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Larry Page Reorgs Staff, Anoints Sundar Pichai as New Product Czar (recode.net)
162 points by foobarqux on Oct 24, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 72 comments

I don't envy the man. Just last night I led a Google+ "Hangout On Air" for a tech meetup I organize. The whole universe around Google+ products and related tools is so dense, opaque, and counter-intuitive I felt like Bill Gates trying to use Moviemaker(1) in 2003.


Yea, I am glad Vic Gundotra was fired. I wonder why wasn't he fired earlier.

Yeah, I'm also glad they fired Vic. And yes, @selmnoo of course Vic is going to say positive things. One, he has no reasons to say anything negative, google gave him such an amazing opportunity; and two, he is a professional executive and corporate savvy. He will never say anything negative publicly, it'll be a career suicide.

Google has one huge problem in general when it comes to hiring. I call them the China of tech companies. They have a lot of engineers and a large infrastructure so they can copy anything that works and use their scale to get market share.

Hearing from friends who have interviewed with Google, it seems to me they are good at hiring great engineers, they've hired bunch of MBAs but they're not able to hire product-driven entrepreneurs or give them space to shine.

I think it's a little unfair to accuse Google of copying anything that works. Google moves too slowly these days, often I watch as they work on a product ages before someone else comes up with it, but they take so long to launch that they're passed up by startups, and by the time they launch it looks like they're a copy cat.

Just to give you an example, Inbox precedes MailBox by years. I joined Google in 2009 and they were working its various incarnations even back then.

Also, doing what other people do is not necessarily "copying". When Google entered the Search market, there were plenty of search engines. They didn't "copy" search, they make their own. When they introduced Chrome, there were plenty of browsers, but they put their own spin on it.

It's not just about the ideas, but about their implementation and execution that matter.

Why is this so hard? They were the by the book power-geek company, measure, iterate, profit.

Search is more like a platform, not a product, so let's look at GMail the first product that comes to mind, with the many gigabytes and proper IMAP/POP3 access they went all in. Filtering and search, labels and labs, plus it meant people were always logged in even while searching and looking at ads on 3rd party sites (and even though Blogger is and older Google product, not everyone had a blogger account, and I don't know how well integrated that was back in 2002-2003).

Then Maps, with all the bells and whistles. Analytics, you still can do arbitrary dimensions and metrics with it, drive it from a simple API, etc. Calendar, boldly supports ICAL, XML, RSS and so on.

And compared to these Google+ is still a trainwreck speeding ahead by the sheer force of will of Google. (Even Facebook switched back from the multi-column layout fast, because it's unreadable.)

The overarching theme used to be making something very powerful for average users and cater to the power-users/developers (who will then happily evangelize/integrate-with the product). Lately Google does none of that. At least Google Wave had a nice API on launch day to write robots, G+ was just a HTML5 slideshow for months. (Now, even on 1440p when reading comments, even after clicking to show more than one, I have to scroll the comment section in a 518x430 box. Why?)

They have thousands of very capable engineers, and it's great that now I can see the curvature of Earth in all its glory thanks to WebGL in Maps, but simply measuring distance just recently made a comeback.

RSS with PubSubHubbub, microformats and organic evolution of de facto standards would have been completely adequate for almost anything they wanted in this new sharing economy.

Though, to think of it, it sort of started when they elegantly neglected to make the profile (user data) path customizable in Chrome, and continued with the Real Name policy blunders on G+, and now YouTube subscriptions by default are completely useless too. (Because if you are not a simple user, but a channel of some sorts, your likes are not visible on your profile/channel page - nor anywhere else as far as I can tell - but subscribers by default get notified of new content on the channel, then proceed to visit it, and find none. At least users can then tweak this in the well hidden clickable gear menu!)

It doesn't take top pro exec Vic (or anyone) to fix bugs or provide more configurability. (In 2014, just 8 years after You were the person of the year, how fast You just became a wallet to milk.) Or if it does, then all the more power to the startups.

>they've hired bunch of MBAs but they're not able to hire product-driven entrepreneurs or give them space to shine.

Possibly related to why they acquihire so much?

No, I don't think they can acqui-hire them effectively either.

nobody seems to like that guy - but he only delivered this big integrated product that a lot of people have been asking for (for example in the piece that Steve Yegge accidentally posted)

Now it turns out that a big integrated product really isn't such a great idea - but that's a different problem. (partly because it kills a lot of smaller interesting projects, and it kills the playground where things were tried out; a big platform is more involved with politics (the real name requirement); a big platform is harder to modify - as one has to care about such tricky things as overall consistency, etc, etc).

