unable to carry them out in the google framework

The combination of that with the gist of the article leads me to believe that the threat will be from a combination of these people with the engineers that built the technology.

Vijay Chakravarthy | May 25, 2007 | 5:32PM

Wow, another Jeremiad from RXC. I fondly remember your predictions of the demise of IBM (in Accidental Empires), the closure of Apple and the downfall of Microsoft. Keep going, Bob. One day you're sure to be right about one of them.

brian | May 25, 2007 | 5:43PM

Meh. The important thing isn't hoarding all the right ideas but maintaining an open mind re what are the right companies to buy later. Microsoft's problem was always about arrogance. Google seems to view the whole tech space as a gigantic lab and do not (at this time) seem to be afflicted with NIH syndrome. They'll just buy the ones that get away.

Charles Follymacher | May 25, 2007 | 6:45PM

This piece reminds me of the premise of the God Emperor of Dune, though I doubt that Google is so fatally benevolent.

donoho | May 25, 2007 | 7:12PM

So let's say that I'm an engineer who works for Google for a while, then leaves Google on good terms, with no complaint against the company except for the fact that they ignored my pet project. I incorporate and take my pet project to market, possibly along with some other well-compensated, non-disgruntled former Google workers. The idea succeeds, and all the big internet companies, along with Google, make offers to buy out my new company.

I think that if the next big idea gets away from Google, Google will simply open its wallet, and the person whose idea was rejected as an employee is going to be strongly tempted to sell to Google if it is going to sell to anyone.

jms | May 25, 2007 | 7:20PM

"...then leaves Google on good terms, with no complaint against the company except for the fact that they ignored my pet project. I incorporate and take my pet project to market..."

Except that, in most cases, you don't own that idea. Google does. If you came up with it while you worked there, even if they didn't protect the IP, you aren't free to go run with it. Unless Google has a very differently policy on this than most companies--if you invent something at work, in the pursuit of your job, or using company resources---it doesn't belong to you.

So Google wins anyway. They could let the folks go and create the company and then come back to claim it by judical fiat.

I'm sure they don't think they can take their desks and their computers with them when they go---the intellectual property developed on the job really isn't all that different, is it?

Anyone have a copy of a Google employment agreement?

tom | May 25, 2007 | 7:29PM

Also, someone discussed above about companies taking a large number of ideas through a many-staged winnowing process. This is definitely what happens at most big companies. Often there are hundreds of ideas at various stages of completion--each with their own team pursuing them.

The picture of a monolithic company marshalling their resources behind 10 ideas doesn't make sense.

In fact, most of the companies I've seen suffer from a lack of quality ideas to fill the pipeline, rather than too many. Google has the resources to manage a lot of good ideas---and the project teams almost become a company within a company.

What's really missing is the chance for idea 'owners' to reap a big finiancial reward. In exchange, they are shielded from the finiancial hardships of failure. Not the choice I'd make, but some are willing to give up the money not to face the risk. Of course, you also give up the right to choose exactly what to pursue by working for someone else, too.

tom | May 25, 2007 | 7:42PM

Has Cringely run out of ideas to write about? Three weeks of IBM number *speculation* -- and now the bombshell that ex-google employees will be founding all kinds of start-ups in the next half-dozen years . . .

Maybe Cringely's really good insights don't come on a weekly basis -- not by Thursday evening for sure ;-)

Greg Conquest | May 25, 2007 | 8:29PM

"is going to be strongly tempted to sell to Google if it is going to sell to anyone."

That assumes Google will be willing to pay what you think it is worth. Google is a very arrogant company. Read the book "Founders at Work" Livingstone Apress where she interviews successful startup founders. Some had interviews with Google and said they were very arrogant: "We're real scientists here", "We're all PhDs you know."

With an attitude like that, their success will be limited. Google's only real success has been a search engine, Adwords and a fawning media. But their search engine is still flawed: You still have to flip through pages of guff, spam pages and bogus 'write your own review' sales sites. A search engine that leapfrogs this could kick Google off the scene real fast. They can afford their own public transport, haircuts and perks because they're in a bubble.If that Adwords revenue was to suddenly dry up, where would those smug PhDs go?

Jace | May 25, 2007 | 8:42PM

Google is now taking the steps that will make it self destruct, namely, intruding into our lives by collecting personal information to sell to its advertisers. I've already switched to a different search engine, and soon, so will everyone else.

ray dionne | May 25, 2007 | 10:14PM

One of the best article i have read in the recent time. In my opinion, Google will dominate more for the next 10 years and then gradually fade away. But next 5 years, my life revolves more around Google than my wife.


