Why Google can't build Instagram

Tonight I was talking with an exec at Google and I brought up the success of Instagr.am (they’ve gotten more than 500,000 downloads in just a few weeks) and asked him “why can’t Google do that?”

I knew some of the answers. After all, I watched Microsoft get passed by by a whole group of startups (I was working at Microsoft as Flickr got bought by Yahoo, Skype got bought by eBay, etc etc).

I told him a few of my theories, and he told me back what they are seeing internally. Turns out he was talking to me about these items because Google, internally, knows it has an innovation problem (look at Google Wave or Buzz for examples of how it is messed up) and is looking to remake its culture internally to help entrepreneurial projects take hold.

1. Google can’t keep its teams small enough. Instagram was started by two guys who rented a table at DogPatchLabs in Pier 38 (the first time I met the Instagr.am team was when Rocky and I did this video on Dogpatch Labs). The exec I was talking with said Google Wave had more than 30 people on the team. He had done his own startup and knew the man-month myth. For every person you add to a team, he said, iteration speed goes down. He told me a story of how Larry Ellison actually got efficiencies from teams. If a team wasn’t productive, he’d come every couple of weeks and say “let me help you out.” What did he do? He took away another person until the team started shipping and stopped having unproductive meetings.

2. Google can’t reduce scope like Instagram did. Instagram started out as being a far different product than actually shipped (which actually got it in trouble with investor Andreesen Horowitz, according to Techcrunch). It actually started out as a service that did a lot more than just photographs. But, they learned they couldn’t complete such a grand vision and do it well. So they kept throwing out features. Instagram can do that. Google can’t. Imagine you come to Larry Page and say “you know that new social platform we’re building? Let’s throw 90% of it out.” Google has to compete with Facebook. Instagram had to compete with itself. As to Andreesen: this is why lots of my favorite companies like GoPro or SmugMug never took any VC. The pressure to “go for the home run” destroys quite a few companies.

3. At Google, if a product becomes successful, will get tons of resources and people thrown at it. Imagine you’re working at Google and you have 20% time. Will you keep spending that time on a boring project that isn’t very cool? No, you will want to join a cool project like Instagram that’s getting love around the world and getting tons of adoption. If the Instagram team were at Google they’d have to deal with tons of emails and folks hanging outside their cubes just to try to participate. I saw exactly this happen at Microsoft when a small team I was enamored of started getting tons of resources because it was having some success.

4. Google forces its developers to use its infrastructure, which wasn’t developed for small social projects. At Google you can’t use MySQL and Ruby on Rails. You’ve gotta build everything to deploy on its internal database “Big Table,” they call it. That wasn’t designed for small little dinky social projects. Engineers tell me it’s hard to develop for and not as productive as other tools that external developers get to use.

5. Google’s services need to support every platform. In this case, imagine a Google engineer saying “we’re only going to support iPhone with this.” (Instagr.am is only on iPhone right now. They’d get screamed out of the room) and they need to support every community that Google is in world-wide. I remember at Microsoft teams getting slowed down because they’d need to make sure their products tested well in every language around the world. Oh, some screens didn’t work because some languages are read right to left? Too bad, go back and fix it. Instagram doesn’t have those kinds of problems. They can say “we’re English only for now, and heck with everyone else.”

6. Google’s engineers can’t use any Facebook integration or dependencies like Instagram does. That makes it harder to onboard new customers. I’ve downloaded a few iPhone apps this week and signed into them, and added my friends, just by clicking once on my Facebook account. My friends are on Facebook, I don’t have a social graph even close to as good on Google. Instagram gets to use every system it wants. Google has to pay “strategy taxes.” (That’s what we called them at Microsoft).

7. Google can’t iterate in semi-public. Weeks ago Kevin showed me Instagram and loaded it on my phone. He asked me to keep it somewhat quiet, but didn’t ask me to sign an NDA. He also knew it would actually help him if I did leak something about Instagram (I didn’t). What he really needed at that point was passionate users who would try it out and give him feedback about what worked and what didn’t. Bug testing. Now Google will say “we eat our own dogfood” but the reality is that you need to get people outside of your company to invest some time in you. Google can’t do this, because it causes all sorts of political hell. Instagram has no political problems to worry about, so was free to show it to dozens of people (when I got on it there were already hundreds of people who were using Instagram and I had it weeks before its official launch). I saw tons of bugs get fixed because of this feedback and those early users were very vocal believers in the product.

