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Why "Why I Left Google" Matters for Consumers

Earlier this week, former Google executive James Whittaker published a blog post explaining why he left the company. One line in particular caught our eye:

The Google I was passionate about was a technology company that empowered its employees to innovate. The Google I left was an advertising company with a single corporate-mandated focus.”

Describing the changes that took place after Google co-founder Larry Page took over as CEO last year, Whittaker says:

Ideas that failed to put Google+ at the center of the universe were a distraction…Suddenly, 20% meant half-assed. Google Labs was shut down. App Engine fees were raised. APIs that had been free for years were deprecated or provided for a fee.”

So Google came to the conclusion that the only way to maintain its online advertising dominance was to extend its search monopoly into social. The company went from encouraging innovation to a singular focus on dominating social in order to drive more ad sales.

Hmm… Sounds a lot like the aging monopolist that Columbia professor (and recent FTC adviser) Tim Wu warned about in a 2010 Wall Street Journal op-ed (emphasis added):

The problem is that dominant firms are like congressional incumbents and African dictators: They rarely give up even when they are clearly past their prime. Facing decline, they do everything possible to stay in power. And that’s when the rest of us suffer.

Info-monopolies tend to be good-to-great in the short term and bad-to-terrible in the long term. For a time, firms deliver great conveniences, powerful efficiencies and dazzling innovations. That’s why a young monopoly is often linked to a medium’s golden age…The downside shows up later, as the monopolist ages and the will to innovate is replaced by mere will to power.”

Suddenly, the motive behind Google’s “Search Plus Your World” changes seems much more clear. And it’s not good news for either competition or consumers.