(I promised a bit more color commentary on Larry Page’s 3500-word missive posted last week, and after reading it over a few more times, it seems worth the time to keep that promise. I wrote this last weekend, but am on vacation, so just posting it now…)
It’s not often you get a document such as this to analyze – the last time I can recall is Google’s feisty 2004 letter to shareholders written on the eve of its IPO.
Well, eight years in, the feisty has taken a back seat to the practical, the explicative, and the … nice! The first thing I noticed were the exclamation points – Larry uses one in the second sentence, then keeps on exclaiming – 11 times, in fact. Now, I don’t know Larry Page very well, but he just doesn’t seem the type to use exclamation points. Seeing so many of them felt….off. Also, the letter had a very “softer side of Sears” feel to it, the language itself was rounded, not quite defensive (as it might have been given the news lately), but also not pointed.
Clearly, this was a new Larry – Larry in a sweater vest, so to speak. As a lover of language, I wanted to see if there were any interesting patterns, so for ease of analysis, I decided to cut and paste it into a Word doc (sorry, Google Docs, old habits die hard. Something that the Bing team knows well…).
Larry uses variations of the word “love” eight times in his post. Beautiful is used three times. “Great” gets a workout: it’s used 14 times. “Excited about” gets five. “You can,” 10, “We have,” 12. “Search” gets 22 mentions, “Google,” 32, “people,” 28. “Users” gets 18 – I’ve always hated that word. Android is mentioned 13 times, though it doesn’t seem to be nearly as important in the document as Google+, which merits 9 mentions, slightly lower than “revenue,” which comes in at 10.
But what really strikes me is how, well, nice the language is. So many nice words – beautiful, share, improve, healthy, better, like, important, great, well, tremendous, believe, enable, best – all of these words are used at least three times, often more than ten.
I’m not saying it’s wrong to be so darn nice, it just doesn’t feel like it’s truly Page’s voice. It feels more written by committee. It lacks the zest and attitude of Page’s 2004 missive – but then again, Google has a lot more on its plate now, and a lot more to lose.
Then again, there are some zingers in there, even if they are wearing sweaters. Page makes a point of showing how the Android and YouTube acquisitions worked out in the end, a veiled (or vested?!) defense of Google’s Motorola deal. And while the word “evil” is only used once, I find it very, very interesting it was used at all. For a while, it seemed Google was backing off its unofficial slogan of “Don’t be evil.” But in the letter, up it pops, though again, with its shoulders rounded: “We have always believed that it’s possible to make money without being evil,” Page writes. Then he goes into an anecdote about why revenue is necessary, starring his tragic hero Nikola Tesla.
Oddly, for a letter that is reputedly written for investors, Page never mentions Google’s stock price, which hasn’t exactly beaten the Nasdaq lately, but it hasn’t lagged, either.
In the end, the letter is a long, rambling walk through a familiar suburb. Nice, but…well, just that, nice. Maybe I was hoping that Page would come out swinging, defending Google against all the recent slings and arrows, pointedly explaining why it makes sense to combine privacy policies, integrate Google+ into search, and buy Motorola. But that’s clearly not his (public) style. I’m guessing in private, there’s a bit more fire in his pen.
6 thoughts on “On Larry Page’s Letter: Super Amazing Great Tremendous!”
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The use of exclamation points was borderline obnoxious, borderline saccharine — and it was the first thing that I noticed. It didn’t sound anything like coming from Larry Page, based on every other time I’ve heard him answer questions. Totally written by PR.
Just another example of how Google is not a social media company. They can’t do authentic if prodded with a stick. They think Vic Gundotra has his finger on the pulse of authentic and engagement. Really? Yuh. Stick to search, guys. Maybe if they stuck a few more “Great!”s in…?
noteable pop at apple on the “synching” issue. Surprised there is only one but even with such a warm & fuzzy piece of PR the truth never lies!
they’re all written by PR, but if Larry didn’t like it, it wouldn’t have made it to the press. It’s no doubt he wanted it to sound nice. note that he only made a cameo in the first earning call, in the next one, he stayed to answer a couple of questions. He’s grown up. He was asked about G+ real name debacle at zeitgeist, and he said some gobbledygook and totally avoided answering the question. and no, I don’t think his press officer prepared the answer for him. He can do corporate speak when he wants to.