Thursday, July 5, 2018

"Googlewins Law" - The Google Argument

Maybe you've had an occasion with "The Google Argument" before. I call it "Googlewin's Law". What is it and how does it damage dialogue?

In homage to Godwin's Law, I call for "Googlewin's Law", and would phrase it like this:

"As a technical discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Google approaches 1"

I have observed an emerging trend that when meaningful arguments run low, someone "pulls a Google" (alternatively Linkedin, Amazon, Facebook) in an attempt to score an intended winning strike. However, most often, the invocation of Google is nothing more than a fallacy.
Here are the three most common uses of the Google Argument:

The positive Google Argument

When developers want to do something which could be called "nerdfest" and run out of meaningful arguments why doing this is a good idea, they invoke the positive Google argument:
"We could become the next Google with this". 
Typical invocations could be: "With this ranking algorithm, we could become the next Google!" - "With this sales platform, we could become the next Amazon!"

Here is why it's a fallacy:

Google never tried to become great, they tried to do something that happened to work, and because they did that exceedingly well, in all domains - from technical implementation over marketing and sales all the way to customer service - they succeeded. Oh, and they happened to have great seed funding.
Google did not become great because of one good technology, they became great because they happened to do a whole lot of other things right as well in a market where one stupid move can cost you everything.

So the next time someone pulls a positive Google on you, just ask: "What makes you so sure we don't become the next Blockbusters with that idea?"

The negative Google argument

The opposite of the positive Google argument, used as a killer argument against any form of innovation or change is the negative Google argument:

"We don't need this. We are not Google".
Typical invocations sound like: "Continuous Integration? We're not Google!" - "Microservices? We're not Google!" - "Virtual Machines? We're not Google!"

Here is why it's a fallacy:

Not everything Google does is only helpful for Google. Google is using a lot of techniques and technologies that help them achieve their mission and goals easier and more effectively.
Google has even created quite a number of useful tools, frameworks and techniques that are available open source (such as Angular) simply because they are useful.
If everything that made Google successful was anathema, you shouldn't even be using computers!

The appeal to Google

When lacking evidence or sound arguments, what's more convenient than invoking the name of a billion-dollar-company to make your case? Who could argue against an appeal to Google:

"Google also does this." - "Google invented this!"
Typical invocations would be: "Of course we need a distributed server farm. Just look at Google, they also do that!" - "Our product search page needs semantic interpretations. Google also does this!"

Here is why it's a fallacy:

First and foremost, unless you're in the business of selling advertisement space on one of the world's most frequented websites, chances are you're not going to make profit the way Google does.
Second, Google can afford a technology infrastructure that costs billions, because that's what generates revenue as well. There's an old latin proverb, "quod licet iove, non licet bove" (lit. "What is suitable for a God is not befitting an ox")
Third, Google has many billions of dollars to invest. It doesn't hurt Google to make sink $100m into a promising, yet ultimately unsuccessful innovation. I mean, yes it hurts, but it's not lethal. Can your business afford sinking $100m for zero returns? If so, you can appeal to Google, otherwise I'd be cautious.


The next time someone invokes Google, Facebook, Amazon, LinkedIn or even companies like Zappos, Spotify or whatever - think of Googlewin's Law.

What worked for others has no guarantee of working for you - and even though you are not them, not everything they do is bad (such as, for example, breathing!).
Google is not a reason either way.

Feel free to ask, "Can you rephrase that statement with a comprehensible reason that has a connection to our business?"

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