Are people afraid of Google?

You know someone is using their power not-for-good when people become afraid of them. I know lots of bloggers who won’t criticize Google because they are scared they’ll be denied access (which has been done before) and no one in the tech world will be really harsh about them because, well, you might want to work there!

They are certainly a cool company in lots and lots of ways. I know lots of people who work there. But don’t for a minute think they are perfect. I’m going to talk about just 3 issues that need to be heard (at least by my imaginary readers! :) )

EXAMPLE 1

On Scoble’s blog, I read about a user struggling to get a response from Google for a GMail account that was taken over. Now, compare this with eBay (who every blogger is happy to fry at the drop of a hat). [Before I get into it, FULL DISCLOSURE — I used to work at eBay and had a great 5 years there. But I admit that there are lots of things eBay could do better. So, to any imaginary readers who want to flame me, this is not about what eBay can do better!]

My dad’s account got taken over on eBay because he used a really silly password. He lives in India and got the account because I used to work there. He never used it. First off, eBay emailed when the baddie changed the email on record (they email both the old email and the new one) he didn’t have to discover it himself. Second, in the email on what to do, they included a link to a web page. At the bottom of the page was a link to live chat. I got on live chat and after about 30 minutes (which apparently was longer than the average 17 minutes), I got a live CS person (who started off by apologizing for keeping me waiting). The account was immediately shut down after I provided identity details. The fake Chinese auctions were all ended and his Feedback was reset to zero. They called him (in India!) the next day to do more verification and give him access to the account again.

Now, you could say that eBay cares because an eBay account take over costs eBay money and it does. But it also costs the user and that’s what I care about. That they moved so fast. I didn’t have to once use my old work connections to get it to work this fast. It was the normal process!

Now compare it with person’s experience where he had to blog about it and email and call executives to get a basic response – FOUR days later! Comments on his blog say “hey, it is a free account”. Well, you know what, eBay is a free account too. And if you are a buyer, it stays free. So…? Free doesn’t equal crappy service.

You could say that taking over an email account is not too bad. Actually it is worse for the user from a security perspective — the baddie can figure out which bank accounts you have, can figure out which papers you subscribe to, where you shop, all by reading your mail. The baddie can go to all those places and change the password. How? By sending it to the same email account that was just taken over. It is potentially one of the most stressful things that can happen to you. FOUR days to respond to this? Shame!

EXAMPLE 2

I know of companies who recount meetings with mid-level Google employees who ask searching questions and then go off and build the same products at Google. But these CEOs won’t talk about it publicly because “what if Google wants to buy us?” These CEOs have just been ripped off like how Microsoft used to do! Trampled on with impunity. Come on people, speak up! [Updated: The MSFT comparison was getting too much attention and that wasn’t the point of the post, so as you read on, ignore it. I am trying to make a larger point.]

EXAMPLE 3

There are blogs that used to cover search – all of search. Now, they just cover Google. Yes, Google might be dominant in search, but then change your name to Googleblog. By giving minimal coverage to startups and other players and fawning over Google, they will lose readership.

—————–

Just like any other company, there are so many things that Google can be doing better (I have more ideas if you care 😉 ), but no one calls it out. Everyone just fawns over them. Because if you don’t fawn over them, then be ready for the repercussions. That’s silly. That’s like the Republicans telling you that if you don’t agree with them, you are a traitor.

A great company wants to hear how it can improve. Wants to hear about its flaws. Rewards people who tell it how to improve.

Here’s the thing. If no one speaks up, the people who run Google will not even know that these issues exist. In such a large company, do you think that the triumvirate even knows that their middle managers are misbehaving and violating the “don’t be evil rule”? No. And they’ll never know if no one says anything.

I think Google does a lot right. I am an avid user of GMail and have gotten my entire family onto it. I primarily use Google search. I used Blogger and even tried the beta. I use Google on my mobile. I admire what they’ve been able to accomplish and many of the decisions they’ve made. But I don’t think they are perfect. As a user I want them to be a great company that cares enough to improve the things that need improving.

People should *not* be afraid of a company’s who’s motto is “Don’t be evil”

Ok, you can flame me now. Go for it. Oh, I forgot, I only have imaginary readers! 😀

Post Script — I completely disagree with people who say “how dare you email a VP” (to the blogger, Rebellin). Whatever. At eBay, people emailed VPs all day long (yes, because there are lots of users who have issues) and a lot of VPs participate on community boards and share their real email with the community. And the VP either responded or sent it to someone who took care of it immediately. They even had an Office of the President where staff were assigned to handle escalated issues. That’s how grown up companies do it. No, I am not drinking the eBay kool-aid. And yes, I know Google is doing better blah, blah…

  • http://500hats.typepad.com/ Dave McClure

    well, these days i think a lot of people rip rip Google as much as they do Microsoft… guess that’s a pretty good measure of their success, eh?

