Google turns 20 – but where’s the magic?

Google turned 20 years old. Wow. I can’t believe it’s been that long, yet, so much has happened. There’s no doubt Google has single handedly changed how many of us think about the Internet – for good and bad. (Ask Congress or the European Union how they feel about Google.)

I remember when it all began. They were just a different brand in everything they did, starting from the name itself. Who didn’t want to be a verb after they launched?

Then there were all those colors and a logo that expanded based on how many search results you got. A home page that had just a search bar (or asked you if you felt lucky). Even the quirky doodles they did every day seemed fun, spontaneous, anti-everyone else.

Even the whole ‘do no harm’ mantra was a breath of fresh air. They made great things and gave them away for free (or so we all believed). Over the first few years they were the anarchists, the upstarts taking on the evil empires and chrome dictators.

They had an edge to them, a crazy work-in-progress vibe that was annoying – but so refreshing. They made the internet come alive and life seemed really interesting. Sure, they had some whacky ideas and embarrassing fails, but it was OK – they were the good guys.

Ultimately, success has made them grow up and put in place more of the practical logistics that everyone else has, but still in their heart they kept trying to do things differently. Their whole weird IPO thing that let people buy shares in the brand differently, the crazy moonshot ideas and X projects that they funded. The disaster of a rushed product ahead of its time in Google Glass or the incredible ambition to digitize all the world’s information. And all of it based on Ads that pop up next to your search results – yet no-one ever seems to click? For years they just turned everything on its head and re-imagined the world.

From a creative perspective they were all over the place. They would name stuff based upon whatever popped into their heads or whatever they ate for breakfast. They had multi-colored logos and some of the ugliest user-experiences ever created. And then, just when they started to organize everything one way, they seemed to willingly blow it all up and start again. Their size became uncontrollable. I mean, who hasn’t worked for Google at some point, or had their employees enticed away by them!

Eventually they got organized – they had to. They cut-back on the crazy stuff, sold-off businesses that were totally out there and re-focused around Alphabet (even that url is abc.xyz.com).

They did what they had to grow up. Their products look and work better. They structured their brand architecture and defined their design systems. They brought in lots of experts and lawyers to stop them getting sued for bad branding decisions. And of course, they continue to make more and more money.

But, growing up also has its issues. For many, they have become the epitome of a too powerful technology company, infiltrating (and controlling) every aspect of our lives. Their reputation around the globe has taken hit after hit and many feel they have become the dictator they originally over threw.

In 20 years they have redefined technology and the role it plays in our lives. They have a built one of the most powerful and engaging brands in the world. They have pushed the envelope and challenged us to rethink what we do and how we do it. They had a magic in the way they did things, and I love them for it.

More importantly, I still want them to succeed. I want them to do the right thing and make the world a better place. And I think they can do it. It just feels like they’ve lost their way, too big, too caught up in what could be, not what should be.

For 20 years the Google brand has dazzled us, awed us, enthralled us, made us believe that a brand can positively touch the lives of every person on this planet. So, Google, get it sorted. Stop being too corporate and formulaic. Stop being focused on yourselves and remember us. Don’t become too greedy – the company we’ve begun to hate. Bring back some of that magic to the brand. The irony in all this, is that you’re a search company engaged in a new search for who you are now.

We want you to be better. We want you to win. So, make the next 20 years meaningful. Change the conversation and make us smile again.