How constrained is Google really? David 14 Feb 2006

21 comments Latest by N/A

It’s great to hear Marissa Ann Mayer from Google pimp the new black in innovation: Constraints. But I do have the slight sense that we’re talking about two different kinds of constraints.

We mostly contain ourselves to the business constraints that we’ve been harping about for a while. Is that really what Marissa is talking about?

Because Google would surely be one of the last companies I would ever file under “big in constraints”. The company hires ten times the size of 37signals every week. They chase a thousand science projects while collecting a billion dollars per quarter in revenue.

No harm in that, naturally. Google is great at what it does: Solving really hard problems by throwing more ph.d’s, money, servers, and resources at it than most small countries have at their disposal. In effect, they’re a celebrating the triumph of an abundance of resources: Making all information searching for the whole world.

But champions of constraint now? Hmmm.

See also James Governor for a few additional thoughts on this.

21 comments so far (Jump to latest)

Ethan 14 Feb 06

hmm i dont think they are champions

ML 14 Feb 06

Yeah, the size and scope of Google certainly puts them on a different level. Still, it’s at least refreshing to hear a company that size discuss ideas like these:

For example, we can often get a quick sense of just how good a new concept is if we prototype for only one day or for one week. Or, we’ll keep team size to three people or less. By limiting how long we work on something or how many people work on it, we limit our investment…
In the case of the Toolbar Beta, several of the key features (custom buttons, shared bookmarks) were prototyped in less than a week. In fact, during the brainstorming phase, we tried out about five times as many key features — many of which we discarded after a week of prototyping. Since only 1 in every 5 to 10 ideas work out, the strategy of constraining how quickly ideas must be proven allows us try out more ideas faster, increasing our odds of success…
That’s why it’s important to discover failure fast and abandon it quickly. A limited investment makes it easier to walk away and move on to something else that has a better chance of success…
Henry Ford once said, “If I’d listened to customers, I’d have given them a faster horse.”

Anonymous Coward 14 Feb 06

MeasureMap, the product that was never even released. BUBBLETIME!

Paul McNamara 14 Feb 06

I read a post on google’s blog recently about an employee who thought it would be amusing to buy a bunch of silly putty in bulk. The post chronicled the saga. This became a big focus inside of google. I couldn’t help but think, “these guys have waaay too much time on their hands”.

I definitely agree with the view that inventiveness declines as constraints are removed. Its great to think outside of the box, but if you have no box, then there’s nowhere to think outside of.

Willy Wonka 14 Feb 06

This is funny. Constraints?

I just got an e-mail that Google bought AP’s Measure Map, must be a BU or money constraint. To gobble another.

Bubble time? 14 Feb 06

They are snapping up good people left and right.

Smart People are their Competitive advantage. Google CEO said.

Wonder how much they offered for 37s.

nate 14 Feb 06

I think Google’s heart is in the right place. I mean, just look at them compared to Yahoo.

At least Google has one focused, defining theme, whereas Yahoo just tries to be everything to everyone. They call themselves a “media” company for crying out loud.

So I guess the question is: constrained in what way? And maybe more importantly, compared to what?

Rabbit 14 Feb 06

Good question Nate. What do you think the answers are?

Google Advertising
Google News
Google Maps
Google Video

Hmm… is Google really so focused? Are they really all that different from Yahoo in terms of their scope? I think not.

My opinion is, that bitch just wanted to hop on the bandwagon and look chic.

FredS 14 Feb 06

Google is very close to blowing everybody else out of the water. You can just sense it. An OS, a different internet - whatever it is, it will be huge and its pet projects will play friendly with it in the same way writeboard does with basecamp. As Beano Cook says, “Count on it!!”

Kendall 14 Feb 06

I don’t think constraints necessarily have anything to do with resources. I think that Google, with all of their revenue, could have bought up everything, and spread itself too thin. To be sure, Google has diversified, but all of their businesses are related and pointed toward the same thing, building ad revenue. I think they’ve done a masterful job of that and I think they will continue to. I can’t wait to see what emerges from these restraints (either the 37Signals or Google variety).

Matt 14 Feb 06

I agree with Kendall. Constraints are a culture, not necessarily a resource reality. Lets give Google a chance to play it out. They have a good eye, good intentions, and a winning history.

Tory 14 Feb 06

nate: I don’t think you understand — Yahoo! is a media company. That’s why they hired Terry Semel.

I really don’t buy into the Google hype. They’re hiring a bunch of PhDs to produce half-assed projects like Orkut and Google Reader, while the executives unload the stock and champion Warren Buffett (guess what Sergey and Larry, Buffett never sold a single share of Berkshire Hathaway). If they really believed in Buffett’s credo then why would Eric Schmidt say crap like “The company isn’t run for the long-term value of our shareholders but for the long-term value of our end users.” I’m telling you, these guys will fall flat on their faces. Yahoo!, News Corp, and IAC/InterActiveCorp may not be very sexy compared to Google but they’re run by very savvy businessmen and right now they’re flying under the radar. If anyone is about to be “blown out of the water” it’s Google.

Will 14 Feb 06

The quote ML posted is perfect. Of course the multi-billion dollar company Google doesn’t have “restraints” but the people who work there do, and in the end the company, any company, is just the sum of the people who come together to make it.

So limiting development of something to a week of three people’s time is absolutely a contraint, not that far removed from those so often discussed around here.

Will 14 Feb 06

Doh. I wrote “restraint” instead of “constraint”.
You all know what I meant :)

Sam 15 Feb 06

Isn’t your whole point that being big is it’s own constraint? I don’t understand how you can be overcoming constraints by being small and not having any constraints by being big.

Don Wilson 15 Feb 06

You can view Google in both lights (either they’re contrained to their ideology, or that they’re openly free without constraint) as both have reasonable evidence.

I, personally, believe that they’re starting to get off track of what their original idea was for the company and that they’re merely developing out of their customers necessity instead of going after their ‘goal’ of “indexing all knowledge” or whatever their old cleaver cliche is/was.

vinnie mirchandani 15 Feb 06

I think we need to look at constraints from a consumer/user point of view. From an individual user’s point of view one constraint is attention and Google rightly or wrongly with search, Earth gets credit for having saved us tons of time. For enterprise it is TCO. If you as a vendor are not empathetic to a customer’s budget (how much your integration partners make if you are SAP, how much pain your next release causes if you are Oracle etc) it does not really matter how efficient or innovative your own shop is. Also when comparing shops, you have to compare Google to bigger players. Microsoft spend $ 6 b in R&D, Oracle almost $ 2 b. Are they really innovating or just tweaking? Those are unconstrained budgets any CTO would love to have…

Gayle 15 Feb 06

To be fair, she does say they might put three people or less on a project.

pwb 15 Feb 06

I think Marissa’s point was that the try to constrain themselves. The constraints might actually be artificial.

N/A 15 Feb 06

Hopefully I won’t get trolled for this.

But I can promise that Google is looking around the web (including 37Signals) for trends & products. I spoke to someone over there, and I mentioned 37 signals, and they knew what was up.

Sorry - no more details. :)