It might sound strange to say it, but Google up to this point is still a relatively young company — it was technically founded in 1997, but opened its first official office two years later in 1999. In the following five years, the company saw explosive growth before going public in 2004, and 11 years later it hasn't stopped moving up, now valued at a cool $444 billion.
As is the way of Silicon Valley, change and a healthy dose of risk are required to keep innovating and stay relevant as your competitors relentlessly pursue the challenge of knocking you from your throne. Google's co-founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, know this all too well, and that's why they've announced some dramatic organizational changes to their company.
Google is forming a new umbrella company named Alphabet.
Announced in a blog post, Page explained that he will become CEO of the new overarching company while Brin will serve as president. Together, they will appoint a CEO to each individual company within Alphabet, and "rigorously handle capital allocation and work to make sure each business is executing well." This essentially means the company as it currently is will split into slimmer, more segmented operating units, including Google itself. In fact, they've already named Sundar Pichai as Google's new CEO, the man who had been running the extremely successful Android and Chrome products.
So what does this mean?
For consumers, almost nothing. Google Search is still Google Search. Google Maps is still Google Maps. Most of the products won't change their look or experience at all. The split is more so that the conglomerate's more outlandish ventures — Life Sciences (glucose-sensing contact lenses) and Calico (efforts to increase human longevity), for example — can function separately from the core Google products to which they're totally unrelated.
Beyond that, Page and Brin are probably in a mode of thinking that's constantly 10, 20, 30 or more years out, and simply want to be focused on the longterm view of their enormous business, while delegating the operations of each arm to qualified individuals underneath them.
What's with the name?
According to the founders, "We liked the name Alphabet because it means a collection of letters that represent language, one of humanity's most important innovations, and is the core of how we index with Google search," said Page. "We also like that it means alpha-bet (Alpha is investment return above benchmark), which we strive for!"
"Don't worry," he finished. "We're still getting used to the name too!"
As pointed out by The New York Times, however, the name Alphabet has already been trademarked and the domain alphabet.com purchased by not-so-small German automaker BMW. What's more is that BMW is not interested in selling either, and is currently looking into whether or not any copyright infringement has taken place. Just because one company owns the trademark to a name doesn't mean another can't use it though, especially if there's no consumer confusion created by overlap in both companies' products.
Google doesn't produce and sell cars, but it is involved in the auto industry — it offers a version of the Android operating system for use in cars and has publicly done extensive testing on self-driving vehicles.
It's unclear whether there's enough conflict here to jam a wrench into Google's big change, but unless its co-founders are careless (unlikely), they probably looked into the name situation before announcing. Possibly even through Google Search. Who knows.
Cover image: Joi Ito via Flickr