8. Google can’t use Eric Ries-style tricks. Eric’s “lean startup” methodology advocates making sure that customers want something, before going on and building infrastructure that scales. Google, on the other hand, has to make sure that its services scale to hundreds of millions of people before it ships a single thing. Google Wave failed, in part, because it couldn’t keep up with the first wave of users and got horridly slow (and that was even with an invite system that kept growth down to a reasonable rate).

So, how does a big company innovate? Well, for one, Google can innovate by buying companies like Instagram. For two, Google can use its strength in places where small companies can’t dare to go. For instance, building autonomous cars (I have a video with Stanford’s Center for Automotive Research that shows how these cars work and you can see that building stuff like that takes teams bigger than two people. Although to demonstrate that Google gets the power of small teams, Google’s car’s algorithms were mostly approved by just one person, I’ve learned).

Another way? How about open source? Build a system so anyone can code and add value without sitting in meetings and things seem to take off. At Rackspace (the web hosting company I work for) we’re noticing that with OpenStack, which is already seeing some pretty cool new innovations (coming soon) added by people who aren’t even working at Rackspace. As I look around the coolest companies in the valley, like Cloudera, I see the same mentality in place: they know they’ll get slower as they get bigger, so they are trying to build systems that let innovative, entrepreneurial, developers add value without getting caught in the politics of a bigger company. Take it outside of tech, look at TEDx. There they’ve enabled thousands of conferences around the world to use the TED name, but in a way that doesn’t require a lot of approvals from the mother ship. That keeps them innovative, even if they stop innovating at their core (everyone outside continues the innovation).

Sachin Agarwal, one of the founders of Posterous, echoes these comments in a post about what he learned working at Apple (Small teams rule).

Some of these lessons sure seem counter intuitive. Remove people from a team if you want to make it more productive? But I have heard this over and over again in my journey through the world’s best tech companies.

So, how about you? Are you seeing the same problems at your work? When I do I point them out and we try to fix them.

By the way, you can see my Instagram photos done with my iPhone on Tumblr and I’m “Scobleizer” on that service, if you want to follow me.

Published by

Robert Scoble

As Startup Liaison for Rackspace, the Open Cloud Computing Company, Scoble travels the world looking for what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology for Rackspace's startup program. He's interviewed thousands of executives and technology innovators and reports what he learns in books ("The Age of Context," a book coauthored with Forbes author Shel Israel, has been released at http://amzn.to/AgeOfContext ), YouTube, and many social media sites where he's followed by millions of people. Best place to watch me is on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/RobertScoble

Comments

  1. 500,000 downloads in just a few weeks is a great number for instagram but not for google. I am sure google buzz had more than 500000 users after few weeks, yet everybody calls it a failure.

    1. That’s bull. Google Buzz would LOVE to have the kind of participation that I’m seeing on Instagram. And Google Wave? Got killed cause it wasn’t adopted the way Instagram is.

      1. Google buzz has less than 500K active users ? I find that hard to believe. Is google buzz so pathetic? if so I think they need to shut it down quickly. I would assume google buzz has around 5 million users atleast, 5 million out of 2 billion active internet users, out of 220 million gmail users is not so hard to achieve for a company like Google. And because 5 million is so tiny a fraction, it feels like nobody is using it. And as far as mysql is concerned, yeah I mean google also initially used mysql if I remember and they found mysql could not scale and so they moved to bigtable, so why would google look kindly at mysql, mysql cannot scale, certainly not at the levels that google operates, google wants to produce services that are game changers and big, they don’t mind starting small, but the end goal is pretty ambitious. So right from the start, the services need to be geared/developed in such a fashion that a few years down the lines 100s of millions of users are going to use it. I guess thats how platform companies work and think. Hasn’t google opensourced a lot of its stuff already like chromium, android etc

          1. but for a company that closes down such a high profile service like google wave which started with a lot of fanfare and hype, I don’t think google will continue a service just for the heck of it and I kinda like that attitude on the part of a big company.

          2. I read you there. What I’ve done with buzz is followed my favorite twitter posters (such as yourself) mostly. I find myself too busy to go through the tweets of the 500 people I follow on twitter. Also, the “inbox zero” in me makes it hard for me not to click on the buzz(100) when I check my gmail, so I find myself clicking it and reading it more often than I do twitter.

