On March 15, 2010, I started a new job at Google. The fourteen years since that day feel like a century. The title of my announcement was Now A No-Evil Zone and, OK, I can hear the laughing from ten timezones away. I tried, then, to be restrained, but there are hardly words to describe how happy and excited I was. I had escaped from the accretion disk the former Sun Microsystems was forming around Oracle, that blackest of holes. And Google, in 2010, was the coolest place in the world to work.

Let me quote myself from a little bit further into that piece, on the subject of Google: “I’m sure that tendrils of stupidity and evil are even now finding interstitial breeding grounds whence they will emerge to cause grief.” Well, yeah.

This is in my mind these days as I’m on a retired-Googlers mailing list where the current round of layoffs is under discussion and, well, it really seems like the joy has well and truly departed the Googleplex.

Alphabet Investor Relations

But they did.
(The Alphabet “Investor Relations” page
is also its home page.)

It’s not just Google · The last two decades of my career featured the arcing then crashing of popular regard for Big Tech. It’s hard to believe now, the years when those lovably nerdy Bay Area kids were leading humanity to a brighter, better-lit future; our leaders were lionized and when people found out you actually worked for Google, their eyes widened and you could feel the focus.

These days, Big Tech features in hostile congressional hearings, mass layoffs, and messy antitrust litigation. It offers few experiences that can be uncritically enjoyed.

While I was inside the Rooms Where It Happened, it was actually pretty hard to notice the public trust in our work auguring into the mountainside of alienation and cynicism. It’s not that I think the companies are the problem, it’s the machineries and imperatives of Late Capitalism, which for a while we foolishly thought Internet companies could route around.

“Ten blue links” · I remember the dismissive phase well: Ten blue links was boring, it was the past, it was not what people wanted. They want answers to their questions, complete and correct, so much more wholesome than an abbreviated sampling of the General Internet Uproar. And that was partly right: When I type in “-12C in F” or “population of vietnam” I just want a number.

But those Ten Blue Links surfaced by the PageRank-that-was had a special magic. I found them intensely human, a reflection of the voices populating what remains of the Web, the only platform without a vendor. This was true when I was there and I said so, but was laughed at.

And now, in Anno Domini 2024, Google has lost its edge in search. There are plenty of things it can’t find. There are compelling alternatives. To me this feels like a big inflection point, because around the stumbling feet of the Big Tech dinosaurs, the Web’s mammals, agile and flexible, still scurry. They exhibit creative energy and strongly-flavored voices, and those voices still sometimes find and reinforce each other without being sock puppets of shareholder-value-focused private empires.

Psychopaths · For my money, that was the center of Google’s problem. Larry and Sergey were smart guys who recognized they didn’t know shit about corporateness and quickly got into a pattern of hiring and empowering psychotic pricks who were presumably “good at business”. Not gonna talk about some of the things I saw because these people are wealthy and litigious.

But I do have a question.

What to use? · Among Google products, I mean. These days, when I use Google Search or Chrome or Maps I just don’t feel like they’re on my side. And maybe that’s not unreasonable; after all, I’m not paying for them. Problem is, the best alternatives aren’t obvious.

For now, here’s the direction I think I’m going: Use Chrome for Google stuff: Maps, Calendar, Docs, Translate. Safari and Firefox for non-Google stuff; they ain’t perfect but I think they’re better aligned with my interests.

Our family company is still on Google Workspace or whatever it is they call Dasher these days: Mail, Contacts, Photos, Calendar, Meet. It’s OK. We pay for it and the price is sane. I don’t feel like it’s looking for ways to monetize each keystroke. I’d totally consider a less-scary alternative.

I fear the combination of Google Maps and Reviews because it stinks of monopoly. But I use Maps anyhow in my car via Android Auto because it’s nicely integrated with YouTube Music (which I like) and Google Calendar. For a while I used the Here.com maps and liked them a lot. I guess I could listen to YouTube over Bluetooth.