@Jace, thats an excellent remark over google's statment! Cheers!

Vinay | May 25, 2007 | 10:31PM

Excellent piece indeed and perhaps correct, still I hope not. As very likely the single largest broker of information on the planet, I'd like to think they can navigate a future of stable growth along side good behavior. My fear is not that Google thinks BIG, but that they don't think big enough.

At some point they need to make a statement, jump into the pool, get wet. That is, they "pimp" information and at some point they need to become producers in selected arenas in which they can be, as they had to begin with, uniquely successful.

How about something as valuable as a low cost Electronic Medical Record.

Thomas A. Coss | May 25, 2007 | 11:11PM

Oh poor google workers, they can eat in work, i feel really sorry for them. The biggest part of the world starving and we cry about that the fat google workers destroy the company from inside. Google has to fall some time but the code what they produce will be used later, more smaller companies are better for the world economy than the big multies. Take a look at microsoft, google ain't better.

Chloe | May 25, 2007 | 11:22PM

I stopped using Google last year because I percieved they were to agressive in collecting personal data.

recent news cofirms this. Google wants to recommend to me what I want to do on my day off. That's Bullshit. It's Big Brother. I have already adjusted my web habits accordingly and avoid Google.

webs | May 26, 2007 | 12:02AM
indya | May 26, 2007 | 12:10AM

I think Google will syat on top for the nest 30 years.

Edwin | May 26, 2007 | 12:23AM

I guess you could be right. Google does provide a lot of opportunities to succeed with your own idea; mostly with the very nice environment. Google will always hold a place in our hearts though, and will always be supported. They might not be the top eventually, but they will never been done for.

Paul | May 26, 2007 | 12:26AM

Paul, that was so sweet. I mean really ... really ... REALLY sweet.

Jim | May 26, 2007 | 1:08AM

All this means is that Google will (continue) to act as a spin off entity such that alumni from the company will move on to create one of the "next big things".

If Google can retain and bring to market only a very small percentage of the brain thrust pipeline that they foster they will continue to have success.

The fact that Google will act as an incubator for new business models continues to be part of their success in that it allows them to attract the best and brightest. What they are doing is likely re-creating the mythical HP and Apple garages of the past ...

Pierre B | May 26, 2007 | 1:28AM

I can't imagine a world without Google nowadays. But if they really did work for Google would be a different story. I mean Sergey and Larry didn't work for Microsoft right?

Allan | May 26, 2007 | 1:31AM

While it may be true that Google employees will leave by the droves, they may not have the right to take their ideas with them. This article failed to cover the possibility that Google may have an intellectual properties clause in their employment contracts, as many companies do. If that is the case, former employees may be out of luck. By offering stock options that take time to become fully vested, Google may be draining the best ideas out of these employees before they leave. Even if Google doesn't see the value of these ideas at the time, when any of the former employees shepards the idea to a profitable stage, Google can then step in and claim the right to the intellectual property, and make money off it, with little to no extra investment.

Shane | May 26, 2007 | 1:36AM

Shane - there is a long tradition in the valley of employees leaving to pursue ideas that their company doesn't want to do. Google might have things in the contract that says it owns the ideas, but no-one will take that seriously if Google passes on the idea in the first place. And California law will almost certainly side with the entrepreneurs leaving Google. (The exception would be inventions that Google employees patent).

Nathan | May 26, 2007 | 1:55AM

Edwin, could be nice if you could spell, but yeah Google will dominate for a while longer, but some other technology will consume or split it apart. And Paul, you talk about Google like if it was your mom who passed away. Its a search engine, the best dang-on best, but still.

rensorek | May 26, 2007 | 1:59AM

when it comes to Google shares (the question
being asked is, "Will the Google share price be higher than it is today at any point between now and when the options expire in X years?"). Of course the price will be higher, so the options have positive value, often $100 or more per share,even when the stock is down a bit."

They could also hedge and lock in a good price now with the help of a good bank manager. If they didn't want to gamble on the long term price they would get.

Ben | May 26, 2007 | 2:26AM

when it comes to Google shares (the question
being asked is, "Will the Google share price be higher than it is today at any point between now and when the options expire in X years?"). Of course the price will be higher, so the options have positive value, often $100 or more per share,even when the stock is down a bit."

