Why Google Slows Down Acquired Companies

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In Febuary of this year Google re-launched JotSpot as Google Sites. Google had acquired Jotspot some 16 months earlier, during which time Jot was only available to existing customers and closed to new signups. What happen during those 16 months and why did the process of integrating with Google take so long? Looking through the list of companies that Google has acquired, Jotspot would be considered lucky as many others have died, stalled or lost out to competitors because of the acquisition process.

Blogger was acquired by Google in Febuary of 2003, and at the time it was the leading blog platform by a wide margin. Within a few months, MovableType had taken over the self-hosting market, followed by Typepad and then WordPress and In the interim Blogger had stalled at Google, with no new feature releases, no improvements and a lack of support.

In 2005 Dodgeball was acquired – a potentially early Twitter or cool location based service, and it died inside Google. In Febuary of 2006, MeasureMap, the blog analytics tool, was acquired and never heard from again. GrandCentral went to Google last year, for $45M, and since then the service has been frozen with no new users allowed to signup and sporadic periods of downtime (meaning users cant get any phonecalls, at all).

One of the first main challenges for a company that has been acquired by Google is adopting the proprietary technology stack used within the company. Google does use Linux and open source, but their core technologies are all internal to the company. I have heard that it can take a new engineer at Google anywhere from 3-6 months to become accustomed to using these tools and services. The table below sets out the Google stack and the technologies used:

Google Technology Stack

C++, Java and Python Core libraries and components in C++, web applications in Java (Google Web Toolkit) or Python (not as common)
MapReduce Distributed computing library and cluster. Written in C++ can interface in Java or Python
Big Table Distributed column-oriented data store with query language.
Google FS Large-scale distributed file system. Used for object/file storage

Because of the difference in technology, it can take a company anywhere from a year to three or more years to move over to the Google infrastructure and architecture. Blogger was still running their own infrastructure until their new release last year, and they have finally integrated Google ID’s. YouTube is one of the only recent acquisitions where full steam and emphasis were placed into getting the site moved over to run on the Google platform. YouTube managed to pull it off, but it is a rare case inside Google (and also a special case).

The problem isn’t one that is unique to Google, as the other big web and technology companies such as Microsoft have also struggled with or simply neglected some of the companies they acquire, but there are problems that are very specific to Google because of the technology they use. Microsoft develops their products using .NET and the Win32 API, there are millions of developers capable of developing in this environment. There are also millions of open source developers capable of swinging PHP, Python or Ruby. But building on MapReduce and BigTable at Google? There are only a few thousand specialists who are all either already employed at Google or former employees.

And what comes of former Google employees? They spend years building on a technology stack that nobody else is using. How useful are they to a company that is looking for MySQL, Apache, Python, PHP etc. experts? It probably isn’t as big an issue – as the developers can adapt to their environment, especially considering Google is hoarding some of the best developers out there.

The stack of technologies developed by Google has helped them build out their search engine and core technologies quickly and efficiently – not to mention at a fraction of the cost of what they would have paid using traditional clustering and hardware. But when it comes to bringing external technologies and companies in house, the Google technology stack is a tax on developers which slows down development to a point where it can kill a product.

The solution for Google is to either adopt a more open stack in parallel to what they currently use, or to open source their internal technologies (as Facebook and Yahoo! are doing) in the hope that they will spread and gain adoption from more developers.

  • Phil Sim

    I’d love to one-day read about what happened to Jotspot at Google as not only did it take an age to come to be, what finally emerged on the other side was a shadow of its former itself. Google’s simplicity doctrine culled all the cool stuff and what was the industry-leading wiki platform became wiki-for-dummies. In which case, why bother acquiring in the first place as surely it would have made sense to just have built that from scratch on the Google platform. I mean, c’mon, a business Wiki platform without page-level permissions!

  • Angus McDonald


    As my tweet said, I think that Google is trying to get their application framework out there via Google App Engine:

    The payoff for them might be more startups that are easier for them to acquire and the reward for startups is that the ability to scale, quickly and easily, is built into your app from day one.

    Of course it might have the opposite effect, by making those startups that use Google App Engine only valuable to Google and not other potential investors – but that’s probably not going to be much of a hassle if Google App Engine is really rolled out as they have said it will be.


  • Markus

    Excellent article and great points Nik.

    I wonder if the “mortality rate” for apps acquired by Google hurts their chances for potential future acquisitions?

  • Nag

    Good Article.
    But for GrandCentral..

    I am still using grandcentral and i still get my calls and the service is still working fine for me. So my calls are still coming.

    Thanks to TC for letting me know about GrandCentral…

    Hurray to Mike..
    Cheers, Nag

  • Michael Sheehan

    And Jaiku for heavens sake! What are they doing with that!

