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On The Google Hive Mind: There Is a Center

By - September 28, 2008

Yesterday Danny posted a typically thoughtful piece on Google’s success, on the occasion of its ten year anniversary. Titled The Google Hive Mind, the piece addresses an age-old question about Google: does it have a master plan?

Danny argues that, in essence, the company does not, and runs through a convincing number of examples that support his thesis.

But as with every argument, I think there’s another side. Danny writes:

Rather than follow a rigid top-down master plan, the company’s direction and success has been shaped by decisions often taken independently of how they’ll benefit the company as a whole. But collectively, those decisions DO form a master plan, a hive mind that dictates what the company will do.

I don’t agree with this. I think Google has made scores of moves calculated by centralized senior management to benefit the company as a whole, AND, at the same time, has green-lit scores of other projects which, taken as a whole, are in no way centrally planned. Examples of centrally planned moves? The AOL deal. The Dell distribution deal. Chrome. Gmail (I disagree with Danny that this was not a centrally planned move. Same with Checkout.) Book search (Google knew it was in for a legal fight and it engaged because it felt it was in the company’s, and culture’s, best interest.) YouTube (very much a central decision). Ummmm….going public.

In fact, the going public piece is perhaps the most important one of all. Google has to keep growing, and it has to keep shareholders happy. Growing on a large base is hard, so it’s best to try as many new potential big hit markets as you can. That means taking some bets on stuff that might fizzle (Orkut, Knol) and others that might really tick off your best partners and customers (Orkut, Knol, Checkout, and many more).

I think Google has a central plan, and Danny’s Hive Mind is a key part of it. As Danny writes:

Perhaps success on the fast moving internet means having a hive mind, a fuzzy business logic where you look more at products individually rather than how they contribute to a master plan. Or maybe that’s what you do if you want to be a giant on the internet, offering more than one product.

The hive mind is a great idea, but it’s not the whole story of Google. When it comes to key decisions, I think the hive mind that really matters is the triumvirate of Sergey, Larry, and Eric.


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5 thoughts on “On The Google Hive Mind: There Is a Center

  1. Chris Estes says:

    Do you believe that Orkut & Knol where bad decisions?

    I have been out of the buzz lately and believe that Knol was bust since the first press conference. It is a great concept but not innovative as I would like for google.

  2. Joe Hall says:

    I think its likely that it may be both a “hive mind” and a central plan. In my opinion lively.com was a central decision, simply because I can’t see any pre-existing Google audiance that “demanded” it. However, blogger.com on the other hand seems to be almost entirely “hive” influenced.

  3. Narendra says:

    Hive mind? I agree with John, only I’ve heard the centralized “direction” described as “spinning the wheel of arbitrary.”

  4. Jon Ankh says:

    I think by claiming Gmail as a calculated centralized move we now have to step back and decide what the exact definition of a “calculated move” is.

    It’s been made very clear that Gmail was the product of one employee’s work. Is this what you disagree with. Or is it the later decisions within the company. There’s no question that once it became successful, it became merged into Google’s central plan. Inevitably, any of Google’s great ideas will become part of its core strategies, but that doesn’t mean they originated from a top-down calculated decision of any sort.

    Basically, if you consider Gmail’s inception equivalent to a management decision then the entirety of your argument is questionable on that basis as well. Can you clarify your point.

  5. miss ann dree! says:

    “Singularity University”. 
    lots of vaguely worded gobledeygook about making “the world” a “better” place, with a central focus apparently being a corny science fiction premise about a conscious, computer-based godhead?
    Agenda?
    like,DUH.