They could also hedge and lock in a good price now with the help of a good bank manager. If they didn't want to gamble on the long term price they would get.

Ben | May 26, 2007 | 2:27AM

Interesting post. But just because someone from google leaves and decides to pursue and invest in an idea they had that google dismissed doesn't mean that idea is going to put google out of business or take over their position as king of the mountain.

The fact that google decided not to pursue the idea means that if someone were to pursue the idea it likely wouldn't be in direct opposition to a marketing position google was in to begin with.

your mom | May 26, 2007 | 2:32AM

This is a great business opportunity for Google
They should be selling the excess ideas they can't or wont use

konshtok | May 26, 2007 | 2:54AM

I've read all these posts about Google. Seems to me that people like to speculate on subjects they evidently know nothing about. I don't for sure. I don't know how many projects the PhDs work on in a year or how much money an idea pursued makes for them on average. I have the impression noone posting knows either. I do know that Google has been wonderful for me. It's opened a big world for me to explore and enjoy. I love all the features they have given me for free. I don't notice much advertising. And to think that's how they make their money! I thank them and hope they continue to thrive. I discovered the company has blogs which I think I'll start reading as soon as I figure out how to make text bigger in Microsoft Internet Explorer. Microsofts Magnifier sucks. I'll do a Google search to find my way around this problem..........

barbara f weston | May 26, 2007 | 3:02AM

If i had a briliant idea i would not share it. i would try to get it on rails on my own, why should i make someone rich when i can use it and become rich myself!

133 | May 26, 2007 | 3:09AM

While it is possible that a few Google Geeks may talk about how lucky they were to have been saved from their own bad idea, most of them will take exactly the opposite approach, seeing the company as misguided

Julia Roberit | May 26, 2007 | 3:24AM

I agree,
the more intelligent you are and the more money you have the more you are going to go strike it out on your own if you don't get a sizable share of your idea.

Daniel Travolto | May 26, 2007 | 3:27AM

It could be... but it depends of the google employment contract.

The unused ideas were developed during google working time.

I predict google will become the exclusive venture capital firm for ex-employees... if you tink about it, that is pure genius

Belleza Regia | May 26, 2007 | 3:27AM

i tend to disagree. its pretty clear that google has taken a pretty good strong hold in the market, they provide remarkable services and seem to be able to keep up with the tech industry and its innovations.

i think one of the great things about google its that they are capable of taking an idea, and they just keep improving it, over and over until they have a service that nobody else can provide and match up to; a good example is gmail, they just keep adding features and making it better.

oh and by the way, its not like there isn't any more new geniuses in making today that will lead and innovate the world tomorrow.

gogo | May 26, 2007 | 3:38AM

Interesting article, however I disagree on a number of points. Google allows it's employees to spend up to 20% of their time on side projects, but I don't think they require people too. Obviously not everyone has a great idea for a project, and many people simply aren't creative enough to come up with a new idea.

Where do your numbers come from? 4,000 new ideas? Did google release this number last year? Basing your article on these speculated numbers discredits any analysis using them.

Personally, I believe that as long as google has free food people will want to work there.

Dom | May 26, 2007 | 3:41AM

This was a very good article. The one thing to keep in mind, though, is that it likely will not be any of the ideas that the workers create while actually working at Google that will be used for these new companies. Most of software developers have a system in place that is basically along the lines of "If you create it here, it belongs to us." But, maybe Google isn't like that, and maybe there's an expiration to these contracts.

Dan | May 26, 2007 | 3:57AM

Thank God! I would much prefer the next tech conquerer to be an ex-google employee, than a microsoft employee.

My belief is... there are google employees working on an operating system which can take on Vista.

Steve | May 26, 2007 | 4:33AM

I agree with dan, im a long time google supporter and i personally think they will beat microsoft and if i know google well we should be expecting a OS in the next 4 years. When that comes ill be first in line for it.

Tolo | May 26, 2007 | 5:07AM


Tolo | May 26, 2007 | 5:09AM

This is so dumb.

No one is going to "kill" Microsoft.

Last time I checked the company is still worth a hundred billion dollars and I think I'm typing this message on a PC like another couple hundred million people.

But hey, the title sells.

Rob | May 26, 2007 | 5:26AM

This is so dumb.

No one is going to "kill" Microsoft.

Last time I checked the company is still worth a couple hundred billion dollars and I think I'm typing this message on a PC like another couple hundred million people.