Did I mention Android? I can’t stop using it, because I used to work in that building and because I decline to use iOS; If I wrote code for it I might not be able to give it away. And I carry Pixel phones, because I love the cameras. Having said that, hearing Andy Rubin’s name still makes my gut clench.

I love YouTube because I end most evenings, after everyone’s gone to bed, with a live musical performance by someone wonderful. But enshittification is creeping in at the edges.

That cafe · In 2012 I moved from Android to Google’s Identity group. It happened to be in the same buildings as Google+, at a time when Google was definitely putting all its wood behind that arrow. Larry and Sergey’s offices were there too (not a coincidence). There was a major fringe benefit: Access to the Cloud Café.

It was ethereal — OK, pretentious — almost beyond belief. Almost entirely vegetarian, rare plants hand-gathered by Zen monks and assembled into jewel-like little platelets-full that probably strengthened eleven different biochemical subsystems just by existing. And the desserts were beyond divine. Admittedly, sometimes when I left, my Norwegian-farmer metabolism grumbled a bit about not having had any proper food, but still.

It was wonderful. It was absurd. And I got a $90K bonus that year because Google+ hit its numbers.

It’s over, I think. It’s OK to miss it.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Cynthia Kiser (Jan 18 2024, at 21:33)

Yes it is OK to miss it. And thanks to good old fashioned RSS feeds, some of us out here got to miss it vicariously. Thanks for sharing.


From: Andrew Reilly (Jan 18 2024, at 22:08)

When casting around for a search engine that is not trying to sell you stuff, have a look at Kagi. I've been using it for a while. It costs money, which means that it (search) is the product, not me. Doesn't do paid placements or ads. The results seem good to me: I've not felt the need to go and re-try any recent searches on Google in the hope of a better answer. Claims to be doing its own crawling, and using its own algorithms: it has a blog (an opinionated one).

I don't mind there being an advertising-supported system, but I do appreciate being able to access an advertising-free one, even more, especially if it's good.


From: Dan Ciruli (Jan 18 2024, at 22:15)

We overlapped significantly (I was there from early 2013 to mid 2020 -- and incidentally, I still remember being thrilled when I heard you had joined).

I still feel like Google was a unique company when we joined, and not just because of the food. They just did things differently. I remember people talking about the economic slowdown of 2008/2009; when others started laying people off, Google *accelerated hiring* to take advantage of the talent available. There was no optimizing free cash flow to juice the stock price for the next quarter.

I knew it would end at some point.

And when Google announced layoffs last year -- not because they were losing money, of course, just because they weren't making enough -- it was clear that Google was no longer unique. They were managing to the market, trying to ensure that the shareholders would view them as prudent, cautious stewards.

Unique no more. Now just another big company.


From: Matěj Cepl (Jan 19 2024, at 00:28)

I have to admit, I was very surprised by the level of enthusiasm you showed for working at Google at the time. I was then already persuaded (https://matej.ceplovi.cz/blog/do-whatever.html is from June 2012, and https://da.gd/iXrO7 from September 2013) that Google is spiralling down the AOL-trajectory (I am dating myself, who now even knows what AOL used to be? ;)), and I was thus surprised about the level of your enthusiasm. Perhaps the situation at the wreckage of Sun was so horrible, that any help you got from Google made you really appreciative, but it really surprised me.


From: Nils (Jan 19 2024, at 03:22)

> Did I mention Android? I can’t stop using it, because I used to work in that building and because I decline to use iOS; If I wrote code for it I might not be able to give it away. And I carry Pixel phones, because I love the cameras.

Perfectly understandable. Have you looked into GrapheneOS (https://grapheneos.org/)? It seems to be a viable, privacy respecting alternative to running stock Android on Pixel phones.


