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Why Google Does Not Own Skype « StevenLevy.com

http://www.stevenlevy.com/index.php/05/10/why-google-does-not-own-skype

Steven Levy relates the story of Wesley Chan, a Google product manager, derailing the Skype acquisition:

if Google bought Skype, Chan concluded, it would have to rewrite the entire Skype platform.

Basically, he was convinced that peer-to-peer wouldn’t work within Google’s infrastructure, and that Google could build a better mousetrap on it’s own.

Especially interesting is the description of the meeting when the deal went south:

“Salar [Kamangar, now CEO of YouTube] and I laid the grenades,” Chan told me. According to Chan, the pair went to Sergey Brin and convinced him it was a terrible deal. Then, Chan says, they brainstormed a plan to sabotage the deal in a key meeting of top executives, a gather that presumably would wind up blessing the purchase.

The idea was bait and switch—the executives in favor of the deal would assume that everything was on track, and Chan and his allies would use shock and awe to turn things around. Chan says that he began the meeting by praising the deal. “I even had a deck that was super supportive of it,” he says.

But, according to Chan, halfway through the deck, Sergey Brin seized the floor “and started getting really negative.” He asked a series of questions that he knew would get unsatisfactory answers. Is this purchase data-driven? Who is going to spend all those months commuting to Europe? (No one stepped up.) How long is the government review expected to take? As Chan had figured, the advocates of the deal were unprepared to respond to these last-minute objections.

Chan then described the climatic moment. “[Sergey] looks at me and says, ‘Why would I want this risk? We have a team capable of building the carrier, we have the users, we have hundreds of millions of Gmail users, why do we need to have Skype?’ And at that point, Sergey gets up and says, ‘This is the dumbest shit I’ve ever seen.’ And Eric gets up and walks out of the room, and I’m like, okay, the deal’s off.” And it was.

We Know Whose Throat To Choke: Gundotra’s

Larry Page reorganizes Google to make management leaner and more accountable. Nice goals. However, I am uncertain as to how ‘social’ can be broken out of everything else.

Jessica Guynn, Google CEO Larry Page completes major reorganization of Internet search giant

Those promotions include Andy Rubin who is now senior vice president of mobile; Vic Gundotra who is now senior vice president of social; Sundar Pichai who is now senior vice president of Chrome; Salar Kamangar who is now senior vice president of YouTube and video; Alan Eustace, who is now senior vice president of search; and Susan Wojcicki, who is now senior vice president of ads.

The executives will be able to act more autonomously and won’t have to turn to Google’s powerful operating committee on every decision.

Gundotra might be better at leading social than Sergey Brin — the champion of Buzz and the ill-fated acquisition of Slide — but is he just the guy left standing after Google couldn’t find someone to run social?

Oh, and ‘running’ social does not mean buying Twitter.

We shouldn’t be surprised when a company that has placed algorithms at the center of its pantheon of deities is a bit flummoxed by messy, messy humans connecting.

Maybe this is time to pitch my Liquid Email project to Gundotra?

Update 9 April 8:00am

Mathew Ingram comments on a leaked memo from Larry Page, threatening Google bonuses if social efforts there aren’t successful:

If nothing else, Page’s move makes Google seem increasingly desperate when it comes to the social sphere. The company has tried to get things moving by launching features such as Buzz and the ill-fated Google Wave but has had little or no traction with regular users. And the +1 network seems to be designed primarily to influence Google search, rather than to actually encourage users to socialize with each other. In that sense, it’s another sign of former CEO Eric Schmidt’s strategy of adding social as a “layer” to existing products.

As we’ve written before, the contrast between Google’s approach and Facebook’s approach couldn’t be more stark: Facebook was designed to be social from the ground up. Social features are the core functionality of the system, not something that gets bolted on after the fact. Google has spent the vast majority of its life not really caring about social features, and it shows. As Om has argued, social just doesn’t seem to be in Google’s DNA, and so far, there are no signs that it has been able to splice that kind of knowledge in from elsewhere.

[…]

Will Larry Page’s attempt to rally the troops and incentivize them to get social actually have some tangible impact on Google’s ability to succeed in this area? That remains to be seen, but I’m skeptical. I think Google staffers are more likely to resent these moves rather than feel inspired, and resentment isn’t a great foundation for a new social effort.

The threat of punishment is not an incentive, but leave that aside. The deeper question is this: can Page socialize Google, but whatever means?

Wouldn’t it be better to create a skunkworks somewhere, one that is fooling with socializing existing Google tools, or devising more social replacements? Again, going back to the Liquid Email model, couldn’t a Google skunkworks figure out a more social email client, or more social calendaring?

Can Google Go Social?

I have been watching Google’s frenetic quest to find an opening into the social revolution for a long time.

To date, what we have seen are experiments and acquisitions.

Having Gundotra lead social at Google reminds me of President Obama tapping General Petraeus to take on Afghanistan. It feels calming at the moment, but might not actually lead to the desired outcome.

