Google’s Secret Labs

November 2011

Ben Brooks:

That’s my largest fear with the Google X lab. Google has proven many times over that they can indeed make some really cool stuff. The problem is that they largely fail at creating practical, consumer, applications for their products that they dream up (Google Wave, for example. Google TV as another example.)

Kyle Baxter:

All of these projects that sometimes turn into something and sometimes don’t would be fine if Google had a very well defined idea of what the company is and what it does so they could integrate the good ones. But they don’t, so we end up with Google doing a bunch of things that don’t really fit together into a greater whole.

I sometimes get the sense that what the founders of Google really want is for their company to assume the role of a forward-thinking tech-centric research university. This explains Google’s lack of focus: as at a research university, interesting ideas are pursued as ends-in-themselves.

When it comes to turning those great ideas into actual shipping products, though, it sometimes seems as though nobody at Google really gives a damn: customers are an inconvenience necessary to support the continued existence of the labs. The advertising revenue generated by Google’s search engine is a cash cow that enables the company to avoid, for better or worse, operating like a real business.