  • Richard Taylor

    While It is true that Google acquisitions do seem to get derailed, I do not think the problem is technology. Firstly, the Google technology Stack is like it is for a very good reason, it is scalable beyond belief. Also, it is worth noting that all of the Google technology stack is available through Open Source projects like Hadoop and Hypertable. Any forward looking company should be looking to adopt the new scalable technology stack, or they risk being overwhelmed by success such as Twitter has.

  • ironyjk's me2DAY

    iron의 생각…

    They spend years building on a technology stack that nobody else is using….

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  • Andy

    I was about to use JotSpot with clients prior to its purchase. And now without a documentated XMl API (you do appear to add format=xml for urls or something similar), it has dropped off the map as a true business ready platform.

    I agree with #6 that it isn’t all technology. We are perhaps asking for too much too quickly in these days of cloud computing, online collaboration and rich internet apps. But I hope the pace does get quicker.

  • Michael Pate

    On the Gillmor Gang the other day, Steve asked some Google product managers about the possibility of Google launching a Twitter clone. They were apparently completely unaware that Google already owns Jaiku. But then, everyone at Google seems unaware of the fact at this point.

  • Simone

    …… Jaiku? I know it was not a big deal as Youtube, but once acquired by google Jaiku has been put in beta testing state and registration are closed since Oct/Nov 2007.

  • Kashif

    If you can’t beat them, buy them and stall them to death.

    Welcome to Google, the Startup Killer!

  • Jens

    I agree with Richard Taylor insofar as that I don’t believe that technology is the reason. I think we may have finally found something that Google is not so good at and that is integrating acquired companies. Integrating technology is no excuse for a service to stop exepting new users/customers. Actually, if you plan on stopping acquiring customers once an acquisition has taken place, you might as well not buy the company at all.

    Imagine this M&A pitch to the CEO: “So, we buy these guys for $45million, The first thing we do is stop accepting new users. Then we fiddle around for 18 months. Then, should users still care and no competitor have overtaken us, we will re-launch. By then, we will have killed all momentum. And all the enthusiatic people inside the company have left. And all our evangelists have grown bored with us. But it really is a great deal!!”

    Which CEO wold give the green light to that?

  • Paul Parkinson

    Good article but one thing springs to mind. Given this reliance on a “proprietary” infrastructure (I know it’s not truly prop but bear with me) is this a weakness in Google’s armoury? We can all think of dozens of companies who have gone down the prop route and come to a sticky ugle bloody mess. I’m not suggesting for one minute that it’ll happen to Google anytime soon but if it did….

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  • Ronald Hobbs

    The tech might still be proprietary, but google have been pretty open with the concepts and the research behind mapreduce and bigtable. the biggest problems developers have, isn’t switching tech. ask any Java dev that’s had to work on python or c# or vice versa.

    What kills you is the shift in thinking. that’s what takes time, changing from c to java took years for companies to get right. And vb to c#/.net for MS houses. Lisp to anything, etc.

    Bigtable and mapreduce are shifts in approaches, and by google opening up their research and explaining things you’ve got other implementations (For mapreduce you’ve got Hadoop by apache, for bigtable you’ve got hbase & simpledb) that’ll allow a dev to get up to speed with the thinking and then it’s a simply “getting to know the libraries” experience.

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  • Jason Kolb

    GrandCentral is working great for me, I honestly wouldn’t want them to change much. Love it.

    It’s only natural that being absorbed into a big company will slow down a startup. This happened when the company I sold to Cisco got absorbed, and it really pissed me off at first. But the upside is that the product will go through a much more rigorous process for the next release, so you can count on it being infinitely more tested, documented, and defined. Not sure if it’s such a good thing FOREVER, but most startups need to go through this process at some point in order to get up to “globally scalable” status.

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  • Pagetracer

    I liked Jaiku much more then Twitter, but after Google acquisition they have just disappeared. No more blog posts abut them, no one from my friends joined Jaiku and now I have to use Twitter just like everybody else.. :(

  • George Petsagourakis

    Basically, they have done the same thing with SketchUp, a 3d modeler. This tool is used by many many professionals. It is a wonderfull tool and Google has never released any version. Last version was released before they acquired @Last (the creator company). Ok they gave a version out,… but basically they didn’t add anything to it. They just made sure that the program name read “Google SketchUp” after that ,… there is this huge,… 1 1/2 yr silence…

    Many ppl are getting very aggitated!

  • Lucas Gonze

    Once an acquisition is complete the arriving group has to compete with internal projects for resources, and this means establishing a political base within the company. Google is famous for tough politics, so I imagine that one big problem with acquisitions is how long it takes to make the politics work.

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