Earning loyalty

Here’s something that I wrote internally within Google in mid-2013. I think at the time, folks within Google were discussing XMPP. The discussion wasn’t as much about client-to-server XMPP, but server-to-server XMPP, which is a less followed area. Anyway, here’s the internal post I wrote:

We want to compete on a level playing field

We’ve expressed the principle of “Don’t be evil” from the early days of Google. Yet it wasn’t until 2006 that Eric enunciated the statement that “We would never trap user data.” I think Google’s DNA has another principle encoded in it that we haven’t called out clearly enough: We want to compete on a level playing field.

When we play on a level field, we work harder for users because we have to compete based on merit. If another search engine crawls the open web and returns better search results, people will switch to that new search engine immediately–so we’re constantly looking for ways to improve our search results.

Likewise, when people can leave Google, it makes us work harder to forge excellent products that earn our users’ loyalty. Data Liberation means that anyone can download their Gmail or their Calendar or Docs or their ad campaigns and then take their business elsewhere. That keeps us honest and working hard. We should strive to put our own products on a level playing field so that our incentive remains to deliver the best products and services we can.

The desire for a level playing field also partly explains why Chrome and Android are so important. Without Chrome, we’d be at the mercy of Internet Explorer or other web browsers when users want to get to Google. Without Android, phone makers could shut Google out of mobile phones completely. Chrome and Android help ensure that users can get to Google without interference; they protect our users from other companies’ potentially unlevel playing fields.

I think to many Googlers, the open web represents the ultimate level playing field. That’s why so many Googlers react so negatively to the idea of walled gardens, proprietary standards, or products that don’t interoperate well. The desire to compete fairly on a level playing field leads naturally to open standards, protocols, and interoperability.

Some other companies that don’t federate well have succeeded recently. [A specific company I won’t call out explicitly] sucked contacts out of Gmail but refused to export contacts back out. But I worry we learned the wrong lesson from that. The lesson isn’t that data liberation or a level field makes us a sitting duck for bad actors; the lesson should be that we may need to get creative to encourage better behavior–for example, Google modified its contacts export to require reciprocity.

At the top levels of Google, there’s a clear vision: a beautiful, seamless experience for users. I agree that’s vitally important, but I believe a large part of Google’s brand is also “functional”: Google is always up, it always works, it’s always fast, it always gives you what you need. I believe a beautiful, seamless experience has to rest on a functional foundation. And for many Googlers, a large part of “functional” includes openness and interoperability–again, a level playing field.

Google has done very well while promoting the principles of the internet: openness, transparency, and a level playing field. I think “We want to compete on a level playing field” follows from “Don’t be evil,” but I’d like us to recognize this part of our DNA and emphasize “We want to compete on a level playing field” more strongly.

36 Responses to Earning loyalty (Leave a comment)

  1. Hi Matt-
    Although I agree with your comments about being competitive, there are many that challenge Google’s dominance in the marketplace.

    But why?

    Having worked in SEO since 2007 and then for a national advertising agency for nearly 8 years previously, I believe it’s caused by mis-information. For example, YouTuber videos go viral because of entertainment value and controversy. The result is anyone can syndicate their opinions for the masses to consume.

    Since 2007, I built my business around using Google relevancy standards as well as complying with your user guidelines. All of my client work is developed with genuine text and video content. I tethered my business with Google docs so that I can work anywhere. So my user experience is top-notch.

    But from Google’s perspective (in my humble opinion), you do risk deceptive abuse of your products by those interested in pursuing an economic advantage by abusing your products. I know, preaching to the choir here.

    To me, Google has done a phenomenal job in the last decade building products to enhance my workflow and client growth. Nothing else matters to me. Your collaboration functionality in Google Docs allows millions of people to share not only calendars and billions of stuff, but also connect seamlessly wherever they call home.

    In closing, I don’t believe a level playing field exists in a competitive market. Therefore, we’re bound to remain loyal to our clients and users putting their needs before ours.

    Thanks for your posts Matt. Love your insight.

    Peter David Gustafson

  2. I guess it all depends what sent you are sitting in. If you made millions from the success of Google then I am sure you believe they will not be evil. If you are sitting with many small business owners that have been crushed by Google for no reason other than “Greed” then you may feel Google is evil. The small business owners are about to speak…

  3. It used to be that when you used Google’s XMPP Chat functionality (whether in Google Talk, GChat, or whatever it was called,) and you clicked “Save my chat history” it would be archived in your Gmail and accessible with lots of really cool Metadata.

