Boring old Google. So last decade. So search engine-oriented.
Welcome to the new, highly improved Google, as just one of multiple companies under the massive, 26-letter-long umbrella of Alphabet. The new company will merge with Google at some point in the future and then split Google off as a subsidiary. It’s an exciting development. It also reads like some weird joke where everyone says “just kidding” and goes back to normal.
Larry Page is not joking. His open letter describing the change (he will become president and Sergey Brin will become the CEO of the new entity) strikes me as a move that resulted from growing a bit tired and restricted by the original company charter, which is “to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.” That doesn’t seem to have anything to do with anti-aging tech or jumping out of an airplane wearing a head-mounted display. It doesn’t have anything to do with autonomous cars.
I like the change. As someone who follows tech closely, you look for these touchpoints which reveal tectonic shifts. As someone who follows entrepreneurs closely, it’s also a compelling story because you sense that Larry and Sergey are no longer motivated just by making a vast fortune. They seem to want to change the world, not just index it.
The shift at Google is something we’ve been noticing for some time. They’ve been shutting down projects right and left, changing Google+ and rolling features into other products. They seem to be moving Google Glass over to the enterprise. Products like Google Keep have languished into obscurity. In many ways, Google is now a utility. It’s a search engine and many other things, but it was never really intended to be a think tank. Well, it became a think tank because the co-founders have too many ideas. Now, each one gets its own letter.
Here’s my theory. Alphabet is going to spawn dozens of companies over the next five years. We have just started to see the opening salvo with Calico. I’m excited by the possibilities. Alphabet might genuinely surprise me, the jaded journalist who thinks I’ve seen everything, with ideas in space exploration, medical research, humanitarian aid, virtual reality, and everything in between. We might come to think of Alphabet as more than just the parent company of a tech monolith. It could surpass the original search engine vision and then some.
What if this is a ridiculous move? You have to wonder. Google is a utility because it provides a service we actually use. Gmail, search, Google News, Google Docs — these are mainstays of the tech world, products we use every day without thinking. Alphabet could be just a holding company, forever known as the parent company of Google and nothing more. It could become nothing more than a series of pet projects.
Either way, even if that happens, it’s a compelling story. If it succeeds, we get to watch as one company births multiple Google-like entities and changes the world. If it fails, we get to watch one of the most awkward and ridiculous changes in tech history (one that could eventually lead to Alphabet folding) until it dissolves. We shall see.
Feel free to post your own predictions in comments.
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