Update: Google X (Un)Launches

OK, so I just got word of this new Labs offering, and it looks neat, and yes, I do like the Mac OSX references in the blog posting, and as a Mac guy it's nice to see some props thrown our way. Turning the tabs above the search box…


OK, so I just got word of this new Labs offering, and it looks neat, and yes, I do like the Mac OSX references in the blog posting, and as a Mac guy it’s nice to see some props thrown our way. Turning the tabs above the search box into an icon-driven menu bar is a cool idea. And it lets Google cram 11 items up there, as opposed to the six they now have as text.

But let me be very clear about this: The “aw shucks gee golly this was just something I tossed together and it seemed really cool and gee the nice managers at Google let me put it up” schtick is wearing, well, really, really thin. Even if it’s true that most new ideas do bubble up from engineers in their spare time (and far as I know, they do), it’s just …. I dunno, a schtick. Nothing gets up to Labs or the main page without some serious strategic thinking – or at least, it shouldn’t. And does every engineer that hacks something together have the same affection for the words “cool” and “amazing”?

That said, it’s a neat UI hack, and it addresses, at least in some small way, the tabs issue that Danny writes of so well.

UPDATE: Google has taken the site down. And my contats at Google have only this to say “We are not providing comment.” Hmmmmm…may be that Apple did not like the compliment….

13 thoughts on “Update: Google X (Un)Launches”

  1. You paint it as a lose-lose situation, don’t you John? Chikai’s post was honest and sincere. He made this thing and threw it around internally saying ‘look what I made’ and a few people internally said ‘yeah, that’s nifty enough to go on Labs. Polish the rough edges and let’s put it up.’

    It’s ironic that, while most companies lose this kind of expression as they get bigger and ‘more corporate’, when Google employees express themselves this way there are always people saying ‘look how calculated this was. It’s all the worse because they tried to make it seem like it wasn’t calculated.’

    You say that nothing should make it up on Labs ‘without some serious strategic thinking’ yet you complain that anything produced from such thinking is a shtick if it comes off as playful. Am I right to assume then that you think playful or non-strategic things are inappropriate for a company of Google’s size?

    Incidentally, another (non-playful, but non-strategic) example was the ‘in memoriam’ message on the Google home page following Jef Raskin’s passing last month. Jef spoke here a few months before he died and we were touched by his untimely passing. Was that shticky or strategic?

    Sometimes the people at Google (and I chose my words deliberately, because anthropomorphising Google as in ‘Google thinks’ or ‘Google does’ is a sad step towards dehumanization), sometimes they do things because they’re interesting, thoughtful or fun. As a Google engineer, Labs is my avenue for getting projects that I conceived of out to the world. Unlike other companies ‘Labs’ sections, it’s not an R&D division churning out high concepts, it’s an outlet for us rank-and-file engineers.

    It’s too bad that traditional corporate culture leads people to confuse honesty with shtick.

    The views expressed in this comment are mine alone and not those of my employer.

  2. Wow, quite the pessimist.

    I’m not sure there is much “strategic thinking” behind developments like Google Sets or Google Suggest. Yes, Google is a big, important corporation but they can recognize the value in something cool and share it with the rest of us. I’m glad they don’t agree with you – there *shouldn’t* be strategic thinking behind every single application of their search product.

  3. I agree with John. If you look at Labs, and at the non-Labs apps that were done in 20% time, like Gmail and News, these are the kind of things you would expect to be core to Google’s plans (email, maps, wireless, personalization, scholar), and it isn’t good enough to say these are just fun products. Yes, have fun. Yes, encourage creativity. But don’t leave it all to what individual employees decide would be fun to put out there. Apple does just fine mixing these attributes. And in any case, I don’t believe that there is no strategic thought – it cannot be that all those developer 20%days have produced a couple of dozen Labs products – some selection is going on and it might as well be strategic.

  4. Kevin –

    Thanks for taking the time to post, and for being so honest. It really, really makes me happy to see Googlers joining the conversation, even if I’ve ticked them off. My point is just this: Google is a very big, very important company, but often its communications come off as disingenuous. Big, important companies don’t have to act like GM, but they do have to think about communications – a lot.

  5. I’ve found the “awesome” and “cool” comments which greeted this Google X Labs project bizzarre, to say the least. This was just a bunch of icons someone has knocked up. Big deal! Innovation = zero, novelty factor just slightly greater than zero, but only for Google-obsessed sados. Astonishing that a complete non-event attracted such a response from the Blog community. Have folks nothing of more substance to comment upon than a bunch of icons?

    There are some very strange people around!

  6. Apparently they thought so much of it they put it back under a sheet… Your first link… it no longer links to anything (404). And, the Labs page seems to have scrubbed itself clean of any reference of it.

    Seems Google’s Corporate Parent wasn’t so proud of the new baby after all.

  7. Google seems to be trying out two different forms of communication lately. First, there’s the playful stuff that we get on the blog. And then there’s the “AdSense” communication — the colder side of Google that prefers NOT to communicate. When we see so many things being done in secret with AdSense (and seeming “evil”, what’s to make us believe that the playful commentary on the blog is real? I don’t buy it. I’m sure this is a case of one hand not talking to the other, but these groups really need to get together. The AdSense group needs a better dialog with the community, and by community, I don’t mean the top publishers in the program.

  8. I thought when I first saw it that surely Apple isn’t going to be thrilled with the idea. So I assumed that google surely got permission before they went live with this, I mean you can pretty much bet Apple has some sort of copyright on the whole idea. But now that they took it down so suddenly, and are completely unwilling to comment, you only got to think that maybe they did strike a nerve.

  9. What’s coolest about it IMO is that it allows the imagination to wander to a future where Google *does* have its own OS, or at least its own office suite, which would be pretty cool.

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