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March 16, 2012

Is Public Company Bashing Now an Emerging Trend? A Day Before Greg Smith's Resignation/Lashing, Former Google Engineer Blasted the Search Giant In a Blog Post About Why He Left the Company — Saying Google+ Ruined the Company

Could it be that cultural-fabric-tearing, company-lambasting public rants are about to become a dime a dozen? Greg Smith clearly got the world's attention with his scathing Goldman Sachs NY Times op-ed on Wednesday — but an ex-Google engineer actually beat him to the disgruntled-baggage-dump punch a day earlier by posting an equally scorching post attacking the search giant on a Microsoft blog, where he now works. James Whittaker — who joined Google in 2009 from Microsoft, and is now once again a Microsoft employee — took some hard shots at Google+, the company's social networking foray. "My last three months working for Google was a whirlwind of desperation," wrote Whittaker, who headed an engineering team for Google+. "The Google I was passionate about was a technology company that empowered its employees to innovate. The Google I left was an advertising company with a single corporate-mandated focus," he added, CNNMoney reports. Whittaker described a corporate culture clearly divided into two eras: "Before Google+," and "After." Google's innovative approach for engineers reportedly fell by the wayside as the company turned its focus to competing with Facebook — which turned into corporate priority No. 1 when Larry Page took over as the company's CEO. "Social" became Google's battle cry, and anything that didn't support Google+ was viewed as a distraction. "Suddenly, 20% meant half-assed," wrote Whittaker, referring to Google's famous policy of letting employees spend a fifth of their time on projects other than their core job. "The trappings of entrepreneurship were dismantled." The interesting thing about Whittaker's take is that it was posted not on his personal blog, but on an official blog of Microsoft, Google's nemesis, CNNMoney reports.

Whittaker is not the first ex-Googler to express that line of criticism. Several high-level employees have left after complaining that the "start-up spirit" of Google has been replaced by a more mature but staid culture focused on the bottom line. The battle between Microsoft and Google has heated up recently, as the Federal Trade Commission and the European Commission begin to investigate Google for potential antitrust violations. Microsoft, with its Bing search engine, has doubled its share of the search market since its June 2010 founding, but has been unsuccessful at taking market share away from Google, CNNMoney.com reports.

Despite his misgivings about what Google cast aside to make Google+ a reality, Whittaker thinks that the social network was worth a shot. If it had worked — if Google had dramatically changed the social Web for the better — it would have been a heroic gamble. But it didn't. It's too early to write Google+ off, but the site is developing a reputation as a ghost town. Google says 90 million people have signed up, but analysts and anecdotal evidence show that fairly few have turned into heavy users. "Google was the rich kid who, after having discovered he wasn't invited to the party, built his own party in retaliation," Whittaker wrote. "The fact that no one came to Google's party became the elephant in the room," he added, reports CNNMoney writer David Goldman.

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