The Noisy Channel

 

Social Utility, +/- 25%

April 14th, 2011 · 39 Comments · General

I like Google…

I’ve been a regular Google user since the day I first discovered its existence in 1999. Indeed, I’ve consistently found Google to be the most useful service on the web. That’s not love, but it’s a very strong +1.

Moreover, I’d say that my preference for Google is an informed one. I’ve given all of the major search engines a fair chance, and even tried a fair number of obscure ones. They all have their strengths, but none have delivered enough utility to me to justify the cognitive load of using more than one search engine for the open web.

…but I don’t need Google.

Nonetheless, I know that, if Google disappeared tomorrow or became inconvenient to access, I’d be content with one of its competitors. I have no particular investment in Google beyond brand loyalty.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. I could easily walk away from Google search, but I’d be apoplectic if I suddenly lost access to my Gmail account — much as if I lost access to my LinkedIn or Twitter accounts. Indeed, Gmail is the only way in which Google has me locked in, but I don’t see my Gmail account as entangled with my access to Google’s other services.

Perhaps that not a bug but a feature: after all, Google trumpets the virtues of “open” and the portability of user data (including Gmail) through the Data Liberation Front. Nonetheless, it’s no secret that Google has a major case of Facebook envy. And if rumors hold, Google is now making the success of its social strategy a major component in all employee compensation.

Social is Give to Get.

Google critics often assert that Google doesn’t get social. But I think the problem isn’t so much with what Google gets as what it gives. When it comes to social, you have to give to get. That is, to get data and engagement, you have to provide social utility.

To start off, Google would love to know who you are. That’s why it developed Google Profiles in 2007. People are more than willing to provide data about who they are, as proven by the hundreds of millions of people who create profiles on Facebook and LinkedIn. Perhaps Google was a little bit late to the game. More likely, people didn’t see enough utility in creating Google profiles. Facebook, on the other hand, helps people be found by their friends and family in a context designed for social interaction. LinkedIn offers people the opportunity to be found by people who can help you professionally: colleagues, classmates, potential employers, etc. Google didn’t give people much reason to invest effort — in fact it seems to treat Profiles as a dumping ground populated by Google’s other products, rather than valuable piece of online real estate embedded in a living social context. Not surprisingly, users invest their efforts elsewhere.

Google would also love to know where you are and where you’ve been — that’s why Google created Latitude in 2009. Moreover, Google developed this pioneering location-based service as a complement to Google Maps, perhaps the best product Google has produced outside of search. Given it’s dominance in mapping services, directions, and local search, Google should be the leader of all things local. And yet, while Latitude has flopped, Foursquare — which launched in the same year as a tiny startup after Google acquired and shut down its previous incarnation– succeeded in defining location-based services as a category. Before Foursquare, the idea of a service tracking your location was one that most of us associated with Lo-Jack and Big Brother — if not with modern totalitarian regimes. Yet, by making a game out of “checking in” to venues, Foursquare inspired its users to willingly — and eagerly! — share and publish their whereabouts. It’s unclear whether this model will create sustained interest (cf. Mark Watkins’s analysis at ReadWriteWeb), but Foursquare’s success thus far is predicate on its offers social utility in exchange for data and attention.

Of course, Google also wants to know what you like. That’s why Google developed SearchWiki (RIP), Hotpot (now merged into Places), and most recently +1. As Amazon, Facebook, Netflix, and Yelp have demonstrated, people aren’t shy about sharing their opinions publicly, given the right social context and utility. Unfortunately, Google seems to struggle with that last part. Google embedded SearchWiki in the non-social context of search — and has launched +1 the same way. It’s not at all clear what users would gain by going out of their flow to annotate search results. Hotpot may simply be a case of too little, too late — people are already trained to go to Yelp and Facebook Fan pages for subjective information about service businesses. Overall, Google has not given users a reason to believe there is significant return on their investment in sharing opinions.

Collecting Data Doesn’t Count.