But hey, the title sells.

Rob | May 26, 2007 | 5:26AM

Cringely, you have implicitly assumed that Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page care whether or not Google remains a colossus forever. Brin and Page surpassed mere FYIFV status long ago. They're each richer than Steve Wozniak and at least twice as techno-playful. It's the Google shareholders who should worry.

michael i | May 26, 2007 | 5:56AM

Until recently the "next Microsoft" usually turned out to be Microsoft, so most likely the "next Google" will be -- Google.

Alex Burke | May 26, 2007 | 6:12AM

There will be former Google employees who will found successful companies. Will they compete with Google? No, of course not, that would not make sense. Google shouldn't have to worry.

Ryan | May 26, 2007 | 6:24AM

As I understand it, Google would pay attention to the ideas that other employees start clustering around. If people are spending their 20% on YOUR idea, then that would probably be a good idea to look at further.

For the record I don't work at Google (but I'd certainly like to) and I don't even know anyone who works there. I just asked about it at one of their employment drive tech talks at a local uni.

David Novakovic | May 26, 2007 | 6:50AM

Let's just say that everything that you said is true. With that must innovation, Google should be a real inspiration to every other business out there. With that much innovative thought inside their walls, I expect Google to be 'the biggest' for a long time yet. Good on you Google.

Chris Bolton | May 26, 2007 | 7:01AM

Google didn't obviously set out to compete with Microsoft, but as often with evolution the winners are determined by changes in the (computing) landscape, and Google were in the right place at the right time with their internet and advertising based strategy.

Similarly, any Google-killer spawned at Google is unlikely to attempt to compete head-on with Google. Maybe it'll be an essentially unrelated business that gets the wind in it's sales as Google's core business becomes less relevant and less able to grow in a changing environment.

Ben | May 26, 2007 | 7:05AM

Google fails on Gmail. Crashes computers, programs that all want to run concurrently, times out and insists ads by (read their license) - provided by drones and algorithims - humans do not count. Do not look up something you are not interested in or you'll be canned and typecast.
Googles might like it and shoves it to users on spec. Cause math-tichians say its so. Today i want rice tomorrow a potato. Google sends me rice for 29 insites. I was looking for real estate. Mathematically it's get out or be tamed and sent rice ASAP.

MSFT is so slow, that by 1999 some internet should have evolved and DID with OUTlook, still dominates and all emulate...that is a standard.

Buy Vista and watch all your programs, products and peripherals fail. She's ugly and Mad. Google is ad faithful and delivers by the bucket. She is legal spyware -beware. I am tired of this nonsense at work/home. Best since DOS was DOS and bulletin boards then Win97 and XP; I want another solution to stop the product buying and learning curve at work and home. From now on-2007 I trash all persons, softwares and hardwares. You all are a pathetic. I have 5 computers at work on the floor and two at home. I could have bought a home and go to the library. Be me jist...

Also, get a real person to answer real questions. Help on line is stupid because you did in-house studies with drug driven idiots. No word or sentence a person puts in HELP finds help and questions was this helpful. just DELETE.

Google is my favorite search engine. That is a world given. MSFT, where in heck are you, marry Yahoo, do something! But take Vista and shove it out of the window, it's the 1st product that will not read previous MSFT items, or show 'all file names" and changes files to eliminate itself and others to compete or complete or register - an ALL periphals need patch downloads and still fails. We hate Vista, it's a bust. Back to XP. Support for XP to 2009, finding another provider fast (at work & home) MSFT just shot their corp out the door. Google can't talk --it's a giant automat w/no real people. Money yes, enjoy and start ups will be forever, yet jeez how silly of us all "consumers". We'll bum out and not buy at all. Cell Phones now rule. Business Model pre 1960l Ideas are now useless. Take the cash.
Consumers have run out of $$$. You are all way tooooooooo disposable.

Len Comaniuk | May 26, 2007 | 8:00AM

Google rocks -- and it will continue to, because of its openness. The ideas are only rejected because of the time period in which they are presented. Google will continue to mold and take ideas (from other booming companies), just like Microsoft's tries to from Google.. Google will have dedicated long running users that love their products.

S00N | May 26, 2007 | 8:05AM

Right. Precisely. But....

