Who will be the new face of openness at Google? | Opensource.com

Who will be the new face of openness at Google?

Posted 12 Apr 2011 by 

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Last week, Google Senior Vice President of Product Management Jonathan Rosenberg resigned after almost 10 years at the firm. While the comings and goings of tech industry executives aren’t typically that interesting to me, I found this news fascinating for a couple of reasons.

First, Rosenberg says that one of the things he plans to do is write a book with ex-Google CEO (and current Executive Chairman) Eric Schmidt. The subject? According to an article in the Mercury News, they’ll be writing about “the values, rules and creation of Google’s management culture.”

Now that is a book I’d like to read. Google is in many ways an ideal case study of the open source way as applied to management practices, and, while many have written books about Google already (notably this one by Bernard Girard and this brand new one by Steven Levy), I’d love to see Schmidt and Rosenberg’s take (and I hope we can corral one of them for a webcast on opensource.com when the book comes out).

I’m especially interested in their view of how the existing Google culture changed (or didn’t change) during their tenure. Especially since it has been reported that Rosenberg’s top-down management style didn’t mesh well at first with the existing engineering-led culture.

But what I find to be the even more interesting question in the short term is, with Rosenberg leaving, who will be the new face of openness at Google?

You may remember reading something many have called Google’s Openness Manifesto, which is, in my view, one of the most compelling corporate statements about openness I’ve encountered. The author? Jonathan Rosenberg.

From the openness manifesto:

In an open system, a competitive advantage doesn't derive from locking in customers, but rather from understanding the fast-moving system better than anyone else and using that knowledge to generate better, more innovative products. The successful company in an open system is both a fast innovator and a thought leader; the brand value of thought leadership attracts customers and then fast innovation keeps them…

Open systems have the potential to spawn industries. They harness the intellect of the general population and spur businesses to compete, innovate, and win based on the merits of their products and not just the brilliance of their business tactics.

When I first read this post, I thought it captured—even beyond Google—a worldview I largely share.

Some found it bold. Others were quick to point out places where Google didn’t live up to the aspiration of the post. 

But I totally dug it. I’ve remembered it ever since, and still go back to it often.

Yet, when I look at the About Google section of google.com, I don’t see this open point of view expressed “officially” anywhere near as clearly as how Rosenberg explained it.  In fact, the concept of openness is buried if not completely absent from the official corporate story.

In the openness manifesto, Rosenberg states about Google: “We run the company and make our product decisions based on these principles.”

Is this just a case of the Google website content needing a refresh? Maybe.

But if one of the core, fundamental aspects of Google’s management and culture is openness, the best expression of this openness came from someone who is stepping down from the organization, and openness has not yet been institutionalized in the official Google story, what happens next?

Who emerges as the face of openness at Google now? Is it Larry or Sergey? Perhaps Marissa Mayer or one of these other top folks is the one who cares the most. Or maybe it is already so deeply ingrained in the culture and organizational structure that there doesn’t need to be one leader and it is obvious to everyone but folks like me on the outside.

Do you know of places whether other leaders within Google have publicly expressed a cogent view of Google’s openness philosophy? Please share them below along with and any additional thoughts or opinions.

I’d love to hear what you think.

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10 Comments

Sortova
Open Minded

I think Chris DiBona's influence at Google is underestimated.

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cgrams
Open Source Champion

Hi Tarus... very interesting suggestion... wonder if Chris thinks of himself that way?

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Sortova
Open Minded

I don't rightly know. Chris is hard to read sometimes. But he has always been incredibly supportive of our project and in many ways he has always been the face of openness at Google for me.

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mmahut
Open Source Evangelist

This is an opportunity for new talents to rise. I'm wondering how many openness leaders are there, hiding in such big corporation.

Is it important for people to see a "known" face on such position?

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izza301
Community Member

Yes, I agree. There are talents that are not yet discovered. I suggest that they make a test for everyone to be able to determine who. loan uk   

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quaid
Open Minded

Sometimes it makes me cry when I see a culture that really seems open - to itself - and works well - but you can only glimpse it from the outside. Just peeling back the layers of one of these onions is a tearjerker.

Google has long felt like such an organization. For that matter, so has Red Hat and others - being a public company has burdens of confidentiality that affect a commitment to openness. Since you brought Google up as an example, I'll continue suit, but we could easily apply these questions to other companies and organizations.

How do you think this view of Google as a case study of the open source way in upper management fits with other viewpoints about Google in the technology, privacy, open data, etc. communities?

I am not going to generalize nor pick out a single situation and wave it like a flag, but ... Google has been subject to a lot of well-written and researched material that shows it to be like a one-way-mirrored box - you can see outward from the inside, but on the outside light just reflects back.

What is the proper open source way-style manager to do there? Say something such as, "We use open source as a tactical and strategic solution to problems, but we don't think open source should be applied to every Google codebase. We may change our minds, but in the meantime, you get what you get and don't throw a fit."?

What is the authentic way to act when you've been saying for so long, "Open source is best, open source is great," but maybe that's not showing in how you make products or conduct your community work?

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gscarborough
Open Minded

I think that it is important to remember that open source is a path not a destination. Open versus closed is never a black and white argument as much as some would like it to be. Google has done a lot for open source. Hopefully they will continue to do so. We should be supportive of them when they support open source. We should also respect their decisions when they chose not to open something. That doesn't mean that we have to like it, or that we shouldn't tell them that we don't like it.

The media and many critics beat up Google over a single incident regardless of the sum of their history. Especially over Android. So they haven't opened it yet. They said they would when it was ready. In contrast, Red Hat released RHEL 6 to some customers for testing before they did a general release. No one thought they were going closed source.

In the end it comes down to one thing: freedom. If we want to live in a society where people are free to use open source and add to it, then we have to remember that they also have the freedom to NOT do that. We shouldn't overlook or forget contributions just because we don't like a single decision.

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David

Anyone who gives up a cogently patentable idea is committing suicide. Even Akami.com KNOWs this.

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craigharffey
Open Source Evangelist

I think under Larry's stewardship Google will start looking more like it's old self (albeit wearing a 300lb gorilla suit). At its core Google is a bunch of incredibly smart guys, raised on a diet of openness and collaboration and given more latitude than most employees - the perfect place for open source to thrive.

Whilst I accept at times they look more secretive than open, good things will find their way into public life and, coming from Google, many will be open. Just not all.

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Ryan767
Newbie

The day Google is open with anything about their business I'll jump over the moon. Not only are they not open, their intentionally evasive when it comes to giving any information out. dermatend reviews

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