Of course Google is able to collect a significant amount of data about users’ identities through their search history, cookies, browser toolbars, and purchase history (if they use Google Checkout). Indeed, it is Google inference of user intent in search queries that has allowed Google to become the poster child of online advertising.

But collecting data is not the same as having the user volunteer it. Most users have a transactional relationship with Google, tolerating data collection and advertising in exchange for a free service. Google wants more — it wants users to invest in identities associated with their Google accounts. But Google doesn’t seem to undertand that users don’t make these investments unless their receive some social or professional utility in return.

If it’s true that Larry Page is making “social” Google’s top OKR, then I hope for the sake of my former colleagues that Google has learned from its past experiments.

39 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Mitul // Apr 15, 2011 at 12:00 am

    Nice post Daniel! I would also say if Google is using “+1″ as a signal to rank search results then spammers/SEO guys might use that to game Google results even more.

  • 2 Philip Wickline // Apr 15, 2011 at 2:47 am

    Great post. I find it interesting that I didn’t even know that there was a Google places app until I read this post. Clearly the “build it and they will come” attitude isn’t working well.

    Of course the $50B question is: what can Google “give” to get social engagement (and thereby social information)? By definition, online social experiences are dramatically improved by the network effect, so copycat approaches are at least problematic. Therefore, unless Google can innovate in this area (and as you point out, its track record isn’t good), its best option may be to buy its way out. Given Twitter’s execution troubles (http://tech.fortune.cnn.com/2011/04/14/troubletwitter/), purchase by Google could make a lot of sense for both sides (egos notwithstanding). In my opinion, the implicit *directed* social graph of Twitter may be the most interesting and valuable unexploited social asset out there right now.

  • 3 Brian // Apr 15, 2011 at 3:07 am

    Daniel, I think you bring impressive incite into the issues Google has faced with going social. Your hypothesis that Google doesn’t “give” to “get,” though, still reads like “Google doesn’t get social.” If they “got” social, they would understand the need to “give.”

    Interestingly, this also points to the history of successful businesses. They do one thing really well. For Google, that is search. For Facebook, that is enabling people to connect and share. To experience similar success in more areas has historically been an improbable task. For example, Oracle is still a database company at its core.

    I think the real issue is the “not built here” mentality. They may not like the reality, but I feel their best chance at success is to acquire successful social applications. Google should revisit discussions with Twitter. They should be using their VC arm to fund promising social ventures. Perhaps the best approach would be to make a bid for LinkedIn.

    To me, it’s not so much what they “get” or “give,” but how they approach every problem. “Not built here” needs to become “what is the right solution?” Once they turn that corner, anything could happen. But, doen’t expect others to sit idle while they try to work out the kinks.

    The same argument can be made for Facebook, if you expect them to expand into search (which they have to a small degree). However, Facebook has enough problems with their platform that any move beyond it would be a distraction. Privacy and security are huge issues for Facebook and if they doesn’t get a hold on them soon, someone else will. Just look at Microsoft, Friendster, MySpace, AOL, etc. They all missed critical pivot points and the future is in question.

    Brian
    https://featurestage.com

  • 4 Daniel Tunkelang // Apr 15, 2011 at 7:21 am

    Folks, thanks for the great comments — was great to wake up to them this morning!

    Mitul: I’m sure Google will be cautious in using +1 as a ranking signal, as they say on their help page. But it’s certainly a concern if +1 is to provide utility to Google that Google can then transfer to all of its users. My concern is utility to the people who provide the signal in the first place.

    Philip: given that I worked in local search quality for a year, the lack of awareness of those products hits me personally. Though I suspect you stumbled into place pages through your web searches. As to whether Google should buy Twitter, I don’t know that they’d be able to get that passed the regulatory hurdles. But the rumors suggest they’d like to try, and I can understand why they’d be inclined to buy rather than build at this point.

    Brian: I agree that everyone tends to struggle outside their core competencies. But the success of Maps, Gmail, and Android show the Google can excel at more than search. I’m not sure Google should be investing so heavily in its social strategy, but I am sure that it’s not investing as effectively as it could.