Page, Brin, and Schmidt are not stupid. They see the danger at the 4 year mark as well. They could certainly come up with a way to offer (some of) those intent on leaving a deal akin to a new venture partnership/incubator. If people are leaving to pursue new ideas anyway, why not try to keep a relationship that includes partial ownership/rights of refusal. After all, wouldn't a new venture benefit from close ties to Google?

In addition, in some respects, it's too late for a startup to try to topple Google in their core competencies. No one will topple google in search for the foreseeable future. Just as the masses are sold on IE, the masses are now sold on Google. That won't change much.

While there's still a bit of a battle for advertising, eventually something will give and the real money in ads, print and TV, will partner with Google or be bought and advertisers will be offered a whole package that includes TV, radio, print, web, and email, when they buy ads.

As for toppling Microsoft. I doubt it. People go with what they know. Word is for documents. Excel is for spreadsheets. That's what people know. Don't confuse them with something new.

Tech Addict | May 26, 2007 | 8:16AM

I haven't read any of the comments, but doesn't Google maybe want this to happen? If they are making it easy for employees to leave the company, and then start their own company, couldn't Google swallow that new company without having to interfere with the time and risk that the new company takes on? Google would surely pay a premium for the new company, but they would also be encouraging healthy competition which spurs innovation.

matt d | May 26, 2007 | 4:56PM

This whole article ignores the basic legal concept that Google owns all intellectual property developed by employees while they are employeed by Google.

Even the most basic employment agreement at any major company surely has a clause that says the company owns all the ideas you talk about in the company cafeteria or write little notes about on company stationary and on company computers while working for the employer.

In short, it is cheaper and better for companies to hire smart people, whether they have a stunning idea yet or not, just to get them to sign an employment agreement that avoids competition later on if the employee leaves the company and start a competitor.

Why buy YouTube when you can just hire the people that started YouTube before they've even had a chance to think of YouTube in the first place?

It's this type of clever thinking that keeps Microsoft itself employing smart people and keeps other people saying that Microsoft "stifles innovation".

Patrick Keys | May 26, 2007 | 7:05PM isn't that the way the future works.......
You can go back to sleep now Bob.

Fast Fred | May 26, 2007 | 7:26PM

There are no more than a few hundred PhDs in Google, far from "thousands of them".

Not all people with PhD and doing real research in universities and company departments want to move to Google and be a code monkey writing JavaScript 12 hours per day.

Kamir | May 26, 2007 | 7:38PM

As we all know, most researchers are over educated nerds who really want to spend their time analyzing the growth rates of their own toe jam and the algorithms for such analysis. This is largely what MIcrosoft research does.

So we've had Bob telling us for weeks about the Indian menace, and Thomas Friedman never stops going on about how the only way America can compete is through science and research; meanwhile on the ground we have people thinking that over educated is a meaningful term (what, like over healthy, or over rich?) and denigrated the very concept of research.

I have so much faith in America's future. At the end of the day, what talking heads and politicians say matters rather less than the sentiments of the masses, and the masses don't seem much interested in education --- after all Jesus didn't go to college, and everything you need to know you can read in the bible.

(1) Do any of us have any clue what came out of MS' research division and what did not? How much of WMA, WMV and DirectX came from the group? How about .NET? How about algorithms used in the OS, the database, the compilers, etc?
(2) The fact that MS may (perhaps) be incompetent in utilizing their research group does not prove that research, even company-based research, is useless. Certainly both ATT and IBM in their glory days seem to have generated a whole lot of value from their research.

Maynard Handley | May 26, 2007 | 8:02PM
Maurits | May 26, 2007 | 11:29PM

referenced here

brian | May 27, 2007 | 4:35AM

Good article.
Cheer up, I'm sure that even if Google can't find the time or focus to incubate and develop all those ideas, the Chinese will. It's a safe bet that teams of genius Chinese in China are evaluating the latest ideas in great detail before Google management even gets around to reading the briefs.

Jim Fenner | May 27, 2007 | 6:51AM

very interesting article.
Surely, Google knows about it and would relish what comes its way.

would be fascinating to see new ideas spreading around. the challenge will be to make those companies not as google clones but as purely new adventures.

Hail the e-age

ash | May 27, 2007 | 10:05AM

If the Google employees use Google resources to develop and work on their great new ideas then the ideas belong to Google, and Google has the legal right to protect their intellectual property in court.

If ex-Google employees want to found startups based on the ideas they created using Google resources they will have to significantly modify their ideas or risk facing litigation from Google.

I’m looking forward to the new products and services that the Google employees and the ex-Google employees bring to market.

