The famous why I left Google blog

March 16th, 2012 at 9:35 am by David Farrar

Not often a blog on why you left a company becomes major news, but this one by James Whittaker on why he left Google has. Some extracts:

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.

Technically I suppose Google has always been an advertising company, but for the better part of the last three years, it didn’t feel like one. Google was an ad company only in the sense that a good TV show is an ad company: having great content attracts advertisers.

Under Eric Schmidt ads were always in the background. Google was run like an innovation factory, empowering employees to be entrepreneurial through founder’s awards, peer bonuses and 20% time. Our advertising revenue gave us the headroom to think, innovate and create. Forums like App Engine, Google Labs and open source served as staging grounds for our inventions. The fact that all this was paid for by a cash machine stuffed full of advertising loot was lost on most of us. Maybe the engineers who actually worked on ads felt it, but the rest of us were convinced that Google was a technology company first and foremost; a company that hired smart people and placed a big bet on their ability to innovate.

From this innovation machine came strategically important products like Gmail and Chrome, products that were the result of entrepreneurship at the lowest levels of the company. Of course, such runaway innovative spirit creates some duds, and Google has had their share of those, but Google has always known how to fail fast and learn from it.

In such an environment you don’t have to be part of some executive’s inner circle to succeed. You don’t have to get lucky and land on a sexy project to have a great career. Anyone with ideas or the skills to contribute could get involved. I had any number of opportunities to leave Google during this period, but it was hard to imagine a better place to work.

The Google described above is the traditional image of it.

It turns out that there was one place where the Google innovation machine faltered and that one place mattered a lot: competing with Facebook. Informal efforts produced a couple of antisocial dogs in Wave and Buzz. Orkut never caught on outside Brazil. Like the proverbial hare confident enough in its lead to risk a brief nap, Google awoke from its social dreaming to find its front runner status in ads threatened.

Google could still put ads in front of more people than Facebook, but Facebook knows so much more about those people. Advertisers and publishers cherish this kind of personal information, so much so that they are willing to put the Facebook brand before their own. Exhibit A:, a company with the power and clout of Nike putting their own brand after Facebook’s? No company has ever done that for Google and Google took it personally.

Larry Page himself assumed command to right this wrong. Social became state-owned, a corporate mandate called Google+. It was an ominous name invoking the feeling that Google alone wasn’t enough. Search had to be social. Android had to be social. You Tube, once joyous in their independence, had to be … well, you get the point. Even worse was that innovation had to be social. Ideas that failed to put Google+ at the center of the universe were a distraction. …

As it turned out, sharing was not broken. Sharing was working fine and dandy, Google just wasn’t part of it. People were sharing all around us and seemed quite happy. A user exodus from Facebook never materialized. I couldn’t even get my own teenage daughter to look at Google+ twice, “social isn’t a product,” she told me after I gave her a demo, “social is people and the people are on Facebook.” Google was the rich kid who, after having discovered he wasn’t invited to the party, built his own party in retaliation. The fact that no one came to Google’s party became the elephant in the room.

I’ve used Google+ once. A few people say it is quite good, but I couldn’t see it providing anything better than elsewhere.

Google+ and me, we were simply never meant to be. Truth is I’ve never been much on advertising. I don’t click on ads. When Gmail displays ads based on things I type into my email message it creeps me out. I don’t want my search results to contain the rants of Google+ posters (or Facebook’s or Twitter’s for that matter). When I search for “London pub walks” I want better than the sponsored suggestion to “Buy a London pub walk at Wal-Mart.”  

The old Google made a fortune on ads because they had good content. It was like TV used to be: make the best show and you get the most ad revenue from commercials. The new Google seems more focused on the commercials themselves.

