Google

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What ‘default to open’ looks like at New Kind


Over the last few years, I’ve written quite a bit about the concept of defaulting to open, which was one of the major things that drove the culture at Red Hat and was an honest extension of the philosophy behind the open source movement. The term ‘default to open’ was also recently expanded upon by Google SVP of People Operations Laszlo Bock in this article from Google’s fantastic Think Quarterly online magazine.

The other day I was sitting in the New Kind office, and was inspired to take the picture you see here. I thought it did a nice job capturing what ‘default to open’ looks like at New Kind.

The first thing to notice when you look at this picture is that everyone is sitting in the same room together.

No one at New Kind has an office. We all share a big open space. Now having said that, what you see here—everyone sitting at their desks—is pretty rare. While we are together by default, if someone gets a phone call or has a meeting, they typically get up from their desk and head into one of our dark conference rooms for privacy and to ensure they don’t annoy everyone else.

With the exception of our big collaboration space, all of the conference rooms at New Kind are gloomy rooms with no outside windows, so unless folks are on deadline and trying to escape distractions, they are not places to linger longer than necessary. That’s a good thing because it tends to keep us together. And if we are sitting at our desks and trying to avoid distractions, headphones are our friends (In fact, I’m writing this at my desk while listening to the new Sleigh Bells album).

Not only does everyone—including our Chairman and CEO—sit in the same room together by choice, but as you can see from the picture, everyone also has the same inexpensive IKEA desks and file cabinets. Yes, we have titles at New Kind so that we can interface successfully with the outside world, but they sure don’t get you much inside the office.

The last thing I’d like to point out that really shows what we mean by ‘default to open’ is that there are two people sitting in this picture, Adrienne and Billy, who are not technically New Kind employees, but do work with us regularly. Adrienne is a fantastic designer and the genius behind the amazing food blog AdrienneEats. Billy is a writer and social media expert with a Klout score second only to Nation of the people in this picture (impressive!). Neither of them is in the office every day. In fact, some days you’ll see other people sitting in those seats or elsewhere in the office with us.

When we first formed New Kind, we had a vision of the company as a community. The core concept behind New Kind was very simple:

We wanted to

1) do meaningful work
2) with people we like.

That’s it. So we regularly invite people we like to sit in the office with us, whether they are New Kind employees or not. New Kind is a community, open to those people who share our worldview. Often the folks who work with us in the office are collaborating with us on projects. Sometimes they are working on projects for other clients. We don’t really care, we just like having them around.

Do you have a similar setup and philosophy in your office? Tell me about it!

Google PR team: I salute you for defaulting to open


It’s been a week now since Steve Yegge of Google fired the shot heard ’round the tech industry. In case you missed it, Steve wrote a thoughtful, yet highly charged rant intended to begin an internal conversation about Google’s failures in learning how to build platforms (as opposed to products).

In the post, he eviscerates his former employer, Amazon, and in particular CEO Jeff Bezos (who he refers to as the Dread Pirate Bezos), but doesn’t pull any punches with his current employer either. It is an extremely passionate, well-written piece which, my guess is, will change the conversation internally at Google in a positive way.

But there was one problem:

When posting it to Google+ (which he was admittedly new to), Steve accidentally made his rant public, where the whole world could see it.

And over the past week, pretty much everyone has.

This prominent re-post (Steve took his original piece down, which I’ll get to in a second) has generated, as of this writing, 487 comments and over 11,000 +1s on Google+.

The comments are spectacular and largely supportive. Some have referred to this as Steve Yegge’s Jerry McGuire moment.

But my post isn’t about Steve. He’s received plenty of attention in the past week, poor guy.

It’s about the Google PR team that, in a time of crisis, made the tough decision to stay true to the spirit of openness that Google Senior VP of People Operations Laszlo Bock described in his recent piece in Think Quarterly. From Laszlo’s piece:

“And if you think about it, if you’re an organization that says ‘our people are our greatest asset,’ you must default to open. It’s the only way to demonstrate to your employees that you believe they are trustworthy adults and have good judgment. And giving them more context about what is happening (and how, and why) will enable them to do their jobs more effectively and contribute in ways a top-down manager couldn’t anticipate.”

So if “default to open” is the overall philosophy at Google, how does it play out in practice? As it turns out, Steve Yegge’s rant provides a pretty good data point.

In a Google+ message explaining his decision to take down the original post, Steve described the reaction of the Google PR team this way:

“I’ve taken the post down at my own discretion. It was kind of a tough call, since obviously there will be copies. And everyone who commented was nice and supportive.

