Saturday, July 05, 2008

Google, the press, and tearing down your heroes

The press seems to have a pattern reporting on successful technology companies. First, these companies can do no wrong, the heroes of our time, bringing us clever new ways of doing things that promise to dramatically change our lives.

Then, reporters start nipping away at the edges. Maybe the hero has flaws? Is our hero really good? At the first sign of blood, the fangs sink in, and a frenzied attack tears down the hero the press itself had once created.

This happened dramatically when I was at Amazon. In 1999, Jeff Bezos was Time Magazine's Person of the Year. In 2000, we were "Amazon.bomb", no longer a revolution of retailing, but a fraud and a scam.

It probably is easier to draw blood in times of recession, when the business is already strained. The bloom came off Amazon's rose in 2000 during the stock market crash. In this recession of 2008, it looks like Google might have to endure similar treatment.

A few years ago, Google was built up into a hero. "The search engine that could" ([1]) had a "godlike view of what us mere mortals are thinking" ([2]). Google was "one of the most remarkable Internet successes of our time ... powered by the world’s most advanced technology ... [and] in a few short years has revolutionized access to information about everything for everybody everywhere." ([3]). The "all-knowing voice [will] always deliver the precise answer to any question in a fraction of a second." ([4]).

Now, the press is nipping away at our hero. Some question whether Google has become evil ([5] [6]). Some ask if our hero knows too much and question its motives ([7] [8]). There was even a rather goofy piece in the NYT today portraying Sergey Brin and Susan Wojcicki as insensitive tyrants who ignore the day care needs of Googler parents.

So far, the press has failed to draw much blood, but I doubt that will deter them. If the Amazon experience is any guide, this will not end until the beast has been fed. The press has built up their hero. They will now tear it back down. The cycle must complete.

For a more lighthearted view on all of this, don't miss The Onion's story, "Google Announces Plan To Destroy All Information It Can't Index".

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hmmm ... I read the NY Times article a short while ago. What about it struck you as goofy?

Google appears to be hiking prices for the daycare services that they're providing in-house to employees who have families. Is this really a case of the press tearing down companies that they've built up or is it actually just them reporting on real changes occurring within high-profile companies?

From where I sit, I think it's the latter.

Gregory said...

I agree with anonymous. I read the day care piece as well and i felt like the press was reporting on changes (read news) at google and how they effect normal people at google.com. According to the glassdoor.com google software engineers make between 90k and 140k that is hardly enough to afford 57k in daycare.

Beyond that companies do mistakes and as they exist in the public realm for longer periods of time those become clear.

Anonymous said...

Don't go kill the messenger here.
I have been working at Google for over 5 years now and I can tell you that this company has really changed. I see lots of bad things going on around here.
And all the NYT is doing here is reporting about this pattern. You cannot blame them for doing their job, right?

Mary Fallon, DEMO.com editor said...

I've reported about tech companies a long time - since the first Mac was introduced. I don't agree with how a lot of people initially report about new companies - sucked in by PR hype. I believe that happens for a couple of reasons.

New companies and new technologies don't have a track record so most news outlets - print or online - just restate the news release maybe with an analyst's quote or their own perspective.

Most reporters don't have a lot of perspective - either because in the race to be first they don't take the time to ask better informed experts about the likelihood of a new company or tech living up to its "promise" OR because they don't have the perspective that years of reporting or working with an editor with years of experience provides.

New companies are like new born humans - their potential looks limitless especially when they are touted by VCs and PR people. And often they are started and run by young people who may not have the 360 degree perspective to put employees first.

Once a company, like Google, becomes a teenager there's enough years and enough annoying or different behavior to get reporters to see them in a different light. Start-ups usually don't have $$ for daycare, public companies do.

If a company has the smarts, culture, products, and marketing to last a long time -like Apple or HP - (disclosure - I've worked for both) and their decision makers are seasoned, you start to see them making better decisions. Of course they can make stupid ones too - after all humans of all ages screw up.