    in fact, i even got invited to coffee and made a friend there over over this critical post about the Google black hole of new product launches.

    however, arrogance & secrecy aside, they usually do a pretty good job of innovating, so i try and be even-handed when i think it’s merited. for example, if they’re doing what i think they are with Google Checkout then it’s a pretty smart move.

    if there’s anything i’d criticize them for, it’s that the culture is SO secretive. for a company whose stated mission is to “organize all the world’s information and make it universally accessible”, they sure do a good job of making sure *their* information is universally hidden 😉

    anyway, i give them kudos for the YouTube acquisition… the ex-PayPal folks over there i worked with definitely deserve credit for the amazing service they built. it’s impressive Google recognized they were losing the battle in that market and bought the winner before someone else did.

    but i agree, there are some similarities between Google in the late 2000’s and Microsoft in the early 90’s.

    – dave

  • http://www.rebellin.net Lynnette

    Thank you for helping me spread the word on Google. I think the issue of personal security needs to be brought to the fore front. I don’t care if Google is busy with YouTube — they should take care of their customres. I also appreciate that you don’t think it was wrong for me to contact a VP. They purposely don’t publish email addresses of lower level employees, so that was really my only choice. Google makes an artform out of preventing customers from talking to a live person!

  • Krishna

    I agree that Google is not perfect. However

    * If someone contacts the wrong person (a VP, for example) in a company with defined processes, that can actually slow the process down rather than kick start it (if every time the VP is contacted he/she puts that person at the head of the line, then the concept of a queue disappears)

    *The service being free doesn’t mean it’s ok to suck BUT Google chooses to provide a certain service level free. If people don’t like it, they’ll defect. If Google wants to make money off of them (ads), it will have to improve. It’s a naturally balancing system. I hope they do better with user security next time

    *There are privacy dangers to GMail (infinite archiving is NOT a good thing) and I’d strongly recommend people use a computer based e-mail system (Thuderbird!!!) to download their Gmail account. Something Google freely allows (unlike Yahoo)

    *The Microsoft analogy is unfair and inaccurate. Microsoft LIES (blatantly) about competitor products, it funds “research reports” (tobacco institute type scientists), and it pre-announces all sorts of vapour-ware. Google does none of these.

    Say what you want about Google (and no, I don’t use their search engine all that much), but they’ve been remarkably consistent. Growing very, very big, but consistent

  • Byron

    I agree with the blog poster. The goal seems to be to start questioning Google and not just accept everything as the word of God.

    They do lots of things well and some things poorly. No one calls out the poorly. Time they were treated like mortals like the rest of us :)

  • http://blog.mindvalley.com Mike

    Nice post Shri. I would have to agree with you that it seems everyone is just pointing at the great parts of Google and nobody is calling them out when they do bad. In the end, I think that hurts Google as much as their customers since many important issues won’t trickle to the top. Still love the company and what they are doing but like any company, there is a lot they could be doing better.

  • Shripriya

    I think my Microsoft comparison pulled all the focus there. That wasn’t really my point. My point was perfectly encapsulated by Mike — they are a super-cool company that does a lot of great stuff. But they are now a very large company that also makes mistakes. It is in their best interests to try and improve those things. We’ll all be better for it.

  • http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/ Matt Cutts

    (Disclaimer: I’m an engineer at Google.)

    Regarding example 1, I think it’s helpful to bear in mind that Gmail lets you set a secondary email address and a security question. As far as example 3, I couldn’t speak to why some search blogs veer toward discussing Google more..

  • Shripriya

    Matt,

    Re: 1, that is a fair point and people should use that. Email is a tough one because right now, GMail does not collect any other verification information and so, you guys probably can’t figure out if the person is the owner of the address. Probably something for the GMail team to think about. My point was more that when shit happens (like in this case), there has to be an escape valve to shut down baddies quickly.

    Re: 3, that’s really not your fault in any way… Google does the most in search and sets the trend, but I think it behooves the bloggers to rave when things are great and make thoughtful suggestions when things are suboptimal.

    In the long run, balance is what will help Google hear good feedback. That was my point. I firmly believe that companies that are willing to be self-critical are the ones that will grow and improve. I hope Google falls into this category.

  • http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/ Matt Cutts

    I totally agree, Shri. There are safeguards in Gmail, but when those don’t work, I think we should still have ways to respond to complaints–plus have more safeguards. :)

    On the larger issue of feedback, especially from bloggers, I think Google does pretty well, but we could clearly do more to take feedback from smart folks and apply it. All those thoughtful suggestions (with the occasional angry rant) helps us see what we need to do better.

  • libertarian

    Definitely agree that GOOG is the new MSFT. They’d better enjoy their moment in the sun though. Folks aren’t quite that afraid of GOOG as they were even 6 mo. ago. The Youtube acquisition is a tacit admission of middle age – however GOOG and the street might spin it.