Google's biggest problem: It's too rational

When engineers are driving the bus, the rest of us are likely to get run over -- that's the real problem with Google, Facebook, and Microsoft

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The Googlers couldn't imagine a world where people might want to keep the identities of their most frequently contacted friends private. They don't do that at Googleplex, so why would anyone else want to? Thus, we had the Buzz privacy debacle. Zuckerberg and company think sharing is "the new social norm" because most of the people who work there are in their 20s and have no private lives; why should anyone else want one? Dozens of privacy kerfuffles later, Facebook seems to finally be learning that lesson. (Maybe.)

As for Microsoft, it must put something in the water supply in Redmond that makes everyone believe Windows is the One True and Righteous Way. That's the only rational explanation I can come up with.

What do these companies have in common? They were all founded and run by engineers. Not that there's anything wrong with that -- without engineers we'd all still be living in trees and eating bugs. But in my experience, engineers tend to divide the world into two camps: other engineers and everyone else. And the second camp doesn't matter because they refuse to read instruction manuals.

That's the attitude Google, Facebook, and so on bring to the table. They know that the world is mostly made up of non-engineers, and they have to accommodate them -- but they don't like it very much, and they often don't do a good job of it. That's where these companies fall down.

Steve Jobs, by contrast, is not an engineer. That's a key reason why Apple products are so much more accessible to the irrational bug-eating masses.

One more thing about Googler Edwards, just because it's funny. He also did an interview with Fast Company about his book, where he explains why Google's first (failed) attempt at social networks, Orkut, was wildly popular in Finland when it first launched:

Orkut [the Google engineer who built Orkut] is Turkish, so we had no idea when we launched it that in Finland evidently that same word means "multiple sexual climaxes." When people saw a product called Orkut, they thought it was a dating service or sex site, and it took off quickly. As soon as they saw what it actually was, interest cooled somewhat.

I'm now going to create a social network called If the blog suddenly disappears one day, you'll know it's because I've become insanely rich.

Will engineers and the irrational bug-eating masses ever get along? Share your thoughts (post them here) or email me:

This article, "Google's biggest problem: It's too rational," was originally published at Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.

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