I'd sure love to hear Bill G explain how things reached that state with him at the head of the company.

I want to hear about what he thinks of his decision to focus on business vs product as his company grew. It just seems insane from my perspective, far outside the realm of business leadership.

He explained it himself, and is quoted in that article - he said he sent emails like that every day, and considered it his job.

I guess he presumably felt like it had some kind of effect...

Seems insane... But it was highly effective...

This is purely speculative, but for me it looks like Larry Page may be preparing Google towards becoming a more privacy-aware company that you can entrust with information.

Why do I think this?

Trend: I think that 2014 has led to consumers becoming more actively aware of privacy. Google will be aware of consumer behaviour changing in this space. I have noticed in my general non-techie personal circle that people are far more protective of personal data and changing their online behaviour compared to two years ago. I think this is Google's current Achilles heel.

Tech: Google has so far got the best track record of security implementations which are open to anyone using their end-to-end platforms. They could seriously leverage this capability as a differentiator if it wasn't for the perception that they 'snoop' on its users.

Mission: In contrast to this Trend Larry Page has always been enthusiastic about a big vision of how consumers can benefit from sharing information to the right people, for example in the health space. At I/O 2013 this was a big topic for him: so many people's health could be improved if they would be able to comfortably share their personal data with the right people. The true value of this has massive potential.

Indications for a Pivot: Eric Schmidt is currently touring Europe, stating that Google doesn't 'read' email and does not make its money from analyzing your personal data. In the end Google's best bet may be to try to transform itself into a personal, trusted data company.

I think this is tricky because Google's business model is targeted ads - and they clearly do analyse personal data - they're clear leaders in AI and Ml.. Some of it is legitimately useful, Google now and Inbox for instance, their Gmail spam detection etc. But they clearly do use that data to target adverts better than anyone else, and there's a crossover in things like Now where some of that stuff is actually adverts.

Anyway, point is they do make money off targeted adverts. That's not a bad thing, they're not actually selling your data. Indeed that data is what makes them successful, they are motivated to invest an awful lot in keeping it secure and private in the sense nobody else can have it, only they can use it to target ads. In that sense I trust Google with my data but I know they are using it. Obvious caveat being NSA etc.

But then there's companies that focus less on targeted ads, like Apple. They can market on things staying on the device and never reaching their servers. Things like Apple Pay and Health, like you mentioned, I believe in both cases they claim not to have access. For Google there could be real value in combining that data with other stuff they know and offering unparalleled insights, and using their increased knowledge to better target ads. That seems to be the typical Google approach - and there are clear advantages and disadvantages to both - and again I consider that data to be safe even if Google has it.. With the obvious caveat.

With the NSA etc, Apple's way seems to be safer (with the obvious caveats of being opaque and closed software) or could be marketed that way. They have a lot of money to throw around and could potentially force Google's hand with the right marketing. But I think Google would struggle in that world to provide the services or use the business model they do now.

Believe me I've got my doubts on this as well.

That said: in an earlier conversation with a Google engineer, I've heard that the deep personal information on search actually provides very little benefit. Even for advertising. Current query + location is the most relevant information. And it strikes me that carrying excessive personal data is increasingly becoming a liability.

If Google actually are learning and internalizing this lesson, it could prove quite interesting. Especially with Apple (and possibly Amazon) nipping at their heels.

I don't think I could ever fully trust a company that uses every scrap of personal data they can find to target ads to me to also be my privacy trustee on the web.

Another possibility: Larry is placing a knowledge firewall between the idealistic tech side of the company, now headed by Pichai, and the dark business side that remain under him: advertising, operations & legal (e.g. NSA cooperation, lobbying). Schmidt in this interpretation would squarely be on the dark side of the firewall of course since he knows all the secrets from and is a proponent of that side.

Inbox looks to be going the other direction, though. For example, they are now making it harder for you to delete e-mails. All are archived by default. Why do you think that is? Because they want to mine them for as long a possible. Unfortunately, for Americans, it also means that after 180 days the US government can get access to them without a warrant (according to the outdated ECPA).

> Inbox looks to be going the other direction, though. For example, they are now making it harder for you to delete e-mails. All are archived by default

This isn't "going the other direction". "archiving by default" has literally been the case in gmail since it came out in 2004. And, like in gmail, the Inbox trash button is still right there, and Ctrl/Cmd-3 still trashes it.

