There’s a discussion going around the Blogosphere that is picking up a bit of steam, regarding Google and how arrogant or condescending the company is or isn’t. While this is surely not the first time the topic has ever been discussed, this particular instance of it appears to have started with a post from Mike Elgan at ITWorld over the weekend.
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Elgan talks about the Google Instant launch last week, and Google Director of Global Communications and Public Affairs Gabriel Stricker’s introduction of it, which he calls "condescending to the audience". He writes:
He said that the reason Google holds events like this one was that "we hear from a lot of you that with the kind of breakneck pace of innovation that we go through at Google, it’s nice for us to kind of let you catch your breath." He went on to tell the audience that they would "hear from our Search rocket scientists in a second who will hold your hand through the latest and greatest of what we’re up to."
So Google is so awesome that the company has to pause so the rest of the world can catch its breath? And we’re all so stupid that Google geniuses have to "hold our hands" as they explain things?
Elgan also takes a shot at Google CEO Eric Schmidt for asserting that Google users want Google to tell them what they should be doing next. He also whips out the infamous Schmidt quote about privacy and how "If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place."
Does Elgan have a point? Michael Arrington at TechCrunch thinks Google’s possibly at its most humble point since going public. "Google is far less arrogant than they were even a few years ago. And even I, possibly the most sensitive and defensive person you’ll ever meet, don’t see Elgan’s examples as condescending in any way." He goes on to suggest that Google was much more condescending a year after going public, which he says is "when companies are typically at the peak of arrogance".
He also says, "Most of the arrogance I see is across town at Facebook, which is exactly what I’d expect from a company on the rise." That’s an interesting point.
Spetnik Solutions President Aaron J Spetner said in a comment on our Facebook page, "I would not necessarily call them [Google] ‘arrogant’. However, as they grow they seem to be losing the handle on the user-centric philosophy that they have until now shown. An example can be seen with some of the features (or lack thereof) in their Chrome browser, where they tend to ‘decide what is good for the customer’ instead of letting the customer choose what options to enable."
"It also seems that this has led to the "failures" that are/were Wave and Buzz. Google was too busy worried about taking on Facebook that they forgot to think about what the public wants," added Spetner. "This may be because they did get a bit cocky after their major successes with Search and GMail, in which they were dead-on in regards to "what the customer really wants". While this may be a dangerous path to follow, it is still not too late for Google to re-focus on the customer and continue to create and provide stellar web services."
Thomas O’Hearn (also on our Facebook page) says, "I think regardless of a few failures, Google has the resources to succeed wherever they want to succeed. And thanks to startups being relatively easy to get rolling online, the chance of competition to their interests is always out there – I don’t see Google as arrogantly indifferent to this."
The Huffington Post is running a poll on the topic, which as of the time of this writing, the majority seem to think that Google is indeed arrogant and condescending:
That’s fine though. Haven’t companies like Apple, Facebook, and Google earned the right to be condescending? I’m not necessarily saying that everyone who works for the companies is that way at all, but when you’ve accomplished as much as any of these three have, haven’t you earned the right in some respect? I mean, if these three can’t be condescending, who can be?
Look at how Apple has revolutionized the mobile industry (just one of their more recent accomplishments). Look at how Facebook has managed to practically take over the web (with the physical world in its sights), already boasting over 500 million users around the world. Look at how Google has changed the world, not only with its bread and butter (search and advertising), but with its breadth of product creations and acquisitions from Google Maps Street View to Google Docs to YouTube, to Gmail.
Maybe there’s a fine line between condescending and having pride in your accomplishments.
Google and Apple will commonly make jabs at one another in various presentations. They’re condescending towards one another. They’re both proud of themselves. They’re both confident in their own products. Is being condescending a symptom of confidence?
It reminds me of New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan. He’s been getting a lot of attention in the sports media for being kind of condescending himself, but I give him the same benefit of the doubt. He’s got a team full of playmakers (having added even more of them since making it to the AFC championship last season, granted they didn’t all perform in Monday’s game), and he’s not scared of other teams. He wants people to know that. Not everyone likes his attitude, but he doesn’t care.
I’m not saying Google doesn’t care, but perhaps these kinds of things are Google’s way of saying "we’re not scared" of the competition (which is coming from all angles these days). Google stands behind its products, and wants to convince you that they’re the best. If that comes off as condescending, so be it. Better than showing weakness, no?
Google probably has more to be confident about than Ryan. The Jets didn’t go to the Super Bowl. Google has dominated the web for years.
Update: Nice quote from Eric Schmidt at Zeitgeist (via Arrington):
In response to a question about Google’s increasing friction around the world – problems in China, government investigations, etc., Schmidt says “It’s a consequence of winning. If we were losing we wouldn’t have these problems.”
Do you think Google is arrogant? Condescending? Do they deserve to be? Let us know what you think.