From: Asim Aslam (Jan 19 2024, at 05:15)

I was at Google 2011-2013 via an acquisition based in the UK. Honestly Google was tech company #1 and a decade ahead of everyone. It was like looking into the future. I think so much of that was strategically great acquisitions of companies that hadn't done well but brought in product minded people who could then leverage Google's scale and brand to deliver services that the world needed. Like anything that lives long enough, it ossifies, its doing a job serving billions, things get complex and large, but I'm not really sure it can be done better. If you look at any other 30+ year old company, they all go through waves of change and trying to maintain relevancy while operating with hundreds of thousands of employees.

Google operates as a base layer for whatever comes next. I don't know whether we can rebuild from the ground up without it but I know a lot of people are trying with AI. I think a decade from now with a new CEO and fresh faces Google will become the new shiny thing again, just like Microsoft.


From: Chris N (Jan 19 2024, at 05:28)

An interesting article - there's just one sentence that I can't parse- could you unpack: "I decline to use iOS; If I wrote code for it I might not be able to give it away." - I'm not quite sure what you are saying here.


From: John Luther (Jan 19 2024, at 07:51)

"And Google, in 2010, was the coolest place in the world to work."

It sure was. Thanks for this post.


From: Geoff Arnold (Jan 19 2024, at 08:11)

For me, the service which most dramatically illustrates the decline and fall of Google is Assistant+Home. Three years ago when we moved into this house, I decided to go all in on smart home stuff: lighting, HVAC, security, speakers, etc. Apple and Amazon were ruled out for various reasons, so I went with Google. And ever since then, we've watched the services go downhill, one automation step at a time. "OK Google lights off" uttered in one room will now turn off a random selection of lights in different rooms. "OK Google time" used to respond with the local time of day; now it gives me UTC time, and I have to say "OK Google what time is it?" to get local time.

I feel that a big part of the problem is that all of these "free" services have no contractual basis. I'd be very happy to pay to subscribe to a Google Home service with a defined set of features and some kind of SLA. But apart from its business-oriented offerings, Google has never been able to adopt a traditional customer-supplier relationship model.


From: Bill Brown (Jan 19 2024, at 08:54)

I share your fondness for Old Google. As far as search goes, I think Kagi is where the innovation lies and I heartily recommend it.


From: Bob Wyman (Jan 19 2024, at 09:04)

You may remember that Digital Equipment Corporation was also destroyed by "psychotic pricks who were presumably “good at business”"...

bob wyman


From: Tony Aiuto (Jan 19 2024, at 09:33)

I've been there since 2007, and it is indeed a different company than the one I joined. Not all changes were for the worse - we are less of a "bro" culture than before - but we are just like any other large company in fundamental ways.

What magnifies the change for me ties in with the "Late Capitalism" you mention. That has only gotten worse in the last 20 years. The economic inequalities have widened - the bottom being pushed down further. I few months ago I was working in my lawn on a Sunday afternoon as US Postal service mailman delivered an unimportant package. I asked why he was delivering on Sunday. His response hit hard "Welcome to late stage capitalism." My tenure at Google had insulated me from this widening gulf between the haves and have nots. Surviving the rounds of layoffs makes me ask myself now "Are we the baddies?".


From: Brian (Jan 19 2024, at 12:02)

I started in January 2007 and retired in March 2022. Fifteen years; five in Zurich and ten in Montreal.

I agree that there were some bad leaders. Vic would be my pick.

But there were some awesome ones, too. Ben Treynor for example... Though I wouldn't say he was the best manager, when I (publicly) confronted him about a choice he made, he didn't just shut me down. He said, to my astonishment, "That's interesting. Tell me more," and then proceeded to listen carefully to my arguments.

I worry about the layoffs and what it means for the morale and dedication of the people still working there. I knew a great many fantastic people who truly believed in the work they were doing. I have to believe that they still feel that way.

Is Google "going down the drain"? Possibly. But then, I've been hearing those same words since I started in 2007 when people complained about the removal of the bulk M&Ms from the microkitchens, a thread I found on "misc" after returning from a free lunch of fillet mignon. I kid you not.