            What buzz ends up doing for me is serving as a twitter filter, where I mostly see interesting posts from yourself, Om, Louis Gray, and Jesse Stay. A nice combination of tweets and google reader shares to blogs I miss usually.

            I wonder if I’m in the minority in my usage. Feels like it, because I comment and click ‘like’ a lot on things, but don’t see other people doing the same.

          3. I read you there. What I’ve done with buzz is followed my favorite twitter posters (such as yourself) mostly. I find myself too busy to go through the tweets of the 500 people I follow on twitter. Also, the “inbox zero” in me makes it hard for me not to click on the buzz(100) when I check my gmail, so I find myself clicking it and reading it more often than I do twitter.

            What buzz ends up doing for me is serving as a twitter filter, where I mostly see interesting posts from yourself, Om, Louis Gray, and Jesse Stay. A nice combination of tweets and google reader shares to blogs I miss usually.

            I wonder if I’m in the minority in my usage. Feels like it, because I comment and click ‘like’ a lot on things, but don’t see other people doing the same.

          4. but you forget one thing, on this blog, I comment and you respond, would you do that on twitter and on facebook ? twitter and facebook is becoming filled with noise. You wouldn’t respond to me out of all those lakhs of followers, twitter and facebook is no longer the curated place it once was. What sort of interesting conversations can you have with your 120K followers ? or with 600 friends in facebook.

          1. Sandeep: when you are arguing a point it’s important to keep some sense of credibility. You just went over the line. Facebook has more photos than all other photo sharing services COMBINED. It’s one of the biggest databases ever. I don’t believe Ellison has a clue.

          2. it is important to know what is the average size of photos.I dont know and only facebook knows. Here is one more clue.
            http://asert.arbornetworks.com/2010/04/the-battle-of-the-hyper-giants-part-i-2/

            facebook was carrying a mere .5 percent of all internet traffic (as of april 2010 when facebook had 400 million users)despite being the most visited and site where people spend most time. So my assumption is most of those photos are of poor quality and lesser size. Ellison may not be so far wrong. I dont know, but I dont think Ellison just lies off the top of his head.

          3. If the size of the photo affected database performance, they would be doing it wrong. You don’t store giant binary data in a database. That’s not what it’s for.

          4. what I meant to say was facebook accounts for 10 percent of all time spent by people online, but generates only .5 percent traffic, so facebook is not really a good example for mysql scaling up. I guess most of the mass market content generation happens on youtube, wikipedia.

          5. Number of bytes on the wire is a pretty funny metric to pick. All of the “big” facebook content is served from the CDN, which isn’t counted in your link. Google runs its own CDN, and thus its traffic numbers include youtube, which by byte, is very high by comparison.

            apples, oranges.

          6. thats my point, photos dont occupy so many bytes as video, so not a big deal and does indicate that facebook cannot be taken as a success of mysql scalability. Anyhow everybody knows that relational databases are optimized for saving space, for easy updating and are not optimized for speed(despite indexing) and to achieve speedier retrieval you need to denormalize data introducing deliberate redundancy. RDBMS is 1980s concepts based evolved to solve 1980/90s problems of limited data, expensive hardware, not the internet era problems of handling huge data, cheap and commodity hardware

      2. believe me it is not a full list of why google can’t innovate ‘small projects’
        being in google and having started two such projects which were cancelled by google but than other companies make a pretty big success with very similar idea
        I’ve seen other reasons why google can’t innovate in this space and was unable to produce yelps/facebooks in time when it was possible to made them earlier

  2. what I meant to say is expectations from google is skyhigh. Any service that google produces is expected to have 10s of millions of active users immediately. I think Google wave indicates the strength rather than the weakness of Google. Shutting down unproductive products is a good idea generally.

  3. same here. another thing you forgot to mention is that smaller teams are also more flexible in adding additional services by client requests then the bigger teams, I could say they can attack like guerillas.

  4. Sorry, I disagree. It’s small things like this that usually turn out to be the big things. I remember having almost the exact same conversation with my blog’s readers about Twitter and Facebook. Or Foursquare. Or Google’s Docs and Spreadsheets.

    1. Everybody I know who uses Instagram stopping using it after a few pics. Sorry, but the ability to instantly make photos look terrible and then post them online wears thin after a few days.Instagram isn’t a product, it’s a toy. I’m surprised they lasted out the month.