    To see it you would have to switch to the Basic HTML view, search “in:chats”, click on an individual chat and then click “Show Original”

    When you use Data Liberation to export your Gmail archives, none of these chat logs are included, so I spent a lot of time writing a Chrome Extension that slowly scraped the raw chat data.

    I was so excited about the possibilities. I could see how my vocabulary changed over time, who I responded to quickly, who got the last word in conversations, who swore at me, when I used emoticons, what my most common lead-ins were. Not to mention how I shared and described links, and what reactions they got.

    I had 6000+ chats over 6 years to analyze! But it didn’t stop there, I had much grander visions, imagine analyzing how you communicate over 20, 30, even 40 years of data! Unfortunately the last chat that has this raw data available was May 15, 2013.

  4. Thank you for posting this Matt. Because of Google’s dominant position and also their perceived hunger for buying or building all new ideas related to internet life, it can feel like Google is bent on owning rather than playing fairly within the web. I agree that we all take for granted what Google has brought us and how they have made everyone’s lives better, by delivering on hard ideas in a beautiful way.

    I am a big supporter of net neutrality. And for that reason, I am really happy to hear that there are key people within Google who believe at their core that the promise of the internet is rooted in the ability of new ideas to gain traction and not be bullied by incumbent players bent on hegemony.

  5. Mark-
    Your comments are genuine. However, my small business clients love complying with Google standards. My entire business was built by following them.

    Honestly, I do feel for business owners who once ranked well but now reside in nowheresville. However, buyer beware. If they hired spam backlinkers to rank well, they do own much of the responsibility.

    Small business owners interested in speaking about evil should confess they are responsible trying to trick their way to the top instead of building valuable, relevant content. That’s my 2 cents.


    • If all things were equal I would agree with you:-) On the other hand link tactics such as directories, social book marking, link wheels, ect were never listed in the Google webmaster guidelines. This would not be an issue if Google had not sold ads for these services. they basically put these”spammy tactics” at the top of search results where users could easily find them. To this day Google still sells ads for keywords like “guest posting” & “buy back links” which are listed in the webmaster guidelines. Why? What is the point of selling these ads? The $5.75 CPC?

      Also in the early days SEO companies all sold the same services & no one would ever tell you they were shady. So, how was a webmaster suppose to know? The SEO companies said it was legit, it wasn’t list in Google’s guidelines, & Google even put these services on top of page one for the SEO companies. To quote Will Ferrell ” I FEEL LIKE I AM TAKING CRAZY PILLS!”

      But the one thing that truly hurts is that Google continues to rank my top 3 competitors at the top of the SERPS & all 3 use their own private networks to dominate the market. I could just do what they are doing but I know that it is wrong, but still I am being punished for old directories links that can not be deleted & a handful of guest blog post.

      The movement is about to begin.

      • The movement? The movement? The big movement among small business owners that have all been ripped off by Google and have been getting screwed for years and are going to rise up as a collective and unite and get everyone they know to start using Bing?

        The movement several random people (or possibly one with several random accounts) have threatened over at least the past decade while we have yet to see even a token effort occur in this regard?

        The one that rails on about the evils of Google without providing one piece of tangible, irrefutable evidence that Google has knowingly done something to screw anyone over, never mind a piece of evidence that outweighs the overall positive benefits that Google has genuinely attempted to provide over the years?

        The movement that as Peter touched on is largely restricted to either anonymous cheap shot artists or spammers?

        Is that the one we’re talking about?

        If that’s the movement, hurry up and get on with it already. The act’s getting old. Either gather up all of your fellow revolutionaries and march to Silicon Valley and Occupy Google or give up before you make yourself any more ridiculous than you already do. Seriously, this act is way old.

      • Hey Mark, I saw your comment on a different post about still finding ads for (say) buying PageRank or links, and I wanted to provide some context on that. The main thing I’d say is that ads and search are different areas, and the search folks don’t really talk to the ads folks that much.