> Unfortunately, for Americans, it also means that after 180 days the US government can get access to them without a warrant (according to the outdated ECPA).

The Sixth Circuit disagrees[1] there, and, as a result, many of the major webmail providers (including Google) require a warrant for access to email, regardless of age. See e.g. here: https://www.google.com/transparencyreport/userdatarequests/l...

[1] https://www.eff.org/cases/warshak-v-united-sta

The threat of someone looking through ancient emails aside, there really is no reason not to store old messages forever. They're incredibly small, and you never know when you'll want to reference an old discussion because someone comes back into your life.

In the bad old days before archiving, people got in the habit of deleting emails because there was no better way to get them out of the inbox.

How long ago is "old days" to you? I've got every single email (other than junk mail) I've sent or received since 1999. I use Outlook, and everything older than 30 days gets archived into a local .PST file. Couldn't be easier.

They did something similar with the hangouts gchat replacement in gmail. You cannot log out. You are always signed in. This annoyed me to no end.

There is another HN thread discussing this. I would not take Assuage at face value, and Newsweek is not a particularly good source either.

I wouldn't take anything at face value - no need to call out Assange. Read everthing you can and consider all arguments for their individual merits. If the article isn't making you Google things, The Hacker News thread has quite a bit of discussion as a starting point as well as good links.


Could the downvoter explain why this didn't contribute to the conversation? I suggested taking an even handed approach, and to consider arguments based on their own merit. I also included a link to discussion with further related content. Why is a downvote warranted?

Participating for a year, there are certain tribes in HN who will down-vote moment it does not conform to their world-view. For example, anything against Google will get down-votes except from a very few people; while generally criticizing Microsoft and Quora will get you upvotes. MS does have some strong defenders, though - which Quora does not (except me). Also, anything which shows that libertarian or conservative economic principles are not working will be either knocked off from the front page, or occasionally flag-killed. HN is dominated by a set of people who have only one world-view which they think is right, and you better not speak against them for the purpose of maintaining "quality" (#sarcasm).

More examples is that anything exposing problems with sexism in the tech industry seems to get flag killed around here.

The downvote/flag system is broken as it is on HN unfortunately, and used as a bludgeon to squelch voices.

There is only so many of those discussions one can bear, and they have always been OT because they are politics anyway.

So basically, you're saying that the very vocal minority of Google worshipers have the mental capacity of inbred cattle? That's news to me.

>> "Eric Schmidt is currently touring Europe, stating that Google doesn't 'read' email and does not make its money from analyzing your personal data."

Eric Schmidt is currently touring Europe, lying to people. - FTFY

Care to cite that?

I could find no source that Eric Schmidt is claiming that.

I think 2 posts above is referring to this: http://money.cnn.com/2014/10/02/technology/security/google-a...

20 seconds in he says approximately: "Besides the fact that we show ads in gmail which we've done for over a decade and used the information for nothing". Now that I listen again it seems like an interesting play on words that makes it very unclear what he means.

Yup, and below an article that makes it clear why he's lying:


Before downvoting this commentor, make sure you've read and understand the contents of the article. Also, there's a reasonably in depth discussion about the article here:


IMO Sundar has executed brilliantly at the things he's been tasked with so far, so I'm excited to see him take on more responsibility.

They should have given him Maps too.

I've recently been using Nokia HERE Maps for Android and I am liking it a lot more than Google Maps (which on Android has been pretty crappy since the 6.x->7.x transition, IMO, and is forever crippled due to Google's continued pretending that people's cellphones always have a usable network connection). I've been enjoying using HERE Maps to the point where it has me considering getting a Windows phone as my Nexus 5 replacement because Maps was the killer Android app for me before they messed it up.

I've noticed Google Maps has been getting really bad recently too. It seems every quarter I notice features I used disappearing, it taking more clicks to do anything, and basic functionality like loading the search points on the map barely working (since they moved to these new card search results and you have to scramble to get the map you want).

There are some good replacements out there, at least, like City Mapper.

Chrome browser, Gmail yes. Chrome OS, Google Apps, Android since 2013... I must be missing something.

> Android

From all indications 5.0 is a terrific release.

I'm not suggesting Android has dropped in quality or momentum at all under Pichai. I'm just noting the lack of the opposite. As an outsider how can we judge Andy Rubin a failure and Pichai a brilliant success when the former exceeded all of Gooogles goals with Android and the latter by all appearances is just staying the course?