      I mean, if you think about it, they took a service like TwitPic or half a dozen others and then *made it worse*. Interesting competitive move, I admit.

      1. Really? Can you explain then why every few seconds a new photo appears on my Instagram. I heard shit like this about IM. Then Twitter. Then Foursquare.

        I think it’s a prerequisite for startups to have haters who say shit like this.

        1. so can we say google buzz will succeed ? buzz no users, buzz no lists, buzz filled with spam, buzz filled with imported tweets is what a lot of people say about google buzz. Just kidding :)

        2. Paul Graham said the same thing Robert: “Don’t be discouraged if what you produce initially is something other people dismiss as a toy. In fact, that’s a good sign. That’s probably why everyone else has been overlooking the idea. The first microcomputers were dismissed as toys. And the first planes, and the first cars. At this point, when someone comes to us with something that users like but that we could envision forum trolls dismissing as a toy, it makes us especially likely to invest.”

          http://www.paulgraham.com/organic.html

  5. Google could never create Instagram simply because creating a frivolous app based around styling your photos just doesn’t align with their brand values. I can imagine the Google Engineers now, “So why are we using a sepia filter exactly?”

    Google = Function
    Instragram = Emotion

    1. google has nailed search, google has nailed apps, google has nailed ‘how to do a thing’ via youtube, it is good for all of us that google has failed in social, don’t you think so ? else how would microsoft competed with google if google had been huge in social too and who would have pushed google if google had everything sewed up. Maybe google would then have become evil, now they are forced to partner with twitter and everybody else. Sounds good to me, more competition, more innovation and more benefits for consumers.

  6. Great post Robert. Its always interesting how companies get too big and then the cycle brings in new blood to take over. Right now someone somewhere is working on an idea in a small room that will dominate Googles power someday. Entrepreneurs rule.

    Chris

  7. The one you wrote least about is really significant. Nº4. Ever seen a seasoned drummer really rock on one of those electronic drum kits?

    Nimble is tough trait to mimmick when you are the monolith, isn’ t that why Feross Aboukhadijeh got that tweet from Chad Hurley?

  8. No matter how hard they try, I don’t think that Google will ever capture the “scrappy startup” mentality again. In short, the problems they solve are too big. Many Google product pitches start with “there are 65 billion people who will”. This is a smart way for Google to think about products and if they stop thinking about it, their core products will loose their share of the market.

    Presumably, Instragram was started by a couple of guys thinking “I wish the iPhone did this”. This is the way that some of the best startups have started. Heck, even Google itself started with “search should work like this”.

    The reason that Google isn’t good at building offshoot products is because these tertiary products do not contribute significantly to their core product. It’s less about culture and more about contribution. It’s more about product engagement and less about saturation.

    If Google wants to get into the startup game, they should spend more money seeding startups. Simple as that.

    1. they do that via google ventures and they let some employees become entrepreneur in residence. I think Google voice co founder became a entrepreneur in Residence whatever that means.

      1. Yup, their whole inside entrepreneur program is really great. However, it’s not quite the same thing as seeding startups.I realize that Google already does a lot of this sort of thing, but rather than focusing any of their business (short of the 20% time) on offshoot projects, what if they invested MORE in startups.Every time they get the urge to use 30 people to start something like Wave, give stack of money to a few groups of scrappy students who think that starting a summer company is a good idea. Why not light up the Google plane and go across the country picking up entrepreneurs with great ideas who need nothing more then a corner of office space and who would benefit from a little bit of S.F. exposure for a month or two. What scrappy startup wouldn’t benefit from this sort of thing help?How about offering up an exchange program where in exchange for an ownership cut, a Google developer chooses from a pool of startup applications and lends his or her experience for a few months?The ideas go on and on about how a company as powerful as Google could do this sort of thing. In the end it comes down to the simple realization that Google should focus their company on maintaining and improving what they are good at while expanding their market not by changing the focus of their company but by increasing their investments.

    2. It’s sort of crazy how fast this happened to Google when it took decades for the exact same thing to happen to Microsoft. But at least in Google’s case they don’t have the albatross of enterprise client software holding them back.