        So the highest priority for the search folks was solving issues like paid links that pass PageRank. Only later did we talk to the ads folks about disabling ads like that. Then you wouldn’t be surprised that some SEOs tried to get around those ad blocks by targeting different keywords, or tweaking their ad text to claim that their services wouldn’t violate Google’s guidelines.

        Our highest priority was always to fix the issue in search, since that’s where we could have the most visible impact. But I take your point, and if I talk to someone on the search side, I’ll ask whether they can follow up and check on ads for some of the phrases that you mentioned. Thanks for mentioning it, and sorry that I didn’t give a fuller reply (or approve your comment) earlier.

        By the way, if you’re seeing someone attempting to game Google with spammy link networks in your space, I’d be more than happy to pass on any details or feedback to the webspam analysts and check into what’s going on there.

        • Thanks for the offer, but I wouldn’t wish a Google penalty on my worst enemy. The problem is not they are getting away with spam & I am not. The problem is that Google can not create a level playing field by spotting all types of spam. I guess in a way in all comes back to the point you were making I your blog post.

        • Bravo! The ads are gone. Thank you, I am really impressed. Now you should remove penalties for people that bought these services after clicking your ads.

  6. Funny that you should post that now, when hangouts/gchat is not using xmpp anymore, or at least is not federated anymore.

  7. AT@T has announced that they will no longer use perma cookies to track users. When will Google stop?

  8. Funny post when google is abandoning XMPP for GTalk, uses a closed platform for Hangouts, and doesn’t even offer an API for Google+…

  9. “Without Chrome, we’d be at the mercy of Internet Explorer or other web browsers when users want to get to Google”

    Because all Firefox (and Opera) are doing, is trying to stop people reaching Google?

    • Gmail works very laggy on Firefox for example. But I think that it’s google doing this, so you have to switch to chrome, no the other way around. Firefox doesn’t have own platform to promote, so I really doubt is their work.

  10. Level playing field like blocking non-chrome browsers from using Inbox? Sure.

    I’m also bummed about the new non-open chat protocol.

    • Hey Harrison, I believe that the Inbox page specifically says “More browsers coming soon”? Also remember that Inbox just launched as an invite-only beta, so Google is still working hard on different things at this point.

      • Hey Matt, thanks for getting back to me. These are good points, so hopefully the compatability issues will be fixed soon. But deliberately limiting access to other browsers is not great. Some kind of notification would suffice.

        By the way, Chrome is doing awesome! I really am happy with everything it’s brought to the web and is continuing to innovate. Watching the Chrome Dev Summit right now, very exciting! 🙂

    • Microsoft managed to make the beta of Skype work in other browsers. Google used to care about other browsers. Lately, it appears not so much.

  11. After all is said and done, Google is still the fairest company and the Google ecosystem is the most open. Seriously, can you imagine a world with out Google? Can you imagine a world were we’re at the mercy of Apple & Microsoft? I just can’t stomach that with Apple & Microsoft you have to pay to program your own device! You can dislike and criticize Google all you want this doesn’t change the facts.

  12. If Google cared about a level playing field, especially on the web, they’d open up http://www.google.com for banner ads for other browsers besides Chrome. The exclusive Chrome banner ad that’s been on http://www.google.com for several years now is precisely the opposite of a level playing field and, IMO, borders on anti-trust territory.

    • I don’t see what banner ads about Chrome on Google has to do with level playing fields. Microsoft has been doing that for decades on msn.com. I honestly believe Google pushing Chrome created a level playing field for us Web developers because now we don’t have to support old legacy browsers. I understand not everything Google does is acceptable by everyone but please don’t troll 🙂

  13. Google does deserve credit for offering a way out of its online services, but these services are not where the company earns the bulk of its profit. Google has been more guarded in its advertising business. It took FTC intervention in 2013 to prompt Google to agree to change its AdWords contract to allow use of its API to port campaign data to other platforms.

    • Thomas, bear in mind Google provided tools to export AdWords data far before the FTC investigation. Here’s a blog post from 2009 for example: http://googlepublicpolicy.blogspot.com/2009/10/yes-you-can-export-data-from-adwords.html that mentions “We’re committed to enabling our advertisers to easily export data from Google in a machine readable, standardized format. Recently, some have claimed that we somehow stop advertisers from getting their AdWords campaign data out of Google. That’s incorrect.”