From: Doug K (Jan 19 2024, at 16:11)

thanks Tim, that was both entertaining and illuminating..

"Larry and Sergey were smart guys who recognized they didn’t know shit about corporateness and quickly got into a pattern of hiring and empowering psychotic pricks who were presumably “good at business”. "

This will quickly ruin a company. See for example Boeing which went from an engineer's company, to a profit-seeking missile after the McDonnell-Douglas takeover. The collateral damage from these missiles is immense. As we find out again and again, there is a great deal of ruin in a company: but corporatism and profit-seeking at all costs are up to the challenge.

I use the Brave browser for most things except Gmail. It's Chrome-based like everything else with several layers of privacy protection added. The downside is it's overenthusiastic about crypto cons.

So far it has not been a big issue. They did make an attempt at micropayments which I was excited about, until finding it required payment in crypto con-currencies.

DuckDuckGo works for most search. Occasionally I have to fall back to Google which still seems to have an edge in IT questioning. Thanks to those who mentioned Kagi, that is interesting and I will give it a try.

Google Maps is still very good in my experience. Waze is an alternative I've used occasionally, not enough to be convinced.

Youtube is unavoidable I find. It is nearly as transformative as the original Google search. Most every song I know is there in multiple versions, there are videos to fix every car on the road and many that aren't.


From: Thomas Koch (Jan 20 2024, at 03:16)

I believe there is a window of opportunity for decentralised (distributed) search engines. I've layed out my thoughts here:



- More people are searching for alternatives to Google.

- Mainstream hard discs are incredibly big.

- Mainstream internet connection is incredibly fast.

- Google is bleeding talent.

- Most of the building blocks are available as free software.

- "Success" depends on your definition...


From: Aleks (Jan 21 2024, at 00:49)

Google's journey to an average large company was always the most likely scenario, so I can't be sad or mad about it.

What does make me mad is that search is terrible. Search is why Google exists. They'll tell you that according to their internal metrics user satisfaction has never been higher, but it is obvious that whatever metrics they are using are not the same thing as search quality. And it is their fault, serving traffic and ad money to terrible sites. They've poisoned the well for other search engines who have to avoid terrible content made viable thanks to Google.

There is actually a part of Google search that does not suck: the shopping tab. So you know they can do a good job if they really wanted to.

Brave is my browser, and a search engine because they have their own crawler. Quality is on par with G. And Brave search team is like 20 people.

It is a bit sad that the tech utopia that was Google2005 gave birth to Google2024.

It's been 2 years since I've quit, and the only Google services I use regularly are Gmail, docs, maps.


From: Shnnon Jacobs (Jan 21 2024, at 09:26)

Thanks. Very insightful and I like the tilt towards thinking about solutions, but you didn't really get there. The anti-nod towards "Late Capitalism", though I think it would be better to describe it as "Post-Capitalism" or possibly "Late-Stage Capitalism". From that perspective, I think the real problem is a bad system where bad people win and then use their winnings to make the system worse. Negative spiral from bad to worse...

My favorite fantasy solution? A progressive pro-freedom profits tax linked to market share, not just size. When you dominate a niche too strongly, when your corporate cancer is cutting too deeply into freedom, then your taxes go up. The path to higher retained earnings would then become dividing the company into sincere competitors.

But how to detect the dominance? Aye, there's the rub. The bad guys are nothing if not flexible, especially morally, when it comes to heir love of money. Can't cast it in cement, but two starting points would be asking the wannabe customers who many REAL choices they have. I think less than five is a bad number. Also listen to wannabe competitors who can't can't get into the niche because of the cancerous gorilla that owns the tree.

Much more could be said, but this doesn't seem to be a conversational venue so I can address your interests, whatever they are. Too bad I can't recommend a non-evil social network, eh? (I do like the Trust Cafe Jimmy Wales has been diddling with, but I don't think it's going to last much longer.)


