December 27, 2004 4:00 AM PST
Will Google stay as hot as its lava lamps?
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employees, Sullivan said, is giving them interesting work.
So far, the company seems to be faring well in the post-IPO era. Google says it hasn't seen a drop in the number of resumes it receives. And Jupiter's Stein hasn't noticed employees leaving Google in droves. But he warns that the company's magnetic pull could weaken if it departs from its visionary mission. A good example of that philosophy in action, he said, was Google's recently announced plan to help create digital copies of books at major libraries.
"If that changes to, 'You've got to crank out what we think people will buy,' and employees start working on bland projects, you're going to lose some people," Stein said.
Page and Brin have made it clear that they intend to pursue high-minded, long-term goals and treat workers well. The company is set up to preserve the power of current leaders, partly through a dual-class stock system.
But there's no guarantee that its current brain trust will remain at Google's helm. Other tech companies have lost farsighted leaders. "Jobs and Wozniak were pushed out" of Apple Computer, Stein said.
Meanwhile, as king of the search mountain, Google faces competition from a range of players--including giants Microsoft and Yahoo, as well as newcomer Blinkx. Compounding this threat, Google's core business, Web search, is an area where preferences could change quickly, and there's little user "lock-in" of the sort that keeps money flowing to Microsoft.
To be sure, with applications such as desktop search and Gmail, the company has been spreading its wings far beyond Web search in recent months. In addition, there are indications that Google is working on Web browser technology.
Open arms for open source
Such an initiative could place Google in competition with the open-source software community, which has seen success with the Firefox browser.
But by hosting an event earlier this year focused on the Mozilla group's work on Firefox, Google indicated that it is more interested in embracing than attacking open-source projects. And Mozilla, by featuring Google as the default search engine in the Firefox browser, is reciprocating.
In addition, Google has remained vigilant about seeking out top technical talent. The company's recruiting methods have included coding contests, mysterious billboards and an aptitude test with this question: Write a haiku describing possible methods for predicting search traffic seasonality.
With its quirkiness, technology prowess and commitment to do no "evil," Google appears largely to have won the trust of both the general public and the developer community. But the company's reputation could suffer as it becomes more powerful and remains relatively tight-lipped, suggests Stephen O'Grady, an analyst at research firm RedMonk.
"The problem for Google, I think, will come as they amass more and more information--personal and otherwise--because along with that information stewardship comes grave responsibility," O'Grady wrote earlier this month. "Thus far, Google has shown little to indicate that they recognize the serious nature of their information management role."
In addition, the Internet--which enabled Google to emerge and whose importance Google has in turn increased--makes it possible for another star to rise just as quickly, said Richard Spitz, who heads the technology practice of executive recruitment firm Korn/Ferry International.
Spitz, whose firm has done work for Yahoo, gives credit to Google's founders for trying to be "true to their vision." But, he said, "there are a lot of companies we thought would be hot forever. It's a challenge great companies face."
CNET News.com's Stefanie Olsen contributed to this report.
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