  • 5 Dave Oremland // Apr 15, 2011 at 9:43 am

    Daniel: As a local search marketer, and having been introduced to your writings via Mike Blumenthal I enjoy reading your comments and those of other engineers. Being more of a business person and nothing of an engineer the blog and comments are enlightening.

    As a business person, and if I were tasked with Google’s efforts at expanding into social I’d step back a bit, take a look at Google’s advantages (more searches and a larger reach into the public than any other such entity) and try and outline how I could leverage this advantage to move into that arena.

    I’d focus on your bright comments about utility: Facebook offers one form and Linkedin a second version. In fact there are many niches or vast areas wherein Google’s reach would give it an enormous edge once a couple of well thought out and tested ideas bubbled up to the top.

    The concept of utility is key.

    Meanwhile, while Philip might not have been aware of Google Places rest assured it is deeply visible to many searchers, prominently displayed, and widely used.

    Its only too bad its application is deeply flawed with many errors and an unwillingness by Google to apply direct customer service to fix problems that are egregious.

    I’d love to hear your comments on that topic.

  • 6 Philip Wickline // Apr 15, 2011 at 9:51 am

    Just to clarify – I certainly knew about Google places, I just didn’t know about the existence of its own iPhone app.

  • 7 Daniel Tunkelang // Apr 15, 2011 at 10:20 am

    Philip: got it.

    Dave: I agree — I think Google is too focused on what it wants to get from users and not focused enough on how to leverage its advantages to optimize for user happiness. Great fodder for a follow-up post!

  • 8 Nitya // Apr 15, 2011 at 10:57 am

    Daniel – a good post and an interesting discussion (as usual).

    I agree (+1?) that of all Google services, Gmail is perhaps the most sticky. And the most underutilized in supporting “social” connections in a more meaningful or faceted manner. This is where I think an opportunity exists to improve on FB which basically sees all your connections as one massive “group” – at least in terms of figuring out your privacy settings.

    My Gmail knows a lot more about me, whom I talk to in what context etc. and could create discreet facets for me (akin to the way it already helps me label conversations – if it could now help me label people that would rock. And I should be able to use those tags as friendly ways to classify access/privacy settings for other data sharing)

    However, Gmail aside, I do think there are three other services that Google provides that have great appeal/stickiness – and could be good targets for more “social” overlays.

    First is Google Talk/Voice – free calling and a persistent phone number with a connected address book + people I actually chat with (IM) should get you strong data on social ties. Nothing has been or is being done with this.. surely these are great signals for social.

    Second is Google Maps. It’s become second nature to look at Maps before any other alternative navigation service. And with standard/free/identifiable support on Android this knows a lot more about where I go and which else of my friends also goes there (or lives there). Another strong signal that could be mined better for personalized services without making it a public activity feed.

    Third is of course YouTube. I can’t tell you how many times that is my first stop for finding news, educational content or kid-friendly videos in multiple situations. Bringing Amazon-style recommendations to this (moms like you also liked this) based on the faceting they could support in Gmail, could make this exceedingly compelling.

    In summary – Facebook owns social as a platform and a destination. I think Google needs to approach social as a navigational overlay with faceted identity to truly differentiate itself.

  • 9 Daniel Tunkelang // Apr 15, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    Nitya, great points as always. Google Voice is very much like Gmail — much as a phone number is like an email address. Both are significant commitments of social identity. In contrast, Maps and YouTube strike me is being like search — lots of opportunities to collect user data during transactional use, but no conscious investment on the part of the user.

  • 10 Brian Curtis // Apr 15, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    Daniel, we must remember that Android was an acquisition, not a product developed entirely in house. Gmail and Maps are both search heavy applications, but do expand a little outside the search realm.

    You make an interesting point about the level of investment in a social strategy. With the huge amount of information being generated by the likes of Twitter and Facebook, I have to think Google sees the “social web” as a massive area of growth for it’s core search capabilities — much like Android does for mobile.

  • 11 Daniel Tunkelang // Apr 15, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    It’s true that Android started as an acquisition, but Google has very much made Android its own. Unlike, say, Dodgeball.