      Google also provided tools such as AdWords Editor to allow export of AdWords data from Google. Here’s a post from 2007 describing how to export your AdWords data to a CSV file: https://www.seroundtable.com/archives/012687.html That post talks about moving ads data into Yahoo!’s Panama ads system, for example.

      And here’s a blog post from 2012 describing multiple options to export ads from Google into Microsoft’s ad system: http://www.wsoaonline.com/adwords-to-adcenter

      I have no doubt that Microsoft lobbied for it to be even easier to port ads data from Google into Microsoft’s system, but the fact remains that Google provided tools to export ads data for years and years before the FTC opened their investigation.

  14. hey matt why did you delete my original comment?

    not very democratic of you to delete the comment of someone who disagrees

    perhaps then you found the comment to be spam?

    I thought you wanted a level playing field?

    not very “level” to unilaterally declare any comment you dislike spam

    I thought you would have found more wisdom in your “vacation”. You can dress up for Halloween any four ways you like.

    Still a hypocrite underneath

    • josh, are you talking about your “waiting for godot” joke? I considered it off-topic. You’re welcome to write whatever you like on your site or elsewhere, but I moderate comments here in an attempt to keep the signal-to-noise ratio reasonable.

  15. “We want to compete on a level playing field”

    You sure do Matt. While your ad earnings go up months after month, our earnings and Google referrals go down.

  16. I appreciate your effort for awesome write up about level playing.

  17. Hi Matt
    This might be off topic but
    As a small guy following Google guidelines its frustrating to see blatant spammy links with fake landing pages still dominating the Google SERP results.

    I’ve reported the same site numerous times and within hours of being removed they’ve built new links ( to the same fake landing page I might add)

    While I admire your teams attempts to level the playing field, there are still guys out there getting around your algorithm and ripping off consumers. “Don’t be evil” I suppose isn’t easy to enforce

  18. In terms of SEO, I’d like to think we’re all on a ‘level playing field’ – but that’s not always the case. There would still be firms out there who make a profit out of spammy, unethical practices. Sometimes, it feels exhausting and frustrating to compete with them because you know it never is fair. But thinking about our clients – the ones who do trust me – I feel grateful and continue onward. As mentioned: true customer loyalty comes from consistency. As long as I remain honest, hardworking, and transparent in my dealings, we’ll be okay. And I am confident that we can survive any Google update – we’re on a ‘level playing field’ afterall.

  19. I guess the move to cut Firefox funding deal about having Google as the default search engine only now that chrome has enough market share to crush Firefox by attracting even more people towards chrome is on the level playing field strategy scheme…

    I’m a Google fan and supporter but this move at this specific time doesn’t exactly scream that level playing field attitude…

    • Nick, why do you assume that it’s Google cutting the strings with Firefox as opposed to Firefox choosing a different provider? It seems like you’re making an implicit assumption there.

      • Hi Matt, Al and Nick-
        I couldn’t resist commenting.

        As a small business owner I can assure you two items are on my A-list for clients are genuine value and consistency. The reason my clients pay my fee is because my competition can’t deliver.

        Don’t forget, a level playing field isn’t possible in a competitive market. Therefore, those that deliver better product and service consistently always earn the business. My take on Firefox is they’re no different than Volkswagen. Extremely loyalists love their brands. They should if it works for them. However, attacking Google for the sake of demonizing their strategic business plans has nothing to do with Firefox’s marketshare.

        For all of those SEO-ers licking their wounds, I feel your pain. Although, I shifted my business model away from rankings years ago, and instead, toward site conversion. Why rank if a site’s user experience is a freak show? That’s my two cents.


        • I –assume– that because Firefox will be the big loser in terms of market share. Chrome already owns the browser game and figures look like it’s going to continue dominating the browser space. On the other hand terminating that deal will save Google an enormous amount of cash. Cash that spends for being the default search engine for the minority nowadays… Non technical people will get frustrated with Firefox when searching for something with yahoo search just like users get frustrated when searching with IE and bing…

          So judging from the data Firefox is going to shrink even more and these people are going to chrome. So it sounds like a dumb decision for Mozilla to make.

          It’s impossible to know the insider details and I’m assuming everything based on stuff I read online on the matter. So it’s just my personal opinion.

  20. I’m learning a lot from your internal linking strategy!