Yesterday, I wrote that Google needs to come clean with its users: Either the company is meddling with search results (as all evidence suggests) or it is still committed to all the ideals it espoused when the company was going public.
But it’s not just users that the site has to answer to, in light of this ongoing PR nightmare: It’s employees.
I’ve heard from several Googlers who are embarrassed and unhappy with the company’s silence the last two days as the core of the company’s values have been called into question. Chris Sacca has Tweeted that three Googlers have emailed him about new jobs and adds, “Keep em coming. Believing in your work matters.” Henry Blodget, too, wrote about the sad musing of a former Googler calling Search Plus Your World, saying that doctoring search results would have been “unthinkable” at the Google this person knew. Another insider said that after the issue blew up on an internal company-wide email list, employees were instructed not to discuss the issue in writing.
But as we in the blogosphere know, silencing angry or disappointed employees is a lot harder than that.
Now, a source tells us that CEO Larry Page, who seems to be hell-bent on competing with Mark Zuckerberg whether it’s the right thing for Google or not, had this to say to employees at a Friday staff event after the Search Plus Your World launch: “This is the path we’re headed down – a single unified, ‘beautiful’ product across everything. If you don’t get that, then you should probably work somewhere else.”
The quasi-ultimatum caught our source by surprise and underscores just how important this new direction is for Page. It also helps explain why Google’s PR was so silent since evidence of the Don’t Be Evil toolbar came out yesterday. If this is the future of the company and it flies in the face of Google’s stated values, what can they say?
Page’s words signal a dramatic change in strategy and are oddly reminiscent of Baidu, the Chinese search engine with which Google doesn’t normally like to be associated. Baidu has long augmented its search results with promotions and offers from its in house products, in sort of a mix of search and portal approach.
But that’s very different from the Google of the mid-2000s. This was a company that agonized over adding even a single additional word to the stark white homepage, lest it detract from the search box and the core mission of the site to provide the most relevant results. As MG wrote yesterday, Google built its empire on relevancy, and by giving us results that are doctored, that product is in jeopardy.
If employee grumblings are widespread, it couldn’t come at a worse time for Google. There’s a full-on war for developer talent that the company has already been struggling with– along with every single startup and sexier large companies like Facebook, Twitter and Zynga.
Then again, a lot of what we’re hearing is from X-Googlers. Google has been competing for employees for a while by simply shelling out more cash. Perhaps newer hires are just there for the paycheck, more than the much-vaunted mission.
(If you are a Google employee and want to let us know what you’re hearing, email email@example.com.)