  9. great article, Robert

    I can add on top of it other anti-innovative things about Google that I know from Google employees:

    a) super intelligent guys with PhD have to do dull work like some accounting systems for AdSense

    b) certain ethnic groups within Google prefer to pick “similar” members to their own group and are blocking other nationalities

    c) feedback from customers is swept under the carpet: if there are issues with some cloud computing service and customers notify about it then such feedback is not publicly visible and removed by Google employees

    d) incompetent self-important managers in projects

  10. Robert, while I can’t disagree with the overall trajectory of this post, I think you made a gaffe with #7. You mention bug testing and engagement from the outside community and say that “Google can’t do this”, but the fact is that they do. Just the other day on Hacker News I found a post by a Google engineer on the Chromium project asking for code commits from outside, and asking junior programmers to build Chrome and start committing bug fixes: http://www.aaronboodman.com/2010/10/wherein-i-help-you-get-good-job.html

  11. Great post. I think Google is extremely successful, but they do seem to consistently have problems adding to their portfolio. They did a great job with gmail. Android has been very successful. They did well building YouTube. Chrome is very nice. Automatic translation is very nice (as is the integration with Chrome).

    But so many things just don’t go anywhere. I can’t understand why they can’t take something like Google checkout and make it much more successful (there is money even Google cares about waiting for success here). Grand Central was great – Google Voice has not built that the way I would hope. These are bit different than the failure to create new successes, but I think the problems could be related.

    It has been long enough now that I am starting to feel more comfortable saying Google is not doig a good job of creating and building new products. Their are a few successes. And having failures isn’t a huge deal – taking gambles is fine. But they just seem to be succeeding far to little, especially when you look at the talent and resources they have. Of course, some will say the resources they have is a problem. I really think it is more along the lines I see you mentioning above – they have become too rigid in development. I actually support more standardization than maybe people want (there can be big benefits) but I believe you need to then allow for exceptions. It seems to me Google doesn’t allow enough. It is tempting for managers to want to duplicate the same style that has made adwords and search successful. That might not be the answer for every project though.

  12. Google is a public company. They need to do things that show up as big GROWTH otherwise the public market will flee. It is a shitty system but it is what it is. That means if Google got really good at turning out Instagrams, which could bring in say 5 million in profit a quarter, their investors would PUNISH them for not betting bigger.

    I can’t figure it out either. Sustainability is not the name of the game though. Growth growth growth — whatever that means.

  13. Google is a public company. They need to do things that show up as big GROWTH otherwise the public market will flee. It is a shitty system but it is what it is. That means if Google got really good at turning out Instagrams, which could bring in say 5 million in profit a quarter, their investors would PUNISH them for not betting bigger.

    I can’t figure it out either. Sustainability is not the name of the game though. Growth growth growth — whatever that means.

  14. Google is a public company. They need to do things that show up as big GROWTH otherwise the public market will flee. It is a shitty system but it is what it is. That means if Google got really good at turning out Instagrams, which could bring in say 5 million in profit a quarter, their investors would PUNISH them for not betting bigger.

    I can’t figure it out either. Sustainability is not the name of the game though. Growth growth growth — whatever that means.

  15. Google is a public company. They need to do things that show up as big GROWTH otherwise the public market will flee. It is a shitty system but it is what it is. That means if Google got really good at turning out Instagrams, which could bring in say 5 million in profit a quarter, their investors would PUNISH them for not betting bigger.

    I can’t figure it out either. Sustainability is not the name of the game though. Growth growth growth — whatever that means.

  16. Google is a public company. They need to do things that show up as big GROWTH otherwise the public market will flee. It is a shitty system but it is what it is. That means if Google got really good at turning out Instagrams, which could bring in say 5 million in profit a quarter, their investors would PUNISH them for not betting bigger.

    I can’t figure it out either. Sustainability is not the name of the game though. Growth growth growth — whatever that means.

  17. Google is a public company. They need to do things that show up as big GROWTH otherwise the public market will flee. It is a shitty system but it is what it is. That means if Google got really good at turning out Instagrams, which could bring in say 5 million in profit a quarter, their investors would PUNISH them for not betting bigger.

    I can’t figure it out either. Sustainability is not the name of the game though. Growth growth growth — whatever that means.

  18. Google is a public company. They need to do things that show up as big GROWTH otherwise the public market will flee. It is a shitty system but it is what it is. That means if Google got really good at turning out Instagrams, which could bring in say 5 million in profit a quarter, their investors would PUNISH them for not betting bigger.