I contacted our internal PR folks and asked what to do, and they were also nice and supportive. But they didn’t want me to think that they were even hinting at censoring me — they went out of their way to help me understand that we’re an opinionated company, and not one of the kinds of companies that censors their employees.”

This is not, in my experience, the kind of support that most PR folks would have given Steve in this situation:) And because of it, this episode, however traumatic, serves as one piece of proof showing that Google’s “default to open” approach is not just aspirational bullshit.

I’m sure there are plenty of places where people could argue that Google is not being open enough, or could stand to be more open than they are today.

But in this particular case, in a moment of crisis—where many weaker leaders would have given in to the frightened urge to attempt a cover up—Google stood by its core beliefs and defaulted to open.

While openness is sometimes ugly and painful (as it certainly is in this case), it often allows great opportunities to emerge that would otherwise never see the light of day.

I suspect that when the waters recede, this authentic, beautiful, and raw piece of communication might be the starting point toward something better, not just within Google, but in the tech industry as a whole.

And for supporting openness, even in its most painful form, Google PR team, I salute you.

Why is Google putting so many ads on TV?


Almost every time I’ve turned on the television in the past week, I’ve seen an ad for Google Chrome. What started earlier this year as a sprinkling of ads here in the United States has become a torrential downpour.

For me, Google has long been one of the poster children for a new breed of company born in the age of the Internet that doesn’t need to rely on traditional advertising to build its brand.

So, as I’m sure many of you have, I started asking myself, why exactly is Google doing so much television advertising?

It’s no secret that Google has historically not been a fan of traditional advertising. In fact, it wasn’t so long ago (2006) that Google Chairman Eric Schmidt called advertising “the last bastion of unaccountable spending in corporate America.”

And Google is certainly an interesting paradox: a company that historically does little paid advertising itself, yet makes billions of dollars selling advertising to others.

I did a little research and pieced together some history about Google and television ads.

In May, 2009, the first ad for Google Chrome appeared on television in the United States. In the blog post announcing the new spot, Google sounded almost apologetic, saying the ad was originally just developed in Japan as a web video, but it sparked a conversation and received good feedback. So Google decided to run it as a TV ad, in part as a test of the new Google TV Ads program.

The next year you may recall that Google actually bought an ad on the Super Bowl, which they called Parisian Love.

Eric Schmidt announced the spot on the Google blog, justifying it by saying “we liked this video so much, and it’s had such a positive reaction on YouTube, that we decided to share it with a wider audience.” But his Twitter announcement of the ad acknowledged that this was quite a unlikely strategy for Google:

Eric Schmidt hell frozen over

Earlier this year, Google began developing the current set of ads for Google Chrome in partnership with advertising agency BBH.

The work is compelling, as advertising goes (here’s a link to all of the spots on YouTube, if you want to check them out). Perhaps the most thoughtful one highlights the It Gets Better Project, which has resulted in thousands of videos being created for YouTube that are intended to give hope to LGBT youths.

The Dear Sophie spot has been viewed on YouTube over 3 million times, and there are ads featuring Lady Gaga (4 million page views) and Justin Bieber (almost 2 million pages views) as well. The newest pieces highlight The Johnny Cash Project (where artists are collaboratively developing a tribute music video for Cash’s song “Ain’t No Grave”), Frank Restaurant in Austin, TX (mmm…. so delicious… don’t pass up the waffle fries), and Angry Birds.

From a branding perspective, the ads make sense–as stories. By telling these stories, Google and BBH are invoking the transitive property of branding to associate Google Chrome with some incredibly innovative collaborative efforts. The math looks something like this:

Lady Gaga = open, collaborative, innovative.

Google Chrome = open, collaborative, innovative.

Therefore, if you like Lady Gaga, you’ll like Google Chrome.

Certainly getting ten million combined pageviews on YouTube for the campaign is pretty awesome—and free—so why spend the big money to put these ads on television too? Isn’t the beauty of the Google / YouTube model that it can be effective at eliminating the need for traditional advertising?

Perhaps Google is trying to expand its brand awareness with people it can’t reach via YouTube? But why spend the money on Google Chrome, a web browser (and a term Google itself has shown that almost no one understands), rather than the Google brand itself?

My first thought was that perhaps Chrome was losing the browser wars and the television ads were a desperate attempt to keep the Chrome ship afloat.

It turns out that is about as far from true as you can get. Chrome is killing it. According to StatCounter, Chrome is rapidly gaining new users at the expense of Internet Explorer and Firefox both.

StatCounter Brwoser graphic

In fact, some predict Chrome usage will actually exceed Firefox usage by the end of this year.

A victory for traditional advertising?