From: Shnnon Jacobs (Jan 21 2024, at 09:48)

Sure wish there was a way to correct a couple of typos I noticed in my earlier contribution.


From: Charles Bassett (Jan 21 2024, at 11:54)

Beautifully articulate,and ethical as well! I am an 80yo ex Vic20 novitiate.

Google seemed the answer to prayers; so many usable resources.

Like Libre-Office, filled the enormous space left by the most utile WP5.1; which was Windowcided by "big-tech"; not BIG in Ethics though. So the black hats rule the roost. Good! The White Hats ultimately win: there is No other way...

That's the Universe. US.

Thank you T Bray. cb


From: Joe Marini (Jan 22 2024, at 10:01)

I joined shortly after you, and I remember feeling the same way back then about how cool it was to work for the coolest place to work.

I now feel the same way you do.


From: Steve (Jan 27 2024, at 10:30)

I can kind of relate. I joined HP when it was considered to be "cool." An engineers "paradise.". It went through the same denouement as Google is going through. Retired before it got split up and became irrelevant.

At least for tech companies, getting big and staying cool is an oxymoron.


From: Rachel Jade Grey (Jan 27 2024, at 10:49)

I also remember "ten blue links" and its derogatory connotations. However, in early 2020 when COVID was threatening but nobody knew how bad it was going to get, there was a rather secretive effort to reinforce the critical infrastructure of Search. People tried to make sure that for every essential pipeline that keeps Search up and able to iterate, there were folks at multiple sites who were able to perform the necessary production duties to keep those pipelines up (yes, there seemed at that time to be a real possibility of entire sites being taken out by sickness at the same time). It was an effort that felt good, important, serious, grown up... and its internal name? Ten Blue Links.

Amusingly, Search now has a notion of "human voices" and the idea that some of these should be promoted on the SRP; because everything old is new again and corporations have no memory.


From: Ellie Kesselman (Jan 28 2024, at 01:02)

I first bookmarked one of your blog posts on 6 Nov 2011, Broken Links, about breaking the web with hash bangs. The sweet URL .../When/201x/2011/02/09/Hash-Blecch still works.

I'm an outsider (former IBM GPD San Jose, modelling storage performance then Motorola phone reliability then bank liquidity). Yet I could often understand your blog posts!

Google was the Happiest Place in Tech for good reason. Everyone I knew wanted to work there. They were exhilarated if hired. But I noticed that-starting in maybe 2015-some would leave after a few years.

Google was different than IBM, in that it didn't make most of its money from service contracts. This was good. And bad: remember the Google Blue Mini search appliance? It cost $40K in 2012. Corporate customer support was through a Google Groups forum run by one guy who wasn't even a Google employee. There were no hardware service contracts or service at all: only a 2 year guarantee and buy a new one.

I loved Google's consumer and small biz products that I even wrote a Google fan blog for years https://gooplex.wordpress.com No updates after 2014 because the joy was gone by then.

Shnnon is right, about trying other ways to scale and size, to prevent big corporate pathology. Oligopolies aren't great, but we barely have that with search. I'll check on kagi as I'm eager for alternatives. I'm glad to pay for quality.

Be well, Tim Bray. Thanks for this post and for permitting my long comment. It is okay to mourn Google. I do too.


From: stayce (Feb 15 2024, at 14:54)

Ah, the cloud cafe! Your reminiscence serves as a bittersweet reminder of simpler times. I was a raw vegan, burning-man-going, naively optimistic coder in my early days there, basking in the glory of those green smoothies, Paleo crepes, and delightful desserts at Cloud. *sigh* Leaving in '20 rather than '13, I now realize, was witnessing the end of an era rather than its zenith. This post is so relatable, and really stirs a shared sense of loss and a yearning for what once was. Thank you for articulating this collective nostalgia so eloquently!


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January 15, 2024
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