Why Google Plus is a failure

Google

(Moneywatch) COMMENTARY There comes a time in every company's life span when it stops being small and start acting big. Or more precisely, "too big." This milestone is not measured in dollars or forms of corporate governance. It is when it thinks it can spin the truth and get away with it.

The operative word is "think." A company of any size will try to spin facts to its own favor, but only a behemoth believes in its own mythology. Let us all welcome Google (GOOG) to this list.

In response to an article in The Wall Street Journal about Google Plus being a "ghost town," Vic Gundotra, Google's vice president for engineering, fired back in the The New York Times by saying, "Not only is Google Plus not a ghost town, we have never seen anything grow this fast. Ever."

According to market research firm comScore, users of Google Pus, the new social media site, average 3 minutes per month on its site. (By comparison Facebook users average 405 minutes a month.) Google also claims that monthly traffic number is 100 million, chiefly because it is including visitors to other Google Plus enhanced sites such as YouTube.

Nick Bilton, who wrote the Times story put it best. "Realistically, the debate over how many people use Google Plus, how many real users it has... seems almost irrelevant. Google is determined to make Google Plus work at all costs, even in the face of naysayers."

Therein lies the problem. Executives at Google, among the very brightest in the cyber-sphere, may be guilty of something that many managers fall prey to periodically. Hubris!

But more than arrogance, Google is a victim of myopia. Google is choosing to view the company through its executive suite in Mountain View, Calif., not through the thousands of pairs of eyes of men and women who are paid to observe, analyze and comment on its corporate performance. Ignoring them is hubristic certainly, but it is short sighted because Google executives are acting as if people actually believe them.

It reminds me of a quote I have often used in my leadership seminars: "A desk," wrote David Cornwell (aka John LeCarre), "is a dangerous place from which to view the world." Things are neat and simple if you do not venture from your home turf.

Not too long ago the nation witnessed the spectacle of one company's implosion because for too long it failed to see beyond its own myopia. General Motors (GM) went into bankruptcy in 2009 ostensibly because of the financial meltdown. Truthfully, the decay had long set in due to is management's myopic failure to address the hard questions about excessive costs related to an oversized marketing system, bloated capacity and outsized labor force.

Looking at Google today I do not see General Motors but I do sense a similarity in Google's desire to spin the world to its own axis. The irony is that GM was poorly run; Google is very well run. Google made search popular and pay per click viable. Let Google continue to do what it does well without the spin.

Respect for customers rests on respect for the truth. And that's true for companies big and small.

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