I agree with "anonymous" (why don't people just own up to what they say and sign their name) that the NY Times article isn't goofy at all. The media isn't tearing Google down, it's just reporting a company vs employee dispute.

A lot of people don't like unions but even professionals could use the help of an employee organization to negotiate the best working environment for all.

Mary Fallon, DEMO.com editor
http://www.demo.com

Shelley said...

Your reading seemed really off. If anything the NY Times reporter seemed more unhappy about the negative impact on the Day Care situation, and disappointed that Google deemed this more a mental exercise than a genuine service to its employees.

Greg Linden said...

I found the NYT article goofy mostly because it was given front page treatment.

The point of that example is not to debate Google's benefits.

The point of that and the other examples is that Google now appears to be subject to oddly negative press because they received such overly positive press in the past.

Joseph Hunkins said...

Greg I think you may have this backwards - the press is initially too generous with treatments of interesting and new companies (and people as well - look at the starstruck early treatment of Bill Clinton that moved to outright contempt later on). As time goes on they start seeing the rough edges.

That and the fact that bashing Google is now more likely to gain attention than lauding them.

This is not goofy, rather an important story of how technologists who brilliantly scaled search routines have failed very dramatically to scale up their human routines.

Adam Lasnik said...

Okay, I'm a Googler, and I'll put my name to this. :)

I am in 100% agreement with Greg here. I find both the breathless adoration and schaudenfreudic tearing down parts of journalism to be equally disgusting. And this particular article -- though indeed covering a serious issue and perhaps a serious bungling -- read to me like a lopsided, poorly written screed.

Jeff Nolan said...

Greg,
Your assessment of the build-them-up-only-to-tear-them-down cycle is largely accurate, but having said that these companies are not immunized from bad decisions by the mere fact that they are successful. As a parent who depends on day care I can sympathize with the Google parents upon reading these numbers, they are eye popping especially when you consider that the primary reason Google offers day care in the first place is to make it easier for employees to log more time on campus. Insofar as the NYTimes front page treatment, maybe goofy but it's a slow news weekend that has the election campaign on slow news speed and Google is a company people like to read about so maybe front page isn't that goofy after all. Lastly, as was said in a previous comment, if the press is guilty of anything with regard to google, it's that they gave the company a free pass for far too long. (now let's see how many attempts at the captcha I have to make!)

gregory said...

is what humans do, it is an ego thing. it is in every culture.

Lefty said...

I can't say that I understand Adam Lasnik's "screed" comment. The NYT article seems like a pretty even-handed description of what's been going on at the Googleplex around the childcare situation, and of people's reactions to it. It's not flattering to Google or to its executives--maybe anything that's "ungoogly" constitutes a "screed"--but it does seem to be part of a pattern of Google's increasingly poor treatment of its workforce...

pkasting said...

Chalk me up as another Googler who agrees with Adam. The article ceases to be reporting when it first adds silly asides like "are you sitting down for this?" and then goes fully into the realm of opinion with "If Google had really wanted to do something path-breaking about its day care crisis, it would have spent less time creating elitist day care centers..." "Elitist" is clearly an editorialization. The entire conclusion of the article is the writer's personal opinion that treating daycare as "just another Google perk" is disaster. That's a fine opinion to have, I simply don't think it belongs in a front-page NYT article as a piece of news reporting.

As for Greg's original point that there is a press cycle, and it has turned against Google: that's been pretty obvious for the last year or so, but in fairness, it's nothing other companies don't also have to endure.

Joseph Hunkins said...

Adam I think Greg and you are too hard on the NYT for this interesting piece, but gotta give you big bonus points for nice use of the term schaudenfreudic

Anonymous said...

That wasn't a news article, it was a weekly column.

chris said...

The NYT article definitely had an anti-Google tone. It did not simply state facts -- it was very snarky and, yes, goofy. It did in fact portray Brin as some kind of Dr. Evil-like character.

That article belonged in the op-ed section, not business.

burtonator said...

This is pretty common in political circles.

First they build you up, then they tear you down.

Watch what's been happening to Obama.