In a painfully long Medium post titled “Why I left Google to join Grab,” Yegge listed what he believes are the company’s faults: the company is too political, rather risk-averse, and fears “real innovation,” whatever that means. “The main reason I left Google is that they can no longer innovate,” he wrote. “They’ve pretty much lost that ability.” He also lauds his new venture, Grab (Uber for Southeast Asia). And though Yegge’s post is more-or-less just a long-winded Grab promo, it contains a few interesting observations about Google from a man who spent 13 years on the inside.
According to Yegge, Google and its parent company Alphabet have become obsessed with matching and one-upping competitors, rather than producing goods based on what customers want. He claims that the company’s internal slogan — “Focus on the user and all else will follow” — is merely lip service, and that Google is instead playing “the dangerous but easier game of using competitor activity as a proxy for what customers really need.”
“You can look at Google’s entire portfolio of launches over the past decade, and trace nearly all of them to copying a competitor: Google+ (Facebook), Google Cloud (AWS), Google Home (Amazon Echo), Allo (WhatsApp), Android Instant Apps (Facebook, WeChat), Google Assistant (Apple/Siri), and on and on and on,” Yegge wrote. “They are stuck in me-too mode and have been for years. They simply don’t have innovation in their DNA any more. And it’s because their eyes are fixed on their competitors, not their customers.”
The idea that a company with such market dominance that it was fined a record $2.7 billion in the EU for antitrust violations could be this obsessed with matching rivals is rather fascinating to entertain. Is the second-most valuable company in the world really that insecure?
Back in 2016, Business Insider’s Matthew Weinberger ascribed Google’s copying as an attempt to stay relevant. If people start consuming media through Oculus Rifts and AI-powered assistants, how are they going to continue to use Google’s search engine, or see Google-delivered ads? By constantly copying its competitors, Google is ensuring it has a foothold whichever new market eventually takes off.
It’s worth noting this isn’t the first time Yegge has ranted about Google, back in 2011 he accidentally published a lengthy, angst-filled diatribe about the then-struggling Google+ on Google+. Despite being publishing on what is objectively the world’s worst social media platform, it actually got some traction and started a conversation about the company’s business practices. So perhaps this new one could too.