Not so fast. Here’s a good post from late this summer highlighting Chrome’s rapid ascent and documenting the reasons for it. From the post:

“Online, Google of course has a huge marketing advantage over basically everyone else since it can recommend its Chrome browser on its web properties such as Google Search, YouTube, etc. Not even Facebook can compare with Google when it comes to sheer web presence, reaching over a billion users.

That said, Google has clearly built a very good and highly popular product. If people didn’t like Chrome, the browser wouldn’t be able to retain users to the extent it seems to be doing.”

So the two reasons for Chrome’s success come down to:

1) the browser is good

2) it can leverage the power of Google’s online advertising engine (yes, the same engine that millions of companies have raided their traditional media advertising budgets to spend more on, causing the rise of Google in the first place).

But I didn’t see Google’s television advertising strategy mentioned here, or in any other article I read, as an explanation for Chrome’s rapid ascent.

Let me sum things up:

I get why Google is making the effort to create stories like these and share them with the world. Storytelling is an extremely powerful tool for building brands the open source way.

And overall, I like the approach Google is taking—many of the stories are really well told, and the focus on open, collaborative projects and artists (not to mention tasty hot dogs) sits well with me.

But I can’t for the life of me figure out why Google spending so much of its shareholders’ money putting these ads on TV.

If you have the answer, I’d love to hear it.

[This post originally appeared on opensource.com]

Who will be the new face of openness at Google?


Last week, Google Senior Vice President of Product Management Jonathan Rosenberg resigned after almost 10 years at the firm. While the comings and goings of tech industry executives aren’t typically that interesting to me, I found this news fascinating for a couple of reasons.

First, Rosenberg says that one of the things he plans to do is write a book with ex-Google CEO (and current Executive Chairman) Eric Schmidt. The subject? According to an article in the Mercury News, they’ll be writing about “the values, rules and creation of Google’s management culture.”

Now that is a book I’d like to read. Google is in many ways an ideal case study of the open source way as applied to management practices, and, while many have written books about Google already (notably this one by Bernard Girard and this brand new one by Steven Levy), I’d love to see Schmidt and Rosenberg’s take (and I hope we can corral one of them for a webcast on opensource.com when the book comes out).

I’m especially interested in their view of how the existing Google culture changed (or didn’t change) during their tenure. Especially since it has been reported that Rosenberg’s top-down management style didn’t mesh well at first with the existing engineering-led culture.

But what I find to be the even more interesting question in the short term is, with Rosenberg leaving, who will be the new face of openness at Google?

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What does Google’s management change say about the open source way?


Last week, Google CEO Eric Schmidt announced in a post on his blog he was stepping aside and Google co-founder Larry Page would take on management of Google’s day-to-day operations as the new CEO. Although Schmidt is staying on as Executive Chairman for now and will continue to have an ongoing role in the company, many including myself, were surprised by the news.

I see Google and Red Hat both as fantastic poster children for openness as a successful business strategy. I’ve written many times about how the open source way deeply impacted our work at Red Hat even beyond building software. I’ve also written about Google and the open source way, and pointed to this famous post from Google’s Senior VP of Product Management Jonathan Rosenberg explaining Google’s commitment to openness.

But what does Google’s management change say about the open source way?

Before you answer, here are a few things I’ve read this week and found interesting:

[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]

Apple, Google, and the open vs. closed positioning war


Over the last few months, the battle to define the meaning of the word “open” has intensified into one of the more interesting brand positioning exercises I’ve seen in the technology industry (if you aren’t familiar with brand positioning and would like to learn more, consider starting here).

I thought I’d do a quick report from the front lines, diving in specifically to examine the battle for smartphone leadership, and looking at things from a brand positioning strategy perspective.

Google Goes on Offense

Think back to 2009 and the state of the smartphone industry. The iPhone had completely redefined the entire market, while Google was just beginning to see traction with Android and looking at a long struggle to catch up with Apple.

While most other smartphone makers were attempting to catch up playing by Apple’s rules in the market Apple defined (usually a losing strategy in the long term when the leader has a solid head start), Google took a different approach—they tried what now looks to me looks like a classic repositioning strategy.

[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]

The open source organization: good in theory or good in reality?


On occasion I get the opportunity to speak publicly about some of the things I’ve learned over the years applying the open source way in organizations.

In almost every case, when the Q&A session arrives, I’m greeted with at least one question from a poor soul who loves the idea of applying the open source way to management and culture, but doesn’t think it would ever work in his/her specific organization. Usually the comment is accompanied by some horror story about an evil co-worker, hierarchical boss, crappy HR policy, or some other impediment that would cause the open source way to fail.

And the sad truth? These folks are probably right. Many of these concepts wouldn’t work in their organizations.

