Comment: Google’s Alphabet doesn’t spell world domination

Google is creating a new company, called Alphabet, to oversee its highly lucrative Internet business and other ventures. Picture: Getty
Google is creating a new company, called Alphabet, to oversee its highly lucrative Internet business and other ventures. Picture: Getty
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FOR an organisation that many see as being hell-bent on world domination Alphabet seems a bit of a limp name. It conjures up images of children’s nurseries and building blocks rather than secret lairs and menacing white cats.

But then Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin were never going to opt for a Spectre-esque title when creating their new holding company. Not when your corporate mantra for the past decade has been “don’t be evil”.

The thinking behind last week’s surprise shake-up at the world’s most valuable internet brand was made pretty clear in Page’s official blog. From now on there will be a string of businesses, each with its own boss and budget, encompassing areas that the group is already active in, such as self-driving cars and life sciences, plus others yet to be dreamt up.

Page and Brin – as Alphabet’s chief executive and president, respectively – will be free to do some deep blue-sky thinking, while maintaining a grip on the reins.

“Our model is to have a strong CEO who runs each business,” blogs Page, “with Sergey and me in service to them as needed. We will rigorously handle capital allocation and work to make sure each business is executing well.” One wonders if failure is going to be tolerated in this brave new, semi-autonomous empire? Or, if, in the great traditions of Bond villainy, the chair drops back to eject its chastised occupant in a puff of smoke.

Whether you see Google/Alphabet as a force for good or evil, you cannot deny its phenomenal rise from 1990s university research project to $400 billion corporate behemoth. Much, much more than a web-search business, these days the company has its fingers in many pies, thanks to the billions generated from those pesky online ads.

Some of those ventures, like Nest, which makes web-connected thermostats and security systems, seem a bit of a no-brainer, and fit in neatly with the “internet of things” and smart home models. Others, such as “wellbeing and longevity” company Calico, are quite left-field.

The Google guys can probably afford to take a punt. Some stuff will not work out, but the new structure should allow those failures to fail without drastically impacting the image, or share price, of the wider group. Having the business in its new more fragmented form will also allow any big success stories to be more readily spun out.

Clearly, the brains behind Google are eager to play a lead role in the next big thing. That could be one of the so-called moonshot projects from their Google X lab, with self-driving vehicles and advanced drones among the top contenders. Or the company could be usurped by something entirely unexpected, and not necessarily hi-tech.

I don’t buy into the whole Orwellian conspiracy caper with Google. Governments do a much better job on that front, though a company with access to such vast amounts of personal data needs to tread carefully.

Directed the right way, Google’s considerable resources could yet cure a disease, eradicate poverty, or maybe just build a computer that never crashes.