    I agree that Google sees s the “social web” as a massive area of growth for it’s core search capabilities — that’s why it wants users to buy in. The part I’m unclear on is what’s in it for the users that Google is depending on to contribute the necessary data and attention.

  • 12 Brian Curtis // Apr 15, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    I think an argument could easily be made for Google to focus on Gmail as the social strategy. Look at what Facebook has done to their inbox. The missing link is group sharing (like a “wall” or some other design). That is where Facebook generates a substantial amount of content useful to both the company and the users.

    If you look at it from the LinkedIn perspective, how can Gmail be enhanced to support building and maintaining a productive social and business network?

  • 13 Daniel Tunkelang // Apr 15, 2011 at 3:32 pm

    Had the launch gone differently, I think Buzz could have been a Twitter-like conversational medium bootstrapped on Gmail. Buzz inside of Google is extremely successful. And, unlike Twitter, Buzz is more about conversation (no 140-character limit) and less about distribution of links.

    Unfortunately, the privacy firestorm that Google unleashed with Buzz will make it harder to aggressively build social network products on top of Gmail. The FTC is watching.

  • 14 Brian Curtis // Apr 15, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    Great ideas are nothing without great management and execution. Google certainly failed with Buzz. Also consider the monstrosity that was Wave. A bad idea with way too much investment/push from Google.

    What I see is a great email product that could fill a void in LinkedIn, where the inbox is horrible. By acquiring LinkedIn, Google would gain instant social exposure. Google also excels in other area’s of weakness for LinkedIn: ads, Sites, Maps, Chat, and mobile integration. One of the biggest failures for LinkedIn has been Groups, where many lack leadership, are dormant, or generally flooding with spam. I’m also not sold on the rigid profile structure enforced by LinkedIn. Both are areas where Google could utilize existing products to improve and expand on the LinkedIn platform.

  • 15 Dave Oremland // Apr 15, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    Again, from a business perspective the issue about social appears to be important to Google, is written about a lot, yet from a strictly business perspective its not a do or die issue…currently.

    Google just had another huge financial quarter. Its revenue growth was dramatic. It also spent a lot, and hired a lot. It added a lot of cash/liquidity. Its in a very strong business position. It holds the equivalent of a monopoly share of search and its ad revenue via search is dominant. Its dramatically dominant against ad revenue within social media venues such as Facebook. Buyers are more apt to buy when utilizing search (and intent) versus when using social media on the web.

    But life is changing. Facebook has a small but growing search component. More critically FB is leading in the evolution in the type of search..wherein search with an intent to purchase is being meshed with perspectives from your network.

    That indeed is powerful. The strongest aid to purchasing is Word of Mouth (WOM) and Facebook, twitter and other social networks offer that opportunity.

    Therein lies the issue for Google. Who knows how quickly and effectively this will evolve into something powerful? Quite possibly it will move at a breakneck speed.

    A different opportunity for capitalizing on social could evolve out of android versus search. In a sense that would move the competition to an area where Android competes with Apple and RIM and the apps and the websites.

    It seems like ages ago, but having done this once and seen it very successful and then copied many times over….the old MCI long distance carrier saw incredible gains in business by marketing itself with the famous “Friends and Family” marketing plans. Calls were discounted to identified friends and family.

    That was an enormous success. It generated enormous sales and enabled MCI to make its first serious grabs of market share against a dominant AT&T decades ago. Since then similar marketing programs have been used in countless industries.

    As Google takes an enormous position in the mobile market and competes with basically two competitors it might well see its greatest social gains there.

    Just an idea…but it is so strong in this area, continues to grow, and simply offers Google an additional venue to address social interaction outside of the web.

  • 16 Dinesh Vadhia // Apr 16, 2011 at 4:20 am

    @ dave
    Playing devil’s advocate … “The strongest aid to purchasing is Word of Mouth (WOM) and Facebook, Twitter and other social networks offer that opportunity.”