Perhaps Google is right. Perhaps the future lies in learning as much about people’s personal lives as possible. Perhaps Google is a better judge of when I should call my mom and that my life would be better if I shopped that Nordstrom sale. Perhaps if they nag me enough about all that open time on my calendar I’ll work out more often. Perhaps if they offer an ad for a divorce lawyer because I am writing an email about my 14 year old son breaking up with his girlfriend I’ll appreciate that ad enough to end my own marriage. Or perhaps I’ll figure all this stuff out on my own.

The old Google was a great place to work. The new one?


Powerful stuff.


January 18th, 2012 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Hollywood may have bitten off more than they can chew.

The studios got their lackeys in Congress to put forward a bill called SOPA – Stop Online Piracy Act.

Rather than target those actually infringing on copyright – it targets anyone who links to sites that allegedly infringe – including search engines such as Google. It basically wants Google and others to act as filters on behalf of Hollywood – a law China could be proud of.

The ramifications are massive. Someone might post a comment on Kiwiblog mentioning the name of a site which tells you where some good torrent sites are. Bang – Kiwiblog is out of the search engines.

But it gets worse than that. Under SOPA, ISPs (US ones anyway) could be forced to block access to sites. Just like in Syria and Libya. A summary of views against from Wikipedia:

On TIME‘s Techland blog, Jerry Brito wrote, “Imagine if the U.K. created a blacklist of American newspapers that its courts found violated celebrities’ privacy? Or what if France blocked American sites it believed contained hate speech?”[21] Similarly, the Center for Democracy and Technology warned, “If SOPA and PIPA are enacted, the US government must be prepared for other governments to follow suit, in service to whatever social policies they believe are important—whether restricting hate speech, insults to public officials, or political dissent.”[22]

Laurence H. Tribe, a Harvard University professor of constitutional law, released an open letter on the web stating that SOPA would “undermine the openness and free exchange of information at the heart of the Internet. And it would violate the First Amendment.”

My views are simple. No Government should censor the Internet. If people access illegal material on the Internet then they should be held liable in a court for that. If people commit crimes on the Internet, then they should be arrested for that. And yes if people infringe copyright on the Internet, they should be liable under the law. But to have laws giving the power to require all ISPs in a country to block particular sites is a practice that should remain the norm in China, not the US and definitely not NZ.

Amusingly the MPAA has actually cited China in their advocacy, with the MPAA Chairman having said that as Google has figured out how to block sites when China requests it, it can’t be that big an issue.

Anyway the backlash has begun and could be huge. Wikipedia is closing down later today for 24 hours as part of a black out protest. I can just imagine the millions of pissed off Americans who will be e-mailing their complaints into Congress.

Think if Google did the same? Maybe even for just three hours the search engines all turned off and displayed a protest page?

The MPAA and RIAA are used to being the biggest players in the game. I think they are about to find out they’re not.

Google under investigation

June 10th, 2010 at 7:31 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Police are investigating allegations that computer giant Google illegally gathered personal email and wireless internet data during its “Street View” operation in New Zealand. …

Representatives of the police and the Privacy Commissioner met yesterday to discuss Google’s possible breach of the Crimes Act after concerns were expressed about reports it had collected WiFi information while photographing houses and streets with 3D cameras for Street View, its online mapping service.

Google has acknowledged it collected fragments of data over public WiFi networks in more than 30 countries, though it is not known what kind of information was involved.

This is key. If all Google did was collect SSIDs, then I can’t see how that is a breach of the Crimes Act. If they were somehow accessing the data going over a wireless network, then there could be issues.

Well done Google

March 24th, 2010 at 9:53 am by David Farrar

Google has redirected from its censored China located search engine to its uncensored Hong Kong search engine.

This is quite smart, as it is highlighting that China itself allows Chinese in Hong Kong much greater freedoms than on the mainland. If they block (which is likely) they are saying that Hong Kong Google is breaking Chinese law.

Searches from China must pass through the Chinese government’s extensive web filters – collectively known as the Great Firewall – which automatically weeds out anything considered pornographic or politically sensitive.

The move, in effect, shifts the responsibility for censoring from Google to the communist government.