    I can’t figure it out either. Sustainability is not the name of the game though. Growth growth growth — whatever that means.

  19. Google is a public company. They need to do things that show up as big GROWTH otherwise the public market will flee. It is a shitty system but it is what it is. That means if Google got really good at turning out Instagrams, which could bring in say 5 million in profit a quarter, their investors would PUNISH them for not betting bigger.

    I can’t figure it out either. Sustainability is not the name of the game though. Growth growth growth — whatever that means.

  20. Google is a public company. They need to do things that show up as big GROWTH otherwise the public market will flee. It is a shitty system but it is what it is. That means if Google got really good at turning out Instagrams, which could bring in say 5 million in profit a quarter, their investors would PUNISH them for not betting bigger.

    I can’t figure it out either. Sustainability is not the name of the game though. Growth growth growth — whatever that means.

  21. Google is a public company. They need to do things that show up as big GROWTH otherwise the public market will flee. It is a shitty system but it is what it is. That means if Google got really good at turning out Instagrams, which could bring in say 5 million in profit a quarter, their investors would PUNISH them for not betting bigger.

    I can’t figure it out either. Sustainability is not the name of the game though. Growth growth growth — whatever that means.

  22. Google is a public company. They need to do things that show up as big GROWTH otherwise the public market will flee. It is a shitty system but it is what it is. That means if Google got really good at turning out Instagrams, which could bring in say 5 million in profit a quarter, their investors would PUNISH them for not betting bigger.

    I can’t figure it out either. Sustainability is not the name of the game though. Growth growth growth — whatever that means.

  23. Google is a public company. They need to do things that show up as big GROWTH otherwise the public market will flee. It is a shitty system but it is what it is. That means if Google got really good at turning out Instagrams, which could bring in say 5 million in profit a quarter, their investors would PUNISH them for not betting bigger.

    I can’t figure it out either. Sustainability is not the name of the game though. Growth growth growth — whatever that means.

  24. Interesting post. I read the other day on Quora about how Amazon developed products– it said that they start with a press release (!). Can you imagine Google doing that? New products are often more about markets/users than algorithms/scaling. From my understanding, Google has a pretty hard time holding on to anyone who has a great head for design/marketing/social/community. I’d imagine those that they DO retain don’t necessarily feel empowered to kick ass at what they do.

    1. Actually, this is another advantage of startups: they can fail in obscurity. We all know about Google’s failures. That makes it less likely that engineers will stick their necks out and try something new. Where at a startup? It’s expected and it’s expected you’ll fail. Good point!

    2. Actually, this is another advantage of startups: they can fail in obscurity. We all know about Google’s failures. That makes it less likely that engineers will stick their necks out and try something new. Where at a startup? It’s expected and it’s expected you’ll fail. Good point!

  25. This reminds me of the problems that instructors had in England during the Second World War trying to teach spotters on the ground how to spot and identify ‘planes in the air – were they enemy planes and if so, what plane were they?

    The instructors taught the spotters by showing them slides of the planes.

    The accuracy rate wasn’t very good. The instructors tried showing the slides of the ‘planes for longer and longer, but they just couldn’t increase the accuracy rate of the spotters.

    Then they tired reducing the time the slide was visible right down to just a glimpse – and the accuracy rate went up.

    Maybe sometimes it comes down to less thinking and talking and allowing the brain to make more decisions – and that is easier when there is just one other person to yell at.

  26. So, nearly 1500 words just to say that Google can’t do everything. I’m blown away.

    Hey, I know, let’s turn it around and ask, “Why can’t Instagram build Search, Maps, Mail, Docs, etc. like Google” Genius!

    And how much of Instagram’s overall success is because of Leo Laporte’s use? ;) He’s the only one I’ve ever seen use it, and the only way I knew it existed.

      1. You said 500K downloads, not necessarily 500K users continuously using the app – what’s the conversion rate? My point with Leo was, as much as you’re talking this up, he’s the only person I’ve seen using this app. And what he’s doing with it certainly isn’t enticing me at all to find out more about it.

        I also think it’s a bit disingenuous to call Google out on not doing something like this because they didn’t really need to. With Android, they had the forethought to build an architecture around activities and intents so individual apps can specify what data they’re willing to share and consume with other apps, that’s less siloed than the iOS approach to apps. Point being, with Android, you don’t need an Instagram, because the stock photo gallery app recognizes when you have the Facebook and Twitter apps installed and realizes it can share photos directly with them. Building an Instagram given the framework that Android already has, is redundant.