    If so, both Facebook and Twitter would be accelerating towards Google wrt ad revenues but they aren’t.

    @ daniel
    When public companies get to Google’s size the optimal way forward is to acquire companies of all sizes (eg. Microsoft, Cisco, Oracle and Google) or re-invent themselves in a new market (eg. Apple). At this stage of the social game, it doesn’t matter whether they get social or not. The question is if social is going to eat Google’s ad revenue lunch. It doesn’t appear as if it is having an impact yet. Assuming that it is going to then acquire companies that will attack the social players or find/invent the next big thing after social. Personally, I think Google should recognize it has lost the social game and move on. Google’s moves in social are reminiscent of Microsoft’s moves on the Internet (eg. MSN, Live and so on) where billions of investment dollars bought very little return.

    I was surprised to learn that Page has tied each employees bonus to social. In many ways, social is done – it is yesterday’s game and Facebook won. Move on.

  • 17 Daniel Tunkelang // Apr 16, 2011 at 8:56 am

    Brian: I’m not at liberty to comment on any hypothetical Google-LinkedIn match up, but I agree that their are some interesting complementary strengths.

    Dave: I agree that Google needs to take any social strategy to a mobile context. But the other social networks are already there, and I’m not sure what particular aspect of social interaction in a mobile environment is sitting there waiting for Google to conquer it.

    Dinesh: I wouldn’t discount Facebook’s ad revenue. It’s growing rapidly. But I do agree with your questioning whether Google is either over-investing in the space, as well as whether it should accept that this is a game it’s unlikely to win. But my attitude is that, if it’s going to play, it should at least learn the rules of the game.

  • 18 jeremy // Apr 16, 2011 at 10:24 am

    But it’s certainly a concern if +1 is to provide utility to Google that Google can then transfer to all of its users. My concern is utility to the people who provide the signal in the first place.

    I wrote a blog rant a few days ago about +1, in which I tried to distinguish the feature as explicit training data (parameter learning) vs. explicit relevance feedback. The problem, I argued, was that +1 is the former, not the latter. The former (training data) serves primarily to benefit the search engine, and only benefits the user or that user’s social circle indirectly. The latter (relevance feedback) benefits the user or the user’s social circle directly.

    Are we saying the same thing, when you talk about Google having to “give” in order to “get”? To me, relevance feedback is all about the giving. The search engine is doing more work for the user than the user is doing for the search engine. Sure, Google gets some explicit relevance information. But it also has to work a lot, too. Dedicate more CPU time, in the moment, to giving back to the user (or circle) in the form of in-the-moment relevance feedback.

  • 19 Daniel Tunkelang // Apr 16, 2011 at 10:35 am

    Yeah, I saw your rant. :-) I don’t have strong opinions about the definition of relevance feedback. But I do agree that +1 doesn’t give much value to the user. But that value could take many forms, e.g., improved relevance (e.g., Netflix) or social capital (e.g., Yelp).

  • 20 jeremy // Apr 16, 2011 at 11:50 am

    +1 does provide utility. It’s just that the form of that utility (at least as Goog currently implements it) is very, very diffuse, indirect.

    And I was simply wondering if my thoughts on the distinction between direct vs. diffuseness on the part of +1 was at all related to your thoughts on Google not “giving” very much. Could “diffuseness” be interpreted as only giving very little?

  • 21 Daniel Tunkelang // Apr 16, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    Yeah, I suppose “diffuse” is more a diplomatic word than “not compelling”.

  • 22 Dave Oremland // Apr 16, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    @ Dinesh: Yeah, they are both newer to the game. From what I’ve read and tried FB is picking up lots of advertising. Rates are way lower than Google. Twitter is still way way newer to that game.

    They are all going after that $$. Its where the business side of things lie with those sites now. There is a relatively small but growing component of search within FB and Bing is tryinbg to capitalize upon it wherein you search for services/products/references etc. and do it via likes/referrals/references from your network.

    Its relatively new but its growing. Its why google is chasing down all these different avenues.