And this is how it should be. Personally I want no censorship at all, but if it has to occur it should be the Government, not the search engine provider, that does it.

UPDATE: The SMH also reports Google has done a submission to the Australian Government strongly criticising their Internet filter, and warning it “would enable future governments to use it for political censorship”.

Google supports Wikipedia

February 18th, 2010 at 1:07 pm by David Farrar

Rather pleased to read that Google has donated US2 million to Wikipedia.

Wikipedia is not great for current controversial issues (such as climate change or George W Bush) but I find it invaluable in many many other areas. I use it many times a day

Google censoring

January 19th, 2010 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

AAP report:

Google has agreed to take down links to a website that promotes racist views of indigenous Australians.

Aboriginal man Steve Hodder-Watt recently discovered the US-based site by searching “Aboriginal and Encyclopedia” in the search engine.

He tried to modify the entry on Encyclopedia Dramatica, a satirical and extremely racist version of Wikipedia, but was blocked from doing so.

Mr Hodder-Watt then undertook legal action, that resulted in Google acknowledging its legal responsibility to remove the offensive site.

Just as I don’t think Google should censor for the Chinese Government, they shouldn’t censor for anyone.

I’m not saying there should be no censorship – but it should occur at the hosting level. It is generally an offence to host material in a country where such material is illegal.

But global search engines should not be bound by national laws. I expect a search engine to tell me what material is available on the Internet.

But upon further investigating, it seems Google has removed links only for I have far less of a problem with that I have to say. Also they have only removed links to the specific page, not the whole site.

But still a slippery slope in my book.

Google search suggestions

January 16th, 2010 at 2:06 pm by David Farrar

From Predictably Irrational:

The order reflects the number of hits in Google!

Well done Google

January 15th, 2010 at 10:33 am by David Farrar

I was hugely disappointed in Google when they started censoring It was the first time they really broke their motto of do no evil.

So I am equally pleased to see this story:

Google, the internet search engine, has set itself at odds with the authorities in China by declaring that it will stop censoring search results on its Chinese website.

This is going to be a fascinating battle between two giants.

Quick Google

December 7th, 2009 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Google must have its bots hovering constantly. Last night I blogged something, then thought I’d seek more info on the topic so googled it. My own blog post came up as a hit, less than 60 seconds after I had made it.

Great initiative

August 25th, 2009 at 12:14 pm by David Farrar

Newswire report on a nice wee initiative:

RESIDENTS have pooled their knowledge of public fruit trees and wild foods from Aro Valley to Island Bay and pinpointed the locations on Google Maps.

The map directs to 22 locations of apples, plums, edible mushrooms, wild parsley, blackberries, and more.
Lisa Johnston, 27, a member of environmental group 42 Collective, started the project earlier in the year, and her page has now attracted more than 5000 views.
“If we’re not actually spending some time looking at what we’ve already got and using what we already have, then we’re kind of being neglectful and wasteful,” she says.
It is a work in progress and the idea is that people not only use it to find free food but add pointers to trees and herbs they know about.
Jacob Butler, 22, a student, says his dad told him about the map and he has already used it to gather rosemary and kawakawa that was growing around Newtown.
“I think it’s great, absolutely great, and the more people who get involved, it’s just going to get bigger and the web will grow. There will be more fruit sources and things like that.”
Jacob says there is enough food that students will not pillage the spots but says his one fear is that people might go too far and add pointers to plants like cabbage trees and Nikau palms.
“The problem with harvesting these is that you have to kill the plant.”
Each marker includes a note about what time of year the food is ripe and, if it’s on private land, whether the owner must be asked first before gathering.
Urban hunters and gatherers can type “Edible Wellington – A Gatherer’s Guide” into to find free food and share their own spots.

Jacob Butler collecting rosemary growing in NewtownJacob Butler collecting rosemary growing in Newtown

The map points to 22 locations of apples, plums, edible mushrooms, wild parsley, blackberries, and more.

