Secret Labs

Admittedly I am not Google’s biggest fan. I don’t think they live up to their “do no evil” mantra and I think their design is largely crap.

As a company I very much feel like their time at the top is limited.

However, for what ever reason, this talk of the Google X lab has really intrigued me — given me hope even for the sustainability of Google as a company. But I am cautious, because it takes more than just a building, smart people and money to create profitable things.

Supposedly Google is running a secret lab (dubbed Google X) where engineers get to play with all the crazy ideas they want. A concept made popular by places like Xerox PARC (where many of today’s modern computing paradigms were established). It’s just that comparison though that worries me most — and should worry stock holders more.

We all know that the Xerox Alto was an idea “stolen” not just by Apple and Steve Jobs, but also by Microsoft. The Alto was a marvel of engineering at the time, but Xerox couldn’t execute on the concept — for what ever reason — and thus, though it was an awesome innovation, it wasn’t so awesome for the company that thought it up.

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.)

What good is a space elevator to Google? How does a self-driving car help Google?

You can stretch to create answers for each. You could theorize that if people didn’t have to drive themselves they could search on Google more, or any other idea you wish. The fact though is that Google has only managed to make money off of one thing: ads.

How does that translate into space elevators and self-driving cars? Because as cool as those things maybe (and they are cool) they don’t make a whole ton of sense for Google.

Instead Google X feels more like a convenient distraction for potentially-problematic-restless co-founders of the company. Much in the same way that the Steve Jobs biography talks about Apple wanting Jobs to run AppleLabs instead of leaving — on the off chance he comes up with something useful, all the while keeping him away from infringing on the core money making businesses.

I have no knowledge of Google X outside of the public reports on it, but I do know that allocating resources, however small, to such a division is potentially very frivolous. I have no doubt that such a division exists at Apple — but in a less official way — the difference in my mind is that Apple has proven they can create a market, that’s just not the case with Google thus far.

Creating cool, off the wall, things is well and good. But it doesn’t make a lick of business sense unless those things directly help the bottom line. Not all of the innovations must help the bottom-line, but the ones that do, must offset of the cost of all those that don’t.

So I ask again: space elevators?

Originally posted for members on: November 14, 2011
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