    As to mobile I’m just throwing out ideas vis a vis Google’s strength in Android. In that regard it competes with Apple and RIM and from what I see it seems to be growing in market share.

    FB, Linkdin, and Twitter aren’t there.

    G makes no money from Android direct. A while ago their chairman, Schmidt was quoted in an interview saying something like “trust me, we make a lot of money from Android”.

    That of course would come from ads. This little incident surprised me (total aside from the discussion). I operate some businesses and did call tracking for the first time with an opportunity to listen to calls coming from Google PPC ads. Of the first 7 I listened to, 2 were coming from people in their cars wanting directions to the business.

    Ugh….that was highly disappointing. :D

    I wish that technology would do something else for me….like hooking me up with my friends and family on the fly

  • 23 Brian Curtis // Apr 16, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    Somewhat lost in this discussion is the assumption that any company “gets” social. There are arguments that can be made against every company demonstrating a lack of understanding. Some examples:

    Facebook: Privacy & Security are in conflict with their “open” mission statement. Then there is the “walled garden” debate — is Facebook actually social? That’s not a given.

    LinkedIn: There is no such thing as “one profile to rule them all.” Even in a business context, different industries / expertise call for tailored profiles. Groups is largely a failure. Ranking in Answers never gained mass appeal.

    Twitter: More and more, people are finding that 140 characters is an artificial and counterproductive limit. Promoted tweets disrupts the social process by allowing those with enough money to falsify appeal. It’s still not a stable platform. Then there are the use cases–are scheduled tweets social? Is posting a tweet to ready your blog social? Or, is Twitter more of an information discovery platform?

    FourSquare: How is being “mayor” of a place social? How do others benefit from the “mayor?” Is a check-in engaging or just another form of notification? If you check-in with multiple people, what is the benefit of the check-in from a social standpoint (discounts isn’t what I’d call social)?

    Google +1: I’m never going to try it, so I don’t see it as anything but another short-term experiment. Too me, it just complicates the experience.

    Social is far from a solved problem. Everyone, including Facebook, is vulnerable.

  • 24 Daniel Tunkelang // Apr 16, 2011 at 1:47 pm

    Dave: I believe Latitude was supposed to help hook you up with my friends and family on the fly. That I’m not sure despited spending over a year working at Google in local search quality says that there is, at the very least, a marketing problem.

    Brian: just to clarify my own stance, I said:

    Google critics often assert that Google doesn’t get social. But I think the problem isn’t so much with what Google gets as what it gives.

    Everyone in this space has room for improvement. But I think Google has a particularly bad track record in social — especially considering its extraordinary track record elsewhere.

  • 25 Brian Curtis // Apr 16, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    Daniel–

    I understand your stance and was expanding upon it to point out that social is far from a solved problem or one with any clear “winner.” Beyond the points I made, innovation has always proven there is never a category that is “done.” Just look at all the recent innovation is data storage–database technology is over 30 years old.

    Still, the Google success in other categories is still driven by the core search business. That’s how they originally sold people on Gmail. With Android, they touted the integration with Google services–again, Gmail. What I haven’t seen from Google is success disconnected from search and social is one area where that may be a requirement.

  • 26 Daniel Tunkelang // Apr 16, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    I’d say Google Maps, though currently integrated tightly with search, is successful in its own right — especially on mobile devices. So I’d say Google is capable of success without relying entirely on search for distribution.

    But I agree, social isn’t done. Check out Paul Adams’s presentation on social networking. He worked for Google when he wrote it. Not anymore.

  • 27 Brian Curtis // Apr 16, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    One of the most useful features of Google Maps is the navigation / directions feature. This is entirely a search problem. What utility of Google Maps are your referencing that is not directly tied to search?

  • 28 Daniel Tunkelang // Apr 16, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    Brian, you’re using search in a general sense. Pre Google Maps, I don’t think most people considered navigation and directions to be a search feature. It certainly wasn’t part of Google Search. Let’s not confuse what we take for granted now with what we had then.

    But point taken: Google Maps does naturally complement search, and that may help account for its success. Indeed, local search blurs the distinction between the two.