  27. I think Google is better with infrastructure now (“Google forces its developers to use its infrastructure, which wasn’t developed for small social projects”) — App Engine is a very reasonable platform for building small projects, and people from Google do release small projects using App Engine. Google Moderator is an example of a small, focused product that hasn’t been overcomplicated. It also hasn’t exactly exploded (I’m not sure if it ever could), so it’s not a *counter example*, but maybe it provides a finer point of comparison than something big, complex, and ambitious like Wave.

  28. I guess Google will have to settle for less satisfying accomplishments than building sepia-tone photo filters, like owning the online advertising business and sitting on top of a gushing fountain of money.

    Poor Google.

    1. maybe people have an obsession with liking to see google fail. Once facebook generates 30 billion dollars with a 200 billion dollar market cap, people will start obsessing with facebook failing. After all both google and facebook are making money out of content freely provided by end-users, so people are understandably jealous and envious. I hope amazon buys google if google fails. Amazon can improve their stupid search

  29. If your right, and I think you are, what does this portend for the “factory” approach to building software? Google is not alone in its too-big-ness slow-ness. Maybe “we” as an industry are doing it all wrong from the get go.

  30. every company cannot succeed in all fields, it is guaranteed. Forgot the name of the law, empires come and go, so will google’s empire, so will facebook’s empire.

  31. Why is it that every time someone does something interesting, some guy with a blog has to write up some silly story about why Microsoft, Google, Apple or God didn’t do it first. Seriously? Does every big company have to compete with everyone?

    1. Because it’s innovative small, stupid, lame, projects that turn into the big deals of the future. Look at Twitter or IM. I remember having these same conversations back then. And, sorry, if you are a big company why SHOULDN’T you have big aspirations?

  32. Instagram is an innovative service. Photo sharing has barely started on mobile, and Flickr isn’t anything work talking about. The team at Instagram have a nice little gem on their hands.

  33. I have watched many companies diversify into other areas outside of their core. Many have failed. The last example was GM. In the last 5 years, Google has bought 72 companies. Some may think that Google should focus on its core business.

  34. This reads like a summary, or a real world justification of, 37 Signals’ ‘Get Real’.

    “Throw out features” “Make 1/2 a product”

  35. I’ve said 1,000 times, Google Wave failed because it was a system supposed to replace email but it didn’t integrate with email.

    Had they just had a clever way to integrate Wave into Gmail from day one it would’ve worked. An email like system that is so closed was just doomed to fail. The “invite” approach they had didn’t work out as well as it did for Gmail because you ended up having a messaging system you could use only with a handful of people, not everybody on the internet (like gmail)

    1. Wave’s magic was that it was an infinite strip that could be written on by anybody all at the same time. It was a super wiki. Not a replacement for email. The fact that you think it would be a replacement for email is an example of where the team went horribly wrong.

      1. That’s how they marketed it from day one. I remember that long presentation and the recurring message of how email would’ve been built for today’s needs.

        I can also remember lots of headlines “Google reinvents email!”

  36. Interesting read. I currently work for my county council and it’s a nightmare getting things done sometimes – depending on who you’re working with. It’s not for all the same reasons but I can certainly sympathise a lot – it can really hold you back and be restrictive. I think I need out of there – someone save me!!

  37. To me this is quite a natural situation. Startups are made to just that, get a wacky idea nobody else dares to do with very limited resources and try to put it in place. Big companies, and Google is one now, are made to first maintain their good successful software and then try to have new big projects, well funded and well structured.
    Then, a statup gets to a point where they cannot grow on their own anymore, needs a process, needs control, needs funds. This is like the ocean. Small fishes are fast movers, big fish eat small fish to keep living. Such a natural process.
    Wanting Google to be what it was or behave as an startup is just a contradiction. Let things be as they should.
    Only one thing worries me on all this. The hype some Startups get from people in the industry for some not-so-interesting ideas while great startups just die having really good stuff. I guess this is kind of natural as well, based on the ability of entrepreneurs. But there is a factor of hype and snobism that sometimes really gets my nerves. How many well PR’ed startups have failed? What ever happened to their media supporters?