On one one side, half-hearted hobbies that senior management hopes will grow into something great. In this category we have the more-or-less failed social network Orkut and now Wave, which both surfaced from the company’s ‘one day a week’ tinkering culture.

On the other, acquisitions like Jaiku and Dodgeball, which were innovative and groundbreaking, but were allowed to die in red tape, and where the innovative founders — like Jyri Engstrom of Jaiku, and Dennis Crowley of Dodgeball, soon left the company. Or great fat purchases like YouTube, which have proven to be less valuable than market prices.

Then, Google staged a relatively public search for a leader to move them to social. (Despite losing Jyri and Dennis, either of which could have done great things for the firm.) The result? Can’t find the right person. Catarina Fake couldn’t be lured back into corporate deadness, I guess. And Bradley Horowitz, who runs Google Talk, Grandcentral, Blogger and Picasa, wasn’t the right guy, apparently.

So now we have Vic Gundotra annointed as Mr Social, a guy who has made great strides at Google Mobile, getting Android into the market with a bang. But is he Mr Social?

Having Gundotra lead social at Google reminds me of President Obama tapping General Petraeus to take on Afghanistan. It feels calming at the moment, but might not actually lead to the desired outcome.

Om Malik puts it this way: Vic is a great product manager, focused on features. But social is more than a veneer of games, gestures, music, comments.

Om Malik, Slide, Vic Gundotra & The Un-Social Reality of Google

Social is more than just features. I’ve been saying for a while that in order to understand social and win over the social web, companies need to understand people. I’m not sure Google is capable of understanding people on that level, and that’s the reason why the company strikes out whenever it tries. There are rumors Google co-founder Sergey Brin championed the acquisition of Slide. He also championed Google Wave (which is shutting down) and the poorly conceived Google Buzz.

We are in a great migration away from a web of pages to a web of flow, where streams connect us and allow us to share links, comments, photos, games, locations, lists, and even larger social objects in the future. And Google has only had the smallest involvement in that expansion.

Google made a pile by harvesting the latent value of all the social gestures we were leaving around the web in the form of links. These form the core of Page Rank and Google’s search/advertising business.

This was born in the paleolithic of the social web, where mostly we were wandering around as hunter-gatherers, turning over rocks, based on keyword search. The idea of social in those days was to send email alerts to people so they’d remember to read your blog and post comments.

But the social web has grown based on social networks — relationships between people — not hyperlinks between web pages. We are in a great migration away from a web of pages to a web of flow, where streams connect us and allow us to share links, comments, photos, games, locations, lists, and even larger social objects in the future. And Google has only had the smallest involvement in that expansion. But they desperately want in on the next wave, but they haven’t found a formula yet. It’s not Wave or Buzz, obviously. And now they are plotting a knockoff of Facebook: how 2009!

There are many unplowed fertile fields out there, where Google’s scale and engineering soul could do great things. As just one example, modern social network research has shown that the social ‘scenes’ we are situated in — the millions of people that form the ‘friends of my friends’ friends’ network — are the single best predictor of our likelihood to be fat, smoke, or be happy. And by extension, buy Chevrolets, listen to Country music, or read manga. And no services have tapped into that reality, yet, except in the most inadvertent ways. (For more background see Social Scenes: The Invisible Calculus Of Culture, It’s Betweenness That Matters, Not Your Eigenvalue: The Dark Matter Of Influence and Jeff Jarvis on The Hunt For The Elusive Influencer.)

This is why actions like buying Slide are likely to be diversions, like Jaiku and Dodgeball turned out to be. Meanwhile, there are real advances to be made — like building sociality into the operating platforms of the future. Obviously Google is in a position to do that with Android and Chrome, but I honestly don’t think they know what to build.

Davos Dispatches: Brin defends Google’s China move

Sergey Brin equates Google’s acquiescence to China’s request for censorship about democracy and freedom to blocking Nazi content in Germany and child pornography in the US. Please.

[Davos Dispatches: Brin defends Google’s China move - Jan. 25, 2006]

Brin: […] We ultimately made a difficult decision, but we felt that by participating there, and making our services more available, even if not to the 100 percent that we ideally would like, that it will be better for Chinese Web users, because ultimately they would get more information, though not quite all of it.

[…]

And we also by the way have to do similar things in the U.S. and Germany. We also have to block certain material based on law. The U.S., child pornography, for example, and also DMCA

Fortune: You actually actively block child pornography?

Brin: No, but if we got a specific government request. If a third party makes a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) claim that another party is violating copyright, and that party is not able to counter, then we are obligated to block that.

In France and Germany there are Nazi material laws. One thing we do, and which we are implementing in China as well, is that if there’s any kind of material blocked by local regulations we put a message to that effect at the bottom of the search engine. “Local regulations prevent us from showing all the results.” And we’re doing that in China also, and that makes us transparent.

Oh. By saying that you are censoring something, that makes it alright?

[Update: Noticed that Businessweek is running a poll about Google’s actions: it’s very close, pro v con.

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