I don't know any more about Google than the average consumer, which limits my knowledge to the contention that it is one of the most successful companies of this century, to go along with the paranoid opinion that they will soon take over the world. So it was no surprise that Google was named one of the most innovative companies by Business Week. The surprise was that they were number 2. Since such lists are equal parts fact, opinion and conjecture, we can assume they are as good, if not better, than the number one company in the list, Apple.
So what makes Google so good? How can a start-up become an indispensable part of the life of an average person in less than a decade? Did the patented ranking algorithm for the Google search engine hold some fantastic magical power that has by now taken hold over the human race? Doesn't seem likely.
I once read a quote from a scientist in some scientific magazine (it may have been Popular Science; does that count as a legitimate magazine to which scientists give interviews?). To paraphrase he said that most new technologies that revolutionize life for the average person are really not that new. They have either been building up incrementally in a small community of innovators or scientists, or somebody developed them long ago and shelved them after finding no worthwhile use at the time.
I believe that is true. It is not so much the technology, but how you apply it that separates the merely smart from the insanely successful. That is not to say that the Google page ranking system wasn't all new and shiny - I wouldn't know; nor is it to say that Messrs Brin and Page aren't smart. Not only are they smarter than the average bear (me), but it's not too far fetched to say that they have genius in spades. But the reason Google is successful is not that the founders were good enough to go to Stanford, but that they knew how to apply all those smarts to figure out exactly what the people wanted, and exactly what they would pay for. Google did not benefit from the slavish cultishness of Apple consumers who would do anything to push, pull or drag Apple to the top of the heap despite their ridiculous prices or obvious shortcomings. They did, however, benefit from being the outsider - a sleeker, hipper, and, even more importantly, freer alternative to Microsoft. They used the hate and mistrust people had for the giant and all-encompassing behemoth to become one themselves, and were able to maintain the love of the people all along the way. Now there's a magic trick if I ever saw one.
As if to prove the point of how Google really gets it, Yahoo!, the search engine that started it all, is now going through its death throes even as Google and Microsoft fight to take over the corpse. Yahoo got too cluttered and obese for it's own good. The home page became bloated, the mail, news and music sites were just pale imitations of others, or bought off the shelf and re-branded. There was no innovation. They either didn't 'get' what the consumer wanted, or didn't care. Google gets it. The home page is practically unchanged since inception. They don't do new stuff for the sake of doing it. In fact, the brilliance is that they know what people will want tomorrow, and they cater to that need. I remember when Google Maps came out, there was an afternoon wasted with colleagues marveling at the genius of it. What had come before from others and what we had thought of as cutting edge had been blown out of the water. Google's other apps like Earth, Sketch-up, Orkut, News, Finance all live up to that standard (let's no talk about Froogle in this space). Acquisitions like Youtube and Blogger are opportune and improve the brand instead of bloating it. Yeah, I think Google's number one in my list.
I hope they stay there and don't go the way of Apple, of creating something funky and cool and completely useless and racking up sales by convincing people they can't live without using this funky, cool and completely useless thing (yes I desire an iphone, no I can't afford the data plan, yes you can go ahead and call me sour grapes).