So why do I waste my time talking about things that may not work in many organizations? Two reasons:

1) hope

2) the wind

Hope

Let me be honest. I’ve never run into a perfect model of the open source way in practice (if you have, please point it out to me!).

There are clearly some organizations that have figured out how to build open source principles into their DNA better than others. Wikipedia is a good example. The Fedora Project is another. Still, my guess is the people who are deeply involved in those projects on a daily basis would probably be able to show you some warts, places where old-skool practices are still evident.

We’ve set our company New Kind up as a corporate lab for the open source way. But we can’t make a case for perfection here either. We are still learning and prototyping.

So why not be more realistic? Why not give up and accept that some of these principles work better in theory than they do in practice?

Simple: I have hope.

What gives me hope? Two things. First, I have seen first-hand many examples of great things that happen when open source principles are applied within organizations. From the collaboratively-designed mission of Red Hat to the work of Fedora marketing team, I’ve personally witnessed the power of open source principles in action.

Second, I believe in the pursuit of perfection. Why not aspire to create better companies than we have today? What do we have to lose? I don’t know that we will ever see a perfect open source company. But by pursuing perfection, we are likely to get a heck of a lot closer than where we are today.

[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]

Facebook breaks the brand permission rules


Back in February, I wrote a post about how Google stepped beyond its brand permission limits with the launch of the Buzz platform, a classic brand mistake (read more about brand permission here or here). Over the last few months, Facebook has also moved into a dangerous brand space, and may be doing permanent damage to its brand in the process.

You’ve probably seen people (or participated in) spewing venom at Facebook about its privacy practices, so I certainly won’t rehash that stuff here. If this is news to you, and you want to see what people are saying and how Facebook is responding, this interview in The New York Times with Facebook’s VP for Public Policy from earlier this week is a good starting point.

So, beyond the (really good) privacy reasons, why is it so bad that Facebook is making more of your information public by default? What’s the brand mistake? Let’s again look to the brand tags site for some clues. According to the site, the top terms associated with Facebook are:

addictive
annoying
boring
college
community
friends
fun
kids
lame
myspace
networking
people
social networking
stupid
waste of time
young

I’ve put in bold a few terms I think are especially important. If I was to put them in a sentence, it’d read something like “Facebook is a social networking site where people have fun or waste time with their community of friends.”

For most people, this sentence describes the service they signed up for. And hundreds of millions of people must value the Facebook brand for this purpose, because Facebook has been one of the fastest growing platforms the world has ever seen.

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The Wikimedia Foundation: doing strategic planning the open source way


Earlier this week I wrote a post about some of the cultural challenges Wikipedia is facing as its contribution rate has slowed. The comments you made were fantastic, including one by Dr. Ed H Chi (the PARC scientist who published the study I referred to in the post) linking to a prototype dashboard his team created to showcase who is editing each Wikipedia page (totally fascinating—you have to go try it!)

Another interesting comment was made by my good friend Paul Salazar, who pointed us to this page where the Wikimedia Foundation (the parent organization that runs Wikipedia, among other projects) is showcasing their exhaustive, happening-as-we-speak strategic planning process in all of its transparent, open glory.

From the main page, you can read the entire strategy memo that was presented to the Wikimedia Foundation board just last month. The memo itself is stunningly smart. Google must have thought so too, because they made a $2 million donation to the Wikimedia Foundation, announced a few weeks ago.

But it doesn’t stop at high-level strategy for the eyes of muckety-mucks. From this page you can find proposals (hundreds were submitted, and just like on Wikipedia, anyone could contribute), background research, and task forces that have come together to discuss some of the major strategic challenges outlined in the initial strategic plan.

[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]

Google Buzz didn’t get permission, but it also didn’t get brand permission


You’ve probably seen at least one of the 9 zillion articles written over the last week about Google Buzz. The feedback from the public has been, well… kinda ugly. There are plenty of articles and blogs analyzing problems with the Buzz launch around user privacy, opt in vs. opt out, and that kind of thing, so I won’t rehash those arguments.

Bumblebee sez: yo Google, you really should have asked first!

In this post, we’ll look at the brand mistake Google made in how they launched Buzz.

This article from the San Francisco Chronicle website about a class action lawsuit filed against Google caught my eye because of the following paragraph:

Google turned Gmail “into a social networking service and that’s not what they signed up for, Google imposed that on them without getting their consent,” said Kimberly Nguyen, consumer privacy counsel with EPIC of Washington, D.C.

That sentence is a great articulation of why Buzz is a classic case of not securing brand permission, a subject I have covered here and here.

To be of any value, a brand must create meaning in people’s minds. People associate certain terms or ideas with that brand. If you want to see a awesome experiment in brand meaning, check out the Brand Tags site.

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