Google’s Scalable Culture

Way back in November I wrote about the connection between Apple’s beautiful user interfaces and its top-down corporate culture. At the end of that post, I promised to do a follow-up post focusing on Google’s corporate culture. That post has now been written, but because getting paid is better than not getting paid, I’ve done it as an Ars Technica story:

On Monday, Apple unveiled iCloud, a new service for remote storage of user data. Some people, including our own Jon Stokes, are skeptical of Apple’s chances of getting iCloud to work at scale. And history seems to be on their side. iCloud is at least Apple’s fourth attempt to create a viable cloud computing service. The previous incarnations included iTools in 2000, .Mac in 2002, and MobileMe in 2008. As Fortune wrote about MobileMe a few weeks ago, “MobileMe was a dud. Users complained about lost e-mails, and syncing was spotty at best.” iTools and .Mac were not exactly resounding successes either.

Apple’s perennial difficulty with creating scalable online services is not a coincidence. Apple has a corporate culture that emphasizes centralized, developer-led product development. This process has produced user-friendly devices that are the envy of the tech world. But developing fast, reliable online services requires a more decentralized, engineering-driven corporate culture like that found at Google.

Read the rest here. I plan to write about this more but I won’t make any spurious promises about exactly when the follow-up post will be written.

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2 Responses to Google’s Scalable Culture

  1. In the article, you say:

    Every company is good at some things and not others. Apple is much better at building user-friendly devices than Google, while Google is much better at building scalable network services.

    I would amend that slightly and say that Apple is much better at building user-friendly experiences. Apple’s design expertise is not limited to devices, as evidenced by its best-in-class retail stores. Talk about creating a compelling experience!

    If Apple can build a compelling enough user experience for its cloud service, that may enable it to overcome any technical shortcomings when it comes to scalability. Think of Twitter–its initially poor reliability (due to scalability issues) may have hindered its adoption somewhat, but its user experience was so compelling/addicting/amusing that users shrugged off the technical issues and used it anyway.

    And it’s not like the cloud game has been won by anyone (including Google) just yet. While cloud-based services are all the rage, but they are still rather nichey. For most people, the extent of their cloud-based usage is limited to email and sharing pictures on Facebook. Apple’s design expertise and its lock on digital music could enable it to get a massive amount of people to add a third thing–music consumption–to the list of cloud-based services they regularly use. And of course this could be seamlessly integrated into Apple’s leading mobile and tablet devices, which are quickly turning into the primary ways that people access music. Movies could then follow and suddenly Apple would own the cloud-based entertainment space.

    Of course, Apple could still drop the ball when it comes to reliability and scalability and perform so poorly that no amount of user experience elegance could save their service. But I wouldn’t count Apple out just yet.

  2. Jess says:

    Based on Sony’s recent problems, I’d say there are multiple companies that are good at consumer devices but which find online services challenging. (When these companies require that their devices connect to their services, or at least not connect to anyone else’s, what exactly are they thinking?)

    It could be argued that iTunes is an online service that contradicts your thesis, although at some level it’s just a storefront and those aren’t that hard anymore.

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