A Crack in the GooglePlex Facade

Scott Francis
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I’m a big fan of Google.  And of the products that Google produces that I use (Gmail, Google Apps, Gtalk, Google search itself).  But lately some of the products from Google are reminding me more and more of Microsoft, which has me concerned:
  1. Me-too product releases
  2. VERY corporate-appropriate names for the products being released
  3. Failure to embrace the world outside the ‘plex
Maybe I should explain what I mean in more detail…

Me-Too Product Releases

You might say everything Google has ever done is “me-too” – its not as if Search didn’t exist before Google came along.  Or email.  Or even web email.  Or instant messaging.  Or document editing in a web browser… the list goes on and on. But the difference in (most of) these cases is that the field had become a bit moribund and was lacking innovation – leaving itself open to a new entrant.  Search seemed like a dead-end.  Web email was stagnant and sites like Yahoo! mail and Hotmail left a lot to be desired.  If there wasn’t a technological edge that Google could gain, then Google was able to exploit an economic edge (more storage for the “free” price, or free document editing on Google Apps instead of paying for MS Word). But the space of real-time broadcasting and status updates and social graphs is hardly a field of stagnation.  Facebook and Twitter are robust companies at the top of their game for their respective niches.  Foursquare is up-and-coming (and several other firms like it). The problem here is that Google can’t out-innovate these companies in their core competency.  The fast-follow works better if you wait for the arteriosclerosis to set in with these firms – either due to the weight of technical debt they’ve taken on (client side apps, instant messaging), or due to the organizational heft and indecision (Yahoo?) or due to painting themselves into a corner with respect to revenue models (e.g. Microsoft).  The new firms have none of these problems.  They’re nimble, decisive, and have emerging revenue models with little to lose and much to disrupt. VERY corporate-appropriate names for the products being released

Corporate-Appropriate Names

Remember when Microsoft had a lock on this approach to naming applications? Now Google is doing it.  Latitude, Gmail, Gtalk, Buzz, Docs, Apps, etc.  And when they do come up with a “funky” name, it really doesn’t resonate (Orkut?).  Meanwhile, companies with lighthearted names are eating their lunch – Facebook, Foursquare, Yelp, Gowalla. It just makes me wonder if the suits have taken over important naming-functions at the firm.  Sometimes the name of something affects how people perceive it – even internally.  And unfortunately, even when Google tries to be more whimsical these days, it comes off like they’re trying too hard. Remember when Google was coming up with whimsical names like… “Google” ?

Failure to Embrace the World Outside the ‘Plex

Search gives Google an advantage in “embracing” the outside world in most of their applications – most noticeably in Google Maps (now there’s a product name with all the creativity of paint drying).  I’m not sure why Google didn’t just buy Twitter and get it over with. But, if Google’s not going to buy Twitter, another straightforward thing to do is embrace it by integrating Twitter functionality into Gmail – not copying Twitter, but leveraging Twitter’s API.  Show how integrating Twitter functionality into your email client could make both more useful.  Show how integrating search into the experience can also make them more powerful. And then figure out how to slip Google’s own “real-time-update” infrastructure into the mix – perhaps by granting twitter users their identical @names on Google’s infrastructure – essentially adopting the useful conventions of the leading platform.  Don’t make people rebuild their social graph, let them port it over while retaining a separate identity from their email address (one of the beauties of Twitter, for example, is that it is (somewhat) resistant to spam because you only see messages from people you follow). Well, Google has a lot of smart people – I’m sure they’ll figure out the strategy, but I was disappointed that they didn’t just improve my life by making it easier for me to Tweet (Twitter?) and Facebook.  I’m not the only one who thinks they might have missed the target.  The Business Insider describes Buzz as “Late, Boring, and Lame“.  And Twitter was not full of supportive comments today, e.g.:

cdixon : Prediction: Google’s Twitter killer will be lame. A few billion dollars later they buy Twitter.

cdixon : Besides being just generally bad at social, Google products seem to be suffering from a strategy tax a la MSFT.

I think Google should drop the product launches.  Apple is really good at them, and each product launch creates almost as much negative buzz in the aftermath as positive buzz (where’s my videocamera on the iPad!? who named it “iPad”? ).  If you do a mediocre or “okay” job with the product launches, its even worse.  I suggest they go back to releasing product the Googley way:  by putting it out there and letting people discover it.

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