A recent resignation of Google engineer James Whittaker -- to join that old has-been Microsoft, of all places -- is the latest sign that a big shift is underway at Google, as it shifts from a tech focused innovation hub to an advertising-driven product factory. "The Google I was passionate about was a technology company that empowered its employees to innovate," Whittaker wrote on his new Microsoft Developer Network blog. "The Google I left was an advertising company with a single corporate-mandated focus." Google should be worried, not just for the PR hit of a former employee loudly switching sides, but because struggling Yahoo went down a similar path, and look where it got them.
In the early, heady days, Whittaker writes, "Google was run like an innovation factory, empowering employees to be entrepreneurial through founder's awards, peer bonuses and 20 percent time." The economic reality, he says, "The fact that all this was paid for by a cash machine full of advertising loot was lost on most of us." The stuff that made the company great -- it was the best way to find what you were looking for on the web, and the endlessly in beta projects from Google Labs like Gmail -- were the stuff that made the place exciting. But with a focus on tying all those innovations together under one banner, and especially the launch of Google+, the priorities aren't exactly being driven by technologists any more. It was instead created to fill a marketing and strategic niche -- a need to get into the business of social. Instead of providing something better, Google created a copy-cat Facebook, adding one not-too technology forward addition, circles.