So, I indulged in a bit Google slapping in some of my last posts, but since I’m very much aware that this seems to be one of Blog-land favourite activities for 2010 I thought I’d be true to the spirit of this blog and complicate things a bit. Here are some unsolicited considerations on why and how Google can still get bigger and better:
Search is a by-product
This is a fundamental point for everything that follows. Search is not a product. Not because it’s a feature: of course it is, but that’s not the point. In people’s eyes, the difference between product and feature is meaningless. Search is not a product because it carries no value in itself. It’s a by-product, that is generated by, and only makes sense with, a worthy product.
When Google launched, the web was one mastodontic product that needed to be sorted out. Now you don’t need to agree with the theory that the web is dead (it’s not, the logic and math behind that theory are flawed) to acknowledge that we now have many products within the web: Facebook is one, but there are many others, such as Amazon, Groupon, Yelp, Wikipedia. (ie. the verticals). Facebook is not trying to replicate the internet within itself because Zuckerberg is ambitious: every one of the above sites has a natural drive to do it, Facebook is just getting there sooner and better. And that’s not a problem. However, all those sites have generated their own search as a by-product of their increasing complexity. That’s the problem.
Products create scale, by-products create profits
Up until the mid-2000s , things were pretty simple. Someone else created the product (the web), and Google profited from the by-product (search). This was only possible because in an atomized web no player was big enough to generate the users value needed to create a self-sufficient ecosystem. Even Amazon struggled to achieve the scale needed to generate profitability.
When the internet finally went mainstream, things changed. Facebook, Amazon, eBay and Skype were amazing products that were capable of drawing millions of users, effectively creating massive ecosystems. The scale of these ecosystems generated at the same time the demand for certain byproducts (ads, search, payment) and the business model that would support them. In a line, the lesson was: offer an amazing product, build a massive community, and money will come. (Ironically, that’s exactly what caused the dot-com bust, but the problem back then was that companies went public before they went popular)
Great products deserve a brand
The recommendation for Mountain View is fairly simple: build amazing products. Oh, and please don’t call them Google-something.
First, after Google Wave and Google Buzz, your next Google-branded product will suffer an unnecessary PR handicap. Second, it confuses users: Google stands for search, and that’s what they know and use already. If you build a product, you shouldn’t call it with the name of the by-product.
If you look at what’s working, you’re doing it already: your two most successful recent products are not called Google Browser and Google Mobile, they’re called Chrome and Android. And they’re utterly brilliant!
And by the way, this is where you have an advantage over Facebook: because of its strategy, Facebook needs to bring everything under its roof and its name, and that limits what they can do and stand for. (The only exception is the “Like” button, that has a very different nature from Facebook: it’s no coincidence that it’s not called “Share”. It’s a bookmark, a favourite, a Digg with the scale that Digg never had: half of its value is one-to-self, to keep track of what you like; the other half is one-to-everyone, to broadcast your preference to strangers. None of these two propositions are consistent with Facebook. That’s why it has massive potential.)
Start from Android
It’s a great product, a great brand, and it’s doing brilliantly. The only thing that could jeopardize its success is a lack of leadership, and this is exactly what’s happening. We all like the idea of an open environment, but marketing is like physics: there can be no void; if a substance leaves a place something else occupies it. And in this case it’s the worst substance of all: operators. They’re taking advantage of Android’s openness to pre-install junkware, restrict access to applications that are bad for them but good for users (such as Skype), and impose arbitrary limitations. As of now, they’re the single, greatest danger to Android.
Just like democracy, technology needs leadership: you need to inspire, educate and, yes, regulate. And then let people vote with their fingers. Hopefully it won’t be about the middle.