  • 29 Brian Curtis // Apr 16, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    Understood: Most of the utility in Google Maps is based more on graph theory and less the consumer understanding of and classical definition of “search.”

  • 30 Dinesh Vadhia // Apr 16, 2011 at 4:56 pm

    @daniel
    I stick with the premise that social is done and Facebook is the winner. Whether Google should play by the rules of social – whatever they are – is a moot point. A bunch of companies will continue to attempt to disrupt FB’s model but history says it is unlikely to make a difference as a market of 600m+ has chosen who it wants to use.

  • 31 Brian Curtis // Apr 16, 2011 at 9:48 pm

    Dinesh-

    Did people not think the same of Microsoft? What about IBM? Do you know the history of Sears? There will be a Home Depot or Lowes that will rise to challenge Facebook. It’s never over. So long as there is money to be made, people will continue to challenge the leaders.

    At one point people proclaimed databases as a solved problem. Do you think they would say the same now?

    Also, I challenge the “active user” count touted by Facebook. I am aware that many users have multiple accounts that they keep active for various reasons. The “active person” count is likely a fraction of the “active user” figure.

  • 32 jeremy // Apr 17, 2011 at 5:32 am

    Brian: Did people not think the same of Microsoft?

    Microsoft doesn’t have as much power as it once did, but has anyone unseated it from its core power base, Windows and Office? Linux and OSX have gained some market share, yes. But doesn’t Windows today still have more of a market share than Google Search today?

    And what about Office? Remember OpenOffice? What about GoogleDocs/Office? Are either of those taking over the Office domain?

    If Google beats MS, it’s because it’s beating it in a different domain: search, not operating systems or office products. If FB beats Google, it’s because it is beating it in a different domain: social. If Goog beats FB, it’ll be because it manages to switch the domain. Not because it’ll make a better Office Suite.

  • 33 Brian Curtis // Apr 17, 2011 at 9:24 am

    Jeremy-

    You are certainly correct that no one has unseated Microsoft in the Desktop/Laptop market. But, how long will that continue to be the focus? Everything is going mobile, be it “smart” phone or tablet. There are several players in that field and Microsoft is the least competitive of the bunch. So, my point is more about the traction others have gained against Microsoft and what the future holds. One cannot expect such a massive organization of be unseated quickly (and I don’t think they will ever end up like a Yahoo or AOL).

    Office may in fact be the future of Microsoft, unless they can develop a better mobile strategy. However, Google and OpenOffice are taking market share. While I agree that Microsoft Office is clearly superior, I’m not willing to assuming that advantage will last as computing becomes more about services and less about apps.

    I’m confused by your Facebook vs. Google vs Microsoft hypothesis. In order for one to “beat” the other, I believe that naturally implies they collide on product offerings.

  • 34 jeremy // Apr 17, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    You are certainly correct that no one has unseated Microsoft in the Desktop/Laptop market. But, how long will that continue to be the focus? Everything is going mobile

    That’s my point. No one ever did come back and unseat a dominant company in their core area. What it took for change to happen is for a new area to become more important.

    I’m confused by your Facebook vs. Google vs Microsoft hypothesis. In order for one to “beat” the other, I believe that naturally implies they collide on product offerings.

    Right. And aren’t you saying that Google will compete with FB on product offerings, and beat them? And I’m saying no, that won’t happen. Just like Linux, OSX, and ChromeOS haven’t unseated Windows.

  • 35 Brian Curtis // Apr 17, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    Jeremy–

    I’m taking the view that it hasn’t happend yet. Not that it won’t. I do believe that over the long term (the definition of which I won’t try to define) the Windows platform will lose out to multiple competitors across a variety of devices, including laptops and desktops. Of course, Microsoft has the opportunity to prevent this from happening, but all indications point toward a gradual decline.

    I’m not saying Google will “beat” Facebook. I’m saying that I won’t call Facebook the “winner.” I see a “Home Depot or Lowes” rising to take on Facebook much like Android, Linux, OSX, iOS, WebOS, and UNIX are gaining on Windows. It won’t be easy, it won’t be quick, but odds are good it will happen. That’s my view.