I don't think Rubin was forced out because he was judged a failure. There's just no proof of that.

Android had succeeded and under Rubin the team was doing great - except that there was a lack of tighter integration between Google's other properties and Android - Chrome for instance took too long to get on Android and become good. Same with other apps. As is evident now from how much progress Hangouts, Chrome amd ChromeOS have made under Sundar - he was well poised to lead a team that would have all these under one umbrella and Rubin apparently had other interests. So it worked out well for everyone.

Andy Rubin is a founder, entrepreneur, techie. He grew Android to amazing level. He found another passion in AI and moved on.

Some people are more interested in building new things than running a huge division. Everything indicated Rubin is brilliant and building new things - maybe he prefers it, too?

Where was Andy Rubin judged a failure?

Buying Moto burned a lot of karma. Blowing that kind of money hurts, even when you're Google.

I thot the CW was Google broke even by selling the pieces and getting the IP and a bunch of tax write offs.

   ignoring the time value of money
     $12.5B   purchase
   -   3B     cash on hand
   -   1B     tax credits
   -   2.4B   sale of desktop boxes to Arris
   -   2.91B  sale to lenovo
and google kept patents, etc. Plus there are potentially -- reporting varies -- up to another $.7B/year they kept it of tax offsets I didn't mention, so subtract another $1.4B [1]

[1] http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2012/12/22/did-motor...

It wasn't so much the net ~$3B (piffle!) but approximately doubling headcount with the sort of people who got Moto to where it was before they were bought, and having to manage all that in a direction where a sale for $0.25 on the dollar is considered a success ($0.55 if you count the divested bits). It isn't quite as irrational as buying Nokia, but it's right up there. Moto was a big giant messy falling knife.

How else do you interpret 'Andy you're not the head of Android anymore, we're giving your job to Sundar.'?

"I've been in charge of Android for 9.5 years and now I want to go work on robots"?

Knowing that Google A/B tests everything I'd have to guess 'going to work on robots' soundly outperforms 'public cuckolding by Sergei' as a way to force out execs.

That's...not even clever?

What a weird response, but I now realize that I wandered into a thread where you were just looking for some tabloid headlines. Carry on!

Sergei's girlfriend's ex is Hugo Barra, not Andy Rubin.


That was not what happened. Andy Rubin worked on Android since 2003. It's not that unusual to want to work on something else after a decade.

Remarkably, 3 of the top 8 executives that run Google - the so-called L-Team (Larry's team) are from the IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology):

Amit Singhal(IIT Roorkee 89), Sridhar Ramaswamy (IIT Madras '89) and Sundar Pichai (IIT Kharagpur '93)

[1] http://theiitian.com/the-iitian-tech-trio-that-runs-google-2...

It's not so remarkable considering the IITs aren't a single university. They are dispersed across all of India which is a fairly large country geographically.

Also the fact these three people come from India isn't that remarkable considering that there are 1 Billion people there. Now if they were from some small developing country like say Sri Lanka or Bhutan, it would be really impressive.

yeah, isn't it even quite the opposite, I'd be really surprised to hear otherwise. The startup scene in SF is predominantly white, but SV is nothing like that, pick any large software company and you'll find the split is something like 80% Asian, split with varying amounts between south asian and the far east (india and china/taiwan) with the remaining 20% being of european descent. Whenever I interview for a position, I can guarantee one or more of the candidates will be from one of the IITs. As someone said, with CS being such a strong emphasis in two of the largest population centers of the world, this really isn't very surprising at all. America was and continues to be an immigrant's best opportunity for prosperity with the shift over the centuries from europeans to asians.

IIT as alma-mater gives the engineer an escape vehicle from India. That is partially why you see so many of them at interviews in SV.

Definitely an uphill task from here onwards for anyone other than Sundar Pichai to become the next CEO of Google.

Well page still has quite a way to go

That post is for visionaries, Pichai does not yet come across as one.

Perhaps the price of keeping him from going to MS?

I don't know. Being the head of the largest mobile operating system(that's still growing) alone should be a big enough incentive to stay.

Exactly, you don't want a guy with his kind of intellectual firepower headed to your competitor.

"Reorgs staff"

This is a strategic move to give Larry Page more free time for Mandarin lessons...


Why do you think that?

So...within 3 years.

Nice try, IBM.

The only thing I was able to think about is how the whole article was send to them by some PR and they just copy pasted it. The language. The horror.

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