Lisa Johnston, 27, a member of environmental group 42 Collective, started the project earlier in the year, and her page has now attracted more than 5000 views. …

Each marker includes a note about what time of year the food is ripe and, if it’s on private land, whether the owner must be asked first before gathering.

Urban hunters and gatherers can type “Edible Wellington – A Gatherer’s Guide” into to find free food and share their own spots.

I’ ve tried it out, and it works well. There is so much great info one can add to Google Maps.

Hat Tip: Roar Prawn

The “skank” blogger

August 25th, 2009 at 12:11 pm by David Farrar

Some readers may have followed the case of Liskula Cohen who was called a skank and “psychotic lying whore” on a blog. Google owns these.

Cohen regarded this as defamatory and went to court to sue the author, and as part of that the court ordered Google to reveal the identity of the author.

Google complied and supplied the e-mail address used to register the blog. And this allowed Cohen to deduce that a Rosemary Port was the author.

Now to my mind, this is how it should be. If you defame someone anonymously, then your identity will be revealed.

Port, rather than apologise for her slander, is now saying she will sue Google for A$18 million for revealing her email address.

I think Port needs to get over herself and get a grip. Google was ordered by a court to reveal her address. I can’t see she has any chance of success.

Wolfram Alpha

May 6th, 2009 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

This sounds great – from the Herald:

The biggest internet revolution for a generation will be unveiled this month with the launch of software that will understand questions and give specific, tailored answers in a way that the web has never managed before.

The new system, Wolfram Alpha, showcased at Harvard University in the US last week, takes the first step towards what many consider to be the internet’s Holy Grail – a global store of information that understands and responds to ordinary language in the same way a person does. …

Sounds good.

Wolfram Alpha will not only give a straight answer to questions such as “how high is Mount Everest?”, but it will also produce a neat page of related information – all properly sourced – such as geographical location and nearby towns, and other mountains, complete with graphs and charts.

The real innovation, however, is in its ability to work things out “on the fly”, according to its British inventor, Dr Stephen Wolfram. If you ask it to compare the height of Mount Everest to the length of the Golden Gate Bridge, it will tell you. Or ask what the weather was like in London on the day John F Kennedy was assassinated, it will cross-check and provide the answer. Ask it about D sharp major, it will play the scale. Type in “10 flips for four heads” and it will guess that you need to know the probability of coin-tossing. If you want to know when the next solar eclipse over Chicago is, or the exact current location of the International Space Station, it can work it out.

Sounds even better. Can’t wait.

Google News Alert

April 30th, 2009 at 12:28 pm by David Farrar

I have my name as an alert term for Google News. So I get to see when people say nasty things about me. My name is fairly rare but not unique, as this alert showed:

Google News Alert for: “David Farrar”

Shell casings, cigarette butt found near slain 65-year-old’s body
Gaston Gazette – Gastonia,NC,USA
A trail of Styrofoam packing peanuts was found leading from the Farrars’ hallway to the backyard where David Farrar was shot and killed.

Pretty sure it wasn’t me!

Google’s Latitude

February 5th, 2009 at 9:15 am by David Farrar

I’ve blogged many times over the last few years about how a future killer application will be one that combines GPS, mapping and friend finder on your phone.

As the Daily Telegraph reports, Google has launched such a service. It is called Google Latitude. It works for New Zealand, and you can download it onto your blackberry and other phones. Only problem is a download error code 500 at the moment.

There are huge privacy issues around such services. They key is to only let people see your location who you totally trust. But it can be an easy way of meeting up in town etc. I’ll blog more on this once I actually get it installed and working.

Google Streetview

December 2nd, 2008 at 11:35 am by David Farrar

Well it is here, and they have done an amazing job of havign seamless photos from cars driving through.

The Beehive and Bowen House as captured on Street View.

You can see my apartment block on the right, and lots of activity on the street as people were arriving for school at Queen Margarets. In some of the photos you can almost make out who it is – not enough for a stranger to recognise someone, but for friends to be able to work out who was pictured.