  • 36 jeremy // Apr 17, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    much like Android, Linux, OSX, iOS, WebOS, and UNIX are gaining on Windows. It won’t be easy, it won’t be quick, but odds are good it will happen. That’s my view.

    Fine. I can accept that.

    But Linux has been “overtaking” Windows for almost 20 years now. Let’s talk again in 2031, and see if Google has the same share of Facebook’s social market that Linux now has of Windows’ OS market :-)

  • 37 Brian Curtis // Apr 17, 2011 at 10:29 pm

    Actually, that’s not accurate. Linux has not even begun to attack Windows in the desktop / laptop market. On the other hand, you won’t find Windows on many servers and it’s market share on other devices is declining.

    I welcome a challenging view, but the history of market efficiency suggests it is near impossible to remain on top. While we could debate the minor elements of change and their impact on the market (perhaps even make a joke of it — a la 2031), it is the bigger picture that matters. I’m not seeking a response, but consider whether you believe Microsoft is advancing or declining. Perhaps the best question to ponder: If Facebook has “won” anything, what exactly has it gained? Research has shown that its revenue model is extremely inefficient and any expansion of advertising could put existing revenue at risk. So even if you “win,” you could still be “losing.” After all, Google’s revenue in search advertising is in the realm of 725% better on a per user basis then Facebook in social networking. Ultimately, it may be a battle not worth “winning.”

    I don’t have any answers, but there sure is a lot of interesting data and overlapping products to make the market interesting. However, the competition isn’t as interesting as the result: a better user experience.

  • 38 jeremy // Apr 18, 2011 at 4:45 am

    Actually, that’s not accurate. Linux has not even begun to attack Windows in the desktop / laptop market.

    Ok, fine. So the Mac OS has been gaining on (“overtaking”) DOS/Windows for 27 years now. Allllmost there… allllllmost there..! At this rate, Google will beat FB in social by 2038. Wait.. 2038.. that date rings a bell. Oh yeah, it was the original expiration date of the famous Google cookie. Maybe what it’ll take for Google to beat FB is to finally let its cookie expire? ;-)

    Yes, I am attemping to be slightly humorous/tongue in cheek here; you did correctly recognize it. But I’m also being serious. My point is still that often what it takes to unseat a market leader in this country is for the market itself to change, for another area to become more important. For example, for mobile to become more important than the desktop. Or for social to become more important than search. But rarely does it seem like one competitor unseats another in the technology space where there are network effects.

    I wish this were not true. I work hard for it to not be true. For example, most people pick a single search engine and stick with it. I don’t. I rotate my engines regularly, and for different queries. Most people stick with a single OS. I work with 3 different *desktop* OS’s on a regular basis. I’m doing what I can, as a single market participant, to make sure that no single player dominates. But I’m not like the rest of the market. The rest of the market picks one thing and sticks with it.

    I don’t know and I don’t care what exactly Facebook as “won” or “gained”, but whatever that is, Google is going to have to build something that allows it to “win” that and then some more, if it wants to unseat Facebook.

    Competition, yes, great. I believe in that, too. And hopefully the fact that I’m one of the last people on the planet to rotate my search engine usage on a regular basis helps out that competition in some way. But don’t change the subject; we were not talking about competition, by itself. We were talking about unseating. So we have to look, not at competition, but at actual examples of tech companies and tech products being unseated.

    Is Microsoft in decline, you ask? Perhaps. But given that it took 27 years to get to this point, AND that in their decline they still have majority share of the market on both Office and Windows, that’s one helluva long decline.

    Orkut 2038! W0ot!

  • 39 CIKM 2011 Industry Event: Ed Chi on Model-Driven Research in Social Computing // Nov 25, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    [...] skepticism about Google’s social efforts is a matter of public record (cf. Social Utility, +/- 25%; Google±?). But hiring Ed Chi was a real coup for Google, and I’m optimistic about what [...]

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