Google plants a story, looks desperate

This week’s Day Late Dollar Short Award goes to the New York Times for this gasping story from yesterday’s paper informing us that Google and Microsoft are … wait for it … going to war! Gist of the story is that Google is betting the farm on cloud computing and if cloud computing catches on then Microsoft is dead. Problem with planting stories like this one (and yeah, Google clearly pitched this and prepped it and tied it up with a bow like an early Christmas present for the Times) is that they have a tendency to backfire on you and make you look worse. Which is what happens here. Google set out to place a big unpaid advertisement for Google cloud applications; what it got was a big story telling the whole world that nobody is actually using these things. Worse yet is the way Google gets portrayed in the article.

Por ejemplo, the article opens with a tale about how Eric “Squirrel Boy” Schmidt has spent his entire career in companies that tilted at the Microsoft windmill, and how those companies always ended up getting slaughtered because instead of focusing on customers they focused on Microsoft. First Schmidt was at Sun Microsystems, then Novell. Now he’s at Google and he’s once again obsessed with Microsoft, like Ahab chasing the whale. Seen this movie before? Can someone please use Photoshop to create a picture of Squirrel Boy holding a harpoon?

The other problem with planting stories like this is that it makes you look weak. It makes you look like your product has been out there for a while and it isn’t catching on so you need to go make up some big story for a major newspaper and dangle an exclusive interview with your CEO so the story gets lots of play and you can try to convince some poor hack that in fact your near-dead product is actually picking up huge amounts of momentum. And that is absolutely the case here. Trust me. Google has been selling this line of bullshit about Google Docs being super-duper hot for months now. Katie says she’s shocked to see Google pitching it — wouldn’t have happened if Marcy Simon were still on board, she says — and she’s even more shocked to see the Times being dumb enough to swallow it. Usually you only see bogus, totally made-up crap like this in Fortune. On the cover. But I digress.

The final problem with stories like this is that, just as with the recent Page One Journal story about Nicholas Negroponte, the hacks always extract their pound of flesh by working in some stuff that makes you look stupid.

For example the story allows Jeff Raikes of Microsoft to land some very easy stingers portraying Google as a bunch of clueless kiddie coders who don’t have any idea what real customers really want. Raikes calls Google’s view of the world “totally inaccurate compared with where the market is today and where the market is headed.” Raikes also gets to poke Schmidt for putting Google’s interests ahead of the needs of customers. “To Mr. Raikes … the Google challenge is an attack on Microsoft that is both misguided and arrogant. `The focus is on competitive self-interest; it’s on trying to undermine Microsoft, rather than what customers want to do,’ he says.”

Worse yet the article goes on to portray Google as a place where kids sit in meetings answering email on laptops instead of paying attention and where everyone has such a severe case of Attention Deficit Disorder that “there are no two-year plans. Its product road maps look ahead only four or five months at most. And, Mr. Schmidt says, the only plans `anybody believes in go through the end of this quarter.'”

No long-range planning? Really? Cool! It’s a whole new paradigm! Get Chris Anderson from Wired on the phone right away. Or Scoble. There’s a book in this for sure. Radical Velocity: How Google Succeeds Without Planning. Or this one: Totally Random: How to Accelerate Your Business Using Pure, Dumb Luck.

Adding to the image of a total chaos, Google is described a place where “recent college graduates are routinely offered jobs at Google without being told what they will be doing. The company does this partly to keep corporate secrets locked up, but often it also doesn’t know what new hires will be doing.

Nice. Then, of course, comes Google’s claim about the huge momentum it’s seeing for Google Apps — “About 2,000 companies are signing up for Google Apps every working day …” — followed by the disclaimer: “Most are trying the free version.” Ahem.

Next comes the desperate attempt to work a few big customer names into the piece: “A few large companies, notably General Electric and Procter & Gamble, have said publicly that they are at least trying out [which means what exactly? Ed.] Google Apps. Next year, Mr. Girouard predicts, `a lot of big companies’ will be adopting Google Apps for tens of thousands of workers each.”

Sure they will. But if so, why not wait until that happens? Why go out to the press now when it’s still only a possibility? Especially when it lets Microsoft deliver an easy smackdown like this one: “Microsoft dismisses Google’s optimism as wishful thinking. Microsoft’s competitive tracking of the corporate market, says Mr. Raikes, the leader of the Office business, finds nothing like the momentum for Google that Mr. Girouard portrays. `It is not in any way, shape or form close to what he is suggesting,’ Mr. Raikes says.”

In other words: Dude, he’s just making this shit up, and I can’t fucking believe you’re going to print it. You both should be in an asylum.

As if to prove the point Raikes just made, the story contains not a single example of a big enterprise customer that has standardized on Google Apps.

Not. A. Single. Customer.

Best the poor hack could do was trot out little POS bank in Mississippi that’s using Gmail for its 160 employees. And even those guys say they’re not going to use Google’s other apps instead of Microsoft Office. Yeah. Stunning. Great hit there, Google flacks. You guys are just so on the ball it’s not funny. See in the world of real grown-up PR people you would line up some big customers first and tee them up to talk to the reporter from the Times. That way you wouldn’t look like you’re completely full of shit.

Oh well. Guess maybe you missed that part of the conversation at the meeting. Maybe you were sending email instead of paying attention. Or just looking out the window or making some notes about some super cool Web app that would just be like totally awesome and maybe you could code it up over the weekend and just send it around to your friends and get some feedback and like go live by next week and it’s totally got huge momentum ohmygod …

(Illustration by Tim Bower.)