Larry Page: The Year of the Big Cleanup

Google CEO Larry Page issued a public dispatch on the state of the company Thursday, enthusiastically promoting the Android platform and next-generation search techniques.

Page took over as CEO of the company about a year ago. His open letter Thursday, a “2012 Update From the CEO,” revealed few surprises about what’s in store for the company, but it did offer some insight into the direction Page hopes the company will continue to grow.

Page highlighted some of the company’s biggest and fastest-growing features, most notably the Android platform. Since acquiring Android in 2005, Google grew the platform to the point at which 850,000 devices are now activated daily, according to the letter. With the acquisition of Motorola Mobility, Page noted, Google will continue to advance technological innovation, although he didn’t offer any specific details on the role the mobile manufacturer will play.

He also spoke enthusiastically about other Google staples such as the Chrome browser, YouTube and Gmail. Those in particular, he said, were ideas that other companies thought had failed or weren’t necessary, but have turned out to be some of Google’s greatest hits.

Throughout the letter, Page addressed the idea that Google’s success was partly because it made bets on some of those endeavors, but he also reiterated the need for focus at the Mountain View company. After Page took over, Google shed some of its non-core projects to avoid spreading itself too thin, Page said.

“They were really out of control,” Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group told the E-Commerce Times.

Overall, Page said homing in on Google’s core business will continue and promised the company will pursue the innovative, big-picture goals.

Quelling Criticism

Despite Google’s rapid growth and domination in the search field, Page said he wanted the company to operate with the “passion and soul” of a startup. However, the company’s image as a humble underdog has all but disappeared in the eyes of many consumers and privacy advocates.

“Google’s problem is that it tends to be not very empathetic,” said Enderle. “Historically, they do something first and then think of the human implications of what they’ve done later, and that particular problem seems to have accelerated under Page.”

Google is especially feeling the heat from those implications in regard to its new search and privacy policies. The company recently changed its privacy policy so that all a user’s accounts — including Gmail, YouTube, Google+ and more — would be synchronized under one policy. Page argued, both in his letter and previously, that the new policy allows search results to be more personalized and efficient.

However, privacy and security advocates, especially in Europe, argue that gives Google too much personal information on any given consumer.

Google also faced the U.S. Senate last year in hearings focusing on competition in relation to its search tools. Competitors argued that Google was using its search dominance to direct users to its own services at the expense of other companies.

Page mentioned both Google’s next-generation search strategies and its ability to give users results right on the page — including a new feature to book a hotel right from the results page — without a mention of the controversy surrounding them.

“Google, at some point, is going to have to grow up and realize that you’re delivering a product to people,” said Enderle. “If they don’t, they’re going to have a nasty time with governments. Governments might not be efficient, but eventually they’re going to step in and protect the populace.”

Onward With Innovation

Despite Google’s potential problems and the flak it often takes, Page is at the helm of a very capable and robust company, said Trip Chowdhry, senior analyst for Global Equities Research.

“If you think about it in terms of users, there are 200 million on Chrome, 100 million plus on Google+ … so we’re talking about a very strong and vibrant Google ecosystem,” told the E-Commerce Times.

What’s more, said Chowdhry, is that Google still has a culture of innovation, unlike some competitors that try to build a business off imitation alone.

“Google is run by the two smartest entrepreneurs, and they’re solving big problems in an innovative way,” he said. “They’re based on a fundamental premise that less is more, and if you look at the year that’s been at Google, you can see the innovation they’ve put in.”

Some of that innovation is coming outside of Google’s core business, which Enderle said is a sign that Page needs a little more time in the driver’s seat at Google before it can be the company he envisions.

“Google is doing incredibly well, but not all in its core business,” he said. “That speaks to Page’s run. He certainly has the potential of being a capable CEO, but doesn’t have the focus and depth of knowledge to be there yet. You have to develop those skills through hardship, and he hasn’t really been there yet. With a company like Google, at some point you have to learn the art, and not go at all times full speed ahead.”

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