Waitangi Day and Google Earth

November 29th, 2008 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Maori Television has a nifty idea for Waitangi Day:

New Zealand’s national indigenous broadcaster, Maori Television, is putting out the call for all New Zealanders to come home for Waitangi Day 2009 but forget the planes, trains and automobiles you would usually rely on. This year, the only travel required will be in a virtual sense.

The broadcaster has created its own layer on Google Earth to collect messages from anywhere in the world devoted to the question: ‘Where on Google Earth will you be on Waitangi Day?’

Pictures, videos and text can all be uploaded into the page – from Aotearoa-New Zealand and beyond – to appear on the specially-created layer as a pin on the spinning globe. Anyone can upload material, ranging from a simple text message to photos, via Google’s photo sharing service, Picasa, or for the more tech-savvy among us, videos via YouTube.

‘Where on Google Earth will you be on Waitangi Day?’ is the question but also the concept that will underpin the channel’s broadcast dedicated to New Zealand’s national day, Waitangi Day, on Friday February 6 2009. The most inspiring, fun and heart-warming messages will be played throughout Maori Television’s programme, KOTAHI TE RA: WAITANGI DAY 2009.

“For anyone who has ever been away from home on our national day – or even if you’re at home but feeling that tug of national pride – this is the chance to connect to something special,” says Maori Television chief executive Jim Mather. “We believe this is something new and unique for an indigenous broadcaster, or indeed any broadcaster, to connect with its people via the internet.”

The technology used is essentially a specially-created layer visible on Google Earth which allows New Zealanders, their friends and families all around the world to create a message and load it into the space, marked by a map pin. “The beauty of the concept is its simplicity,” says Mr Mather. “It is easy to use, people can be as interactive as their abilities allow. It is all about the feeling.”

To see the short demonstration, or if you want to post a message, go to and follow the Google Earth link. Google Earth can be downloaded at

Nice to see innovative thinking at Maori TV. They provide by far the best ANZAC Day coverage, and I suspect will do the same with Waitangi Day.

And hey we’ll have a Prime Minister next year who isn’t afraid to spend Waitangi Day at Waitangi!

How they voted in Wellington

November 13th, 2008 at 8:15 pm by David Farrar

View Larger Map

Tom Beard has put together this interface for Google Maps of voting in Wellington. He explains at the link what the different shades mean but basically the more blue it is the more votes for National/ACT/United Future and the more red it is the more votes for Labour/Greens/Progressive.

I’d love to see this done nationwide!

Google’s 2008 election gadget

October 9th, 2008 at 8:54 pm by David Farrar

Google have launched an online gadget for Kiwis wanting to follow 2008 election news. Quite a tidy little tool.

“Not affiliated to any party”

September 14th, 2008 at 7:15 am by David Farrar

The Herald on Sunday reports on how Rochelle Rees has google bombed John Key so a search of NZ sites on “clueless” will bring up his website.

This isn’t terribly difficult to do, especially if it is for .nz sites only. It is far far harder to do it for all searches.

Anyway I found it interesting that the HoS reported:

Auckland computer programmer Rochelle Rees told the Herald on Sunday she emailed friends a year ago, asking them to put links on their websites to Key’s site with the word “clueless” as the link text.

“More than anything, it’s fun,” said Rees, who said she was interested in politics but not affiliated to any party.

I found that interesting. For I could recall two things about Rochelle. One is that she is involved in Auckland Animal Action. The other is I was sure she was a member of Young Labour. And sure enough a quick Google search, and I find the answer on my own blog!

So Rochelle just last year was not just a member of Young Labour, but was elected onto its National Executive. So how is that not affiliated to any party?

