Google Fights Back

Ben Thompson, writing for Stratechery: For a company famed for its engineering culture, you wouldn’t expect a video at Google’s annual I/O developer conference to have such emotional resonance. And yet, just watch (I have included the context around the video in question, which starts at the 2:33 mark): “I liked that very much.” This was the most direct statement of what was a clear theme from Google’s entire keynote: “Technology, particularly Google’s technology, is a good thing, and we are going to remind you why you like it.”

As he opened the keynote, CEO Sundar Pichai, as he always does, repeated Google’s mission statements: “It all begins with our mission to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful, and today, our mission feels as relevant as ever.” Pichai, though, quickly pivoted to something rather different than simply organizing and presenting information: “The way we approach it is constantly evolving. We are moving from a company that helps you find answers to a company that helps you get things done… We want our products to work harder for you in the context of your job, your home, and your life, and they all share a single goal: to be helpful, so we can be there for you in moments big and small over the course of your day.”

In short, the mission statement may be the same, but what that means for Google and its products has shifted: “Our goal is to build a more helpful Google for everyone. And when we say helpful, we mean giving you the tools to increase your knowledge, success, health, and happiness. We feel so privileged to be developing products for billions of users, and with that scale comes a deep sense of responsibility to create things that improve people’s lives. By focusing on these fundamental attributes, we can empower individuals and benefit society as a whole.” This set the stage for the rest of the keynote, including the video above: Google spent most of the keynote demonstrating — both with actual products, and whole bunch of vaporware — how Google could take a much more proactive role in its users’ lives in ways they ought appreciate.

Further reading: Sundar Pichai’s op-ed on the New York Times. A NYT columnist adds: “Someone asked me today why Google gets less privacy flak than Facebook despite collecting more (+ more intimate) data. My theory is that Google takes people’s data in exchange for useful things (maps! docs! mail!) while FB exchanges data for things that make them sad and angry.”