There’s a sign that hangs in the windows of shops in downtown Santa Cruz, California. “Keep Santa Cruz Weird.” It’s not unique to that town, of course — the best known implementation of the slogan is the one seen all over Austin, Texas. Localized versions have also been spotted on t-shirts and bumper stickers in places like Portland and Boulder — any area where the undercurrent of independent thinking does daily battle with the threat of homogenized commerce. The Santa Cruz example sticks in my mind in particular, of course, due to the five years I spent in that town, whose weirdness never fully recovered from the ’89 earthquake, a natural disaster that both wreaked havoc on the landscape and caused a shift in the local zeitgeist, opening crumbled and abandoned storefronts up for Starbucks and Taco Bells — chain stores devoid of the character that makes the town so unique. So weird.
There are, naturally, growing pains with any company — particularly one that has had so meteoric a rise as Google has experienced over the past decade and a half. Evil claims aside for the moment, the transformation from a dorm-based project to an international corporation nearly always risks the loss of the character and principles on which the project was initially founded. After taking the helm as CEO last April, co-founder Larry Page stressed the need for focusing the company’s countless product lines, announcing during an earnings call that, “We’ve [...] done substantial internal work simplifying and streamlining our product lines.”
It’s easy to appreciate the sentiment. As Google grows at a tremendous rate, it risks losing focus, following in the footsteps of companies like Yahoo, which never did all that great a job subscribing to its own “Peanut Butter Manifesto,” by pruning away its ever-growing list of redundancy. Surely no one can fault Google for opting to pump more resources into successful properties like Android — brands with large user bases that require, arguably, even more attention than the company has been able to allot thus far.