Ken | May 27, 2007 | 11:41AM

China Blah blah blah. India blah blah blah. What has China invented since gunpowder? All these Chinese geniuses--where are they? The place is a huge market and a great place for production of cheap goods, but as far as innovation goes its a myth, a wasteland.

Have you ever noticed that all the web coding competitions and university level science competitions are dominated by Russian, Poles, and other former Soviet-Bloc countries. That was the only place on earth that kept up with the US in the 20th century and its the only place a Google-killer will come from. Perhaps it'll be one of Sergey's cousins.

Mark M. | May 27, 2007 | 12:02PM

Microsoft has famously created 29,000 millionaires, most of whom seem too dazed to do anything but build cheesy mansions.

Robert Irvine | May 27, 2007 | 12:24PM

"as far as innovation goes its a myth, a wasteland."

Yes, I recall when Americans said this about Japan. And it even appeared to be true -- for awhile. But not forever. That Toyota recently displaced GM for largest market share of the US -- with record profits -- may offer some evidence that vanity is an expensive luxury.

Bud Hovell | May 27, 2007 | 2:31PM

It is very likely that Google, et al, will soon become the “Commodore 64” of Internet search (cool technology for about ten years that was supplanted by something much better).

If you go to the current listing of open job positions at Google ( and do a search on the keyword “semantic” you get one result and this result is not related to the Semantic Web. Similar searches at Yahoo Corporate and Microsoft show ten to fifteen results for the keyword “semantic” and none of these are related to the Semantic Web. At “Careers” there are zero results for a search on the keyword “semantic”.

Semantic Bridge Technologies ( is a startup company located in Austin, TX. We are creating a tool set and the supporting infrastructure for the implementation of the Semantic Web. We are taking a very pragmatic approach. Our target audience is comprised of web designers and software engineers who build Internet applications not theorists who study semantic structures. We are building a bridge, not an ivory tower.

The creation of a dynamic and interactive, “Semantic Knowledge Repository”, along with the tools that will allow web designers and software engineers to easily interact with this repository will have a profound impact on the rapid deployment of the Semantic Web.

The technologies of the Semantic Bridge Project could truly transform the world.

Final Note: There is a great deal of innovation going on in Internet search and it is not happening at the major Internet search companies:

Mike D. | May 27, 2007 | 2:58PM

I wonder, what would happen if pools of creative people did scale?

Tobu | May 27, 2007 | 3:30PM

I wonder, what would happen if pools of creative people did scale?

Tobu | May 27, 2007 | 3:31PM

Tobu | May 27, 2007 | 3:32PM

Thats a great article and good thinking. There are thousands of ideas with great potential and there isn't anyone better than some of the staff at Google to make them happen.

Python | May 27, 2007 | 5:21PM

We're strongly agree with your statement.

Planet Malaysia | May 27, 2007 | 9:33PM

The idea and the explaination of this idea are good, only I miss one thing. All idea's that are done and registered while working at Google remain under copyright and or patents owned by Google.

In this way employees could never walk out with their idea under the US patent laws. This is something Google has thought of before introducing the 20% "own" time idea.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but that was/is a smart idea to do.

Nakur | Jun 01, 2007 | 9:43AM

Even if only 5 of the ideas are pursued by google every year are any good, those 5 ideas will make an incredible amount of money for the company.

As for the outflow of employees, I don't think it will be as significant as you predict. First of all, as another commenter pointed out, there are significant IP issues for anyone who wishes to walk away with their ideas. Secondly, the number of people who are willing to assume the risks associated with starting and building a buisness are relatively small. Third, turnover within a technology organization isn't necessarily bad. Many, of those who choose to leave will be fairly replacable. Some may even be replacable with cheaper forgien workers. So, Google may actually be able to see some reductions in HR costs over time by making it easy for employees to leave google.

Finally, Google isn't losing much when someone leaves Google and successfuly builds a startup. Google will, probably, still be the exit strategy of choice for many entreprenuers due to its deep pockets. Thus, by allowing VCs to fund those ideas that it rejects Google is able to reduce its operational risk profile without necessarily reducing its ability to make money off those ideas.

