Thinking back on the last two days of Gnomedex and I am wondering “where was Google?” I don’t remember meeting a Google employee (I just looked through my stack of more than a hundred business cards and didn’t find one from Google).
But, yet, Google was the talk of the conference. A Yahoo employee even said “Google me” which got everyone to laugh.
This is a huge shift, though. Three years ago at Gnomedex Google was all over the place. It sponsored a party at Gnomedex and had lots of employees and recruiters there. And they had — by far — the coolest swag.
But at 2006 Gnomedex? Not a thing. Not a logo. Not an employee.
It’s interesting. Google is willing to hire away Microsoft executives for millions of dollars. One just this week (Vic Gundotra will probably run their developer network).
The problem is that people are starting to notice that Google gets the hype, but isn’t getting adoption (read an interesting BusinessWeek article that makes the same point). And don’t you think for one moment that telling your story isn’t important.
Even Google senses something wrong. Watch Seth Godin presenting at Google and listen to a Google employee wondering why Google Maps isn’t getting better market share numbers in areas other than search. (That part is at 43:13).
Well, you aren’t going to get better market share numbers by not showing up to influential computer conferences (Gnomedex isn’t the first one I’ve noticed Google not showing up to, either — I don’t remember seeing them at IT@Cork. I don’t remember seeing them at Reboot. Both conferences that had lots of developers).
What’s funny is that Vic will show up at those same conferences in a year after he comes off his “vacation” and will ask developers and geeks and bloggers and influentials to get excited about Google’s latest stuff.
My point then will be “sorry, we’ve already switched to Yahoo and Microsoft (or, RawSugar or TagJag — both of which are working to build new search experiences that the big companies aren’t willing to do) cause they came to Gnomedex and showed us some cool stuff and listened to us about how to improve it.”
One of the best sessions at the conference was when three venture capitalists gave feedback about TagJag (and the audience jumped in offering often harsh commentary and quite a few really great ideas).
See, this is what Google did so well in the early days: it learned from its users and set a “cool and trustworthy tone” by showing up to small events and listening to users. Matt Cutts of Google, for instance, is the best at this — he builds relationships at search engine conferences. I got a chance to follow him around earlier this year and he met with dozens of SEO experts and picked their brains and got tons of ideas about how to improve their spam-detection algorithms. He also, by being there, told everyone “you, and what you do, is important.”
I guess Google doesn’t think the Gnomedex audience is important anymore. Yet when I walked around the room I kept seeing Google being used all over the place.
That’s not a good message to send and it will come around to haunt them. Vic, you have your work cut out — so enjoy your year off!
Update: a friend noted that Steve Ballmer didn’t show up either, although Yahoo, Ask.com, and Microsoft were sponsors of Gnomedex.