When Eric Schmidt stepped down as Google's CEO, the conventional wisdom was that founder Larry Page was ready to run the search giant without training wheels. "Page spent 10 years at the knee of the master, Eric Schmidt, and he was not only willing but able," said Intuit chairman Bill Campbell during a talk this week at the Demo Fall 2011 startup fest.
Maybe you'd better rethink that one, Bill. Google's cavalier treatment of small business, its unwillingness to move on privacy concerns until it's forced to, and its panic-driven handling of the $12.5 billion Motorola Mobility acquisition prove otherwise. Google still lacks adult supervision.
Everyone makes mistakes, but the mark of maturity is the ability to learn from them. You may remember that when Google launched the Nexus One Android smartphone, one of the many mistakes it made was selling a complex consumer product with no provision for support. Maybe that wasn't surprising for a company that had never sold anything to consumers, though it was a surprise to everyone else. But that's how you learn. It turns out, though, that Google is making the exact same mistake in the way it runs the Places program. (You do a search, and Google produces a little map with icons and a bit of information about businesses in the area.)
Last week, the New York Times broke the story that unscrupulous competitors were going on to Places and signaling that a rival business was permanently closed, which could be fatal to that fully operational business. When I read that story, I wondered why the aggrieved businesses didn't simply call up someone at Google to get help. It turns out they can't. With a few exceptions, "there's just no way to reach Google when you have a problem with Places," Linda Buquet, a marketing consultant, tells me.
Google is hugely influential, and its technology has changed much of the world for the better. But no other company has its reach or its influence over day-to-day activities of billions of Web users. It simply has to stop acting like a hyperactive toddler set loose in a china shop.