I also found it amusing that that they are trying to suggest with their Google bombing that John Key is clueless. The bombing works better if it is an attribute that many people will agree with. They should have gone with “swallowing dead rats” or something. Because look at Key’s achievements:

  • Hugely successful career in the private sector
  • Rose to the top job in his area (global head of foreign exchange) in a company with 60,000 staff, $100 billion a year turnover and assets in excess of $1 trillion.
  • So popular with his staff, colleagues and competitors than the SST couldn’t find a single person to speak badly of him, despite the fact he was in an industry with legendary rivalry
  • Appointed to the Foreign Exchange Committee of the New York Federal Reserve
  • Successfully challenged an incumbent MP for the Helensville 2002 nomination
  • Made Opposition Finance Spokesperson after just two years in Parliament
  • Unanimously elected National Party Leader after just four years in Parliament
  • Within six months of being elected Opposition Leader, overtook Helen Clark as Preferred Prime Minister
  • Has consistently polled as the most popular Leader of the Opposition since records began over 20 years ago

Need I go on?

UPDATE: Rochelle, far from being someone just interested in politics, was a candidate for City Vision in the local body elections. Also she was endorsed by the Labour affiliated EPMU as a preferred candidate. And her e-mail address is which is mainatined by Labour Party member and The Standard owner – Lynn Prentice.

I have no problems with Rochelle having some fun Google bombing. Good on her. But once again we see the traditional pattern of behaviour where someone is portrayed as just “interested in politics but not affiliated to any party”, when the reality is quite different.

UPDATE2: The Herald on Sunday have updated their story and Rochelle has commented below. She says she told the reporter she wasn’t currently affiliated. And Lynn Prentice happens to be her uncle!

Google 10 years old

September 10th, 2008 at 7:39 am by David Farrar

The Herald calls Google the world’s most powerful 10 year old.

It brings back memories of AltaVista, the former number one search engine. It was amazing how quickly Google replaced it as the search engine of choice.

Google is powerful but not quite all conquering. When they launched Google Video, I thought that would dominate the online video market as they had the brand and resources of Google.

But You Tube kicked their butt, because they had a superior product. The “embed” function especially turned every blog into a gateway for You Tube and they gained massive market share over Google Video.

Of course Google then went and purchased You Tube. But it still shows that product is still more important than brand, and that Google’s dominance can not be assumed to last forever.

But having said that, I am a regular user of:

  1. Google Search
  2. Google News
  3. Google News Alerts
  4. Google Adsense
  5. Google Analytics
  6. Google Maps
  7. Google Images
  8. Google Toolbar
  9. Google Calendar
  10. Google Docs
  11. Gmail
  12. Google Talk
  13. You Tube

I have also played with Google Chrome and check out Google Groups very occassionally. So it is hard to see an Internet without a dominant Google anytime soon.

Two useful gadgets

March 25th, 2008 at 3:28 pm by David Farrar

I have to say I am impressed with BNZ’s netguard card. I had put off getting one for my Internet banking because I thought it would be one of the clunky electronic gizmos which flashes a new code every minute.

But it is just a credit card sized card with a 7×7 matrix on the back with a letter or digit in each square. They prompt you for three squares each time you login, which is very quick to do.  Hardly a hassle at all, and definitely more secure.

The chance of someone guessing the right responses on any given login is 1 in 46,656 (36^3). And the chance of guessing your entire card is 1 in 36^49 which is 1 in 1.81×10^76.

The other cool thing lately is that Google Calendar now has a plugin to sychronise with MS Outlook.  This means I can let people view my busy/free times in Google, have appts synchronise with Outlook (where I make most of my appts) and have them also transfer to my Blackberry to remind me of the appt when on the road.

The only bad thing is discovering this may have cost me a Blackberry. I have been looking for a way to synchronise Google Calendar and Outlook for months and tried every setting there was. So I casually remarked to one of my staff that if she could discover a way to do it, she’d get the Blackberry she had been pestering me for. By pure coincidence, Google had earlier that day released their Outlook plugin, and it was a front page link from Google Calendar.  So she is insisting I owe her a Blackberry for her two minutes of work.