Karthik | Jun 01, 2007 | 12:39PM

Google should fund/support these potential spin-offs; It would maximize realized innovation and provide a backflow of revenue from successful spins. In essence be a VC for their "former" employees allowing those non-top 10 Ideas to grow legs while limiting their risk if they buy the farm(crash and burn) but still hold great potential for $$$ when they succeed; They could even potentially buy back the best of the funded spin offs(the former employees in the spin off would welcome the huge payday of being bought-back. If they help 100 get started and 3 are huge success, 7 are great successes and another 10 simply succesful, they would make nice money from the 20(without have significant risk beyond their initial investment), more than triple their innovative impact and be able to harvest the results of the seeds they planted.

The could help grow their own pool of Ideas so that they could turn around and hand pick them back.

Gozman | Jun 02, 2007 | 9:48AM

To remark on that last comment.
Copyright laws, and patent laws are not the same thing. A copyright is only for a literal interpretation of an idea. A patent is the idea itself. Patents are expensive, as a general rule, it usually runs around $20k to patent something through a decent patent lawyer. Copyrights are very different, and can be filled out by filing a form with the Library of congress for $50. See the difference?

Sam | Jun 02, 2007 | 8:53PM

What exactly is google successful at, besides selling ads (fiscally speaking)? When they purchased double click, they showed that the only way to grow was to buy more of the market that they already dominate. I just don't see people thinking here in terms of business. Great engineering is not enough, they need something else to drive revenue. What will that be?

DoubleD | Jun 03, 2007 | 10:43PM

Bob, it's always easy to criticize... especially when we are talking of something like a Google!

I personally think the org model Page, Brin, and Schmidt have adopted/created will help them survive and possibly even thrive for at least the next few years.

Even if they run the risk of losing people, mostly guys who would've worked there under the kind of intellectual freedom they get, they would not enjoy that anywhere else except in companies like Google.
Further, not all people with ideas have the ability to go entrepreneur. Most nerds usually prefer the cocoon of a innovative company as compared to starting on their own - that's clearly evident if we take a count of the number of Google-like companies that have emerged from a Microsoft, HP etc. who in their hey days who had a la Google model!!
Plus today, in the technology space, innovations require not just a great idea but a loads of moolah and really smart marketing to create the next big companies. And there are no too many big technology ideas that have not been explored already. As we are seeing, the next wave in tech related innovations is likely to be centered around biotech and nanotech.

Yes, Google runs the risk of having their dissatisfied nerds starting on their own but i'm sure they also know that if they don't give them a great proposition to work for their company and not others, they're not likely to stick around for long. Google definitely has an edge today and could prove your statements wrong!

Now , it will always help Google if they create a venture fund to fund ideas of their employees (the outgoing ones) for a stake in the idea.

Bob, do you have an idea as to how much control Google has over the ideas generated in their workplace? Is there some sort of IP protection they carry?

Will share more on this soon - as and when time permits :)

Avon | Jun 04, 2007 | 9:25AM

I would be extremely surprised if Google employees were not subject to an invention assignment agreement.

David | Jun 04, 2007 | 1:12PM

Google could mitigate bad feelings in their employees by not rejecting their pet projects outright. Instead they could phrase it like "we have decided to pursue these 10 projects in the next year. We may decide on your project in the future, so don't be discouraged."

This could string employees along for a while, so they can hope to be one day tied to a successful Google enterprise. The same concept keeps gamblers at the table and people buying lottery tickets.

As far as Google having IP rights on all submitted ideas, they probably do. But reforms that are threatening to occur in patent law may give people a loophole. Or, they may just have to cut Google in on some of the loot if the project succeeds externally.

Remember Rob Glaser founded Real after his idea was rejected by MS. He was able to prove that the idea was sound, only to be beaten down later by MS' tremendous "why pay when we give it away!" warchest. Maybe that's because he couldn't secure exclusivity, having already submitted the concept of streaming media to MS while he was employed by them.

JohnE | Jun 05, 2007 | 4:16PM

You make some really good points, but what about NDA's? The ideas that Google employees are allowed to work on in that 20% time have to be approved ideas, and I wouldn't be surprised if employees are forced to sign some kind of NDA before their idea becomes approved to work on.

In fact I would bet that Google requires all emplyees to sign an agreement that all "inventions" they come up with while being employed at Google are automatically property of Google.

So basically, what I'm getting at, is the act of mentioning your idea to Google (as a Google employee) automatically transfers that idea into Google possesion, and you'll never be able to execute it once leaving the company without some kind of legal agreement.

Remember, Google isn't stupid, they are going for global domination.

Chris Pietschmann | Jun 06, 2007 | 2:16PM