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When Microsoft (and Yahoo) Are Sucking Wind, Is It Fun to Be Google?

By - January 29, 2007

Live Search

When Live Search launched, I was happy to see how the company positioned search as in the early stages of development (sure, they quoted my book, so that helped). But since then, it’s been mostly bad news for Live Search. A reader (thanks Michelle) pointed me to this Cnet story. In it, the author describes what most of us already know – that Microsoft has continued to lose search market share, and further, that some analysts believe that the Live brand has confused the public.

“Microsoft’s Live branding has been tremendously confusing and has hurt the company, and it is very likely contributing to the situation they are in right now,” said David Smith, an analyst at Gartner. “They’ve created another brand and have not differentiated it.”



It’s too early to pass “final judgment” on the strategy, Smith said. But now is the time for Microsoft to clearly explain its strategy, he said.

Now, whether or not you agree with this statement (and I have to say, I found the Live brand rather confusing myself when I first encountered it), when a story like this breaks, and folks start commenting on it, it’s time to join the conversation. Microsoft is still Microsoft, and I agree with the analyst, the company needs to have a voice responding to this marketplace meme of lackluster performance. Or maybe, just maybe, the launch of Vista will obviate it all? I sure hope that’s not the long term strategy.

I think in the end this has to do with the company’s massive brand equity in Office and Windows. Consumers totally get what Microsoft means to them – it means the desktop, and it means the main desktop applications they all use (I can say they, I’m a Mac guy, remember?). But when a new brand is launched – “Live” – that trades off Windows (“Windows Live”) and Office (“Office Live”) but fail to do what those things do online, well, it’s not going to work as a brand. Recall when I rather frankly suggested that Microsoft split into two companies? This is why.

I can’t believe I am saying this (I was a total Mac partisan in the early 90s Mac vs. PC wars), but I really, really want Microsoft to succeed in search and in Ray Ozzie’s vision for service-based applications. I also want Yahoo to shake off its funk, as I’ve written before. It strikes me as important to have as many innovators as possible in this field, as we are at a very critical moment in the development of this young industry. It’s too early for one company to win, and I sense that the folks over at Google would agree with me.

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10 thoughts on “When Microsoft (and Yahoo) Are Sucking Wind, Is It Fun to Be Google?

  1. Sal Shepherd says:

    The fact is there’s nothing “live” in live.com . the other thing that always lasted with me from beginning, even though I love MS and think they will make it in search, especially personalization search when becomes mainstream (and will change the face of the whole search industry), is “live” spelled backward is.. evil.

  2. Errol says:

    I personally think MS should have just focused on improving MSN. Every body is already fimiliar with that brand. An it really needs some improvement.

  3. David says:

    I think ultimately the problem with the Windows Live and Office Live strategies is that, like the Xbox Live strategy, requires deep integration. Microsoft is deathly afraid of integrating Windows and Windows Live to its “full potential” because of previous anti-trust regulations. I feel that’s what it comes down to.

    That’s not to say that they can’t be successful in search, just that their strategy as of now requires integration, which they are hesitant to do.

  4. codenut says:

    I just wrote last week about Microsoft and Live.com .. about it being the time to consider starting over

    http://www.winextra.com/?p=263

  5. Michelle says:

    Hi John,

    Thanks for posting this.

    Do you see any value in Microsoft going back to MSN search since Live is confusing the hell out of everyone or do you think Microsoft should invest in building a new search brand altogether?

  6. macbeach says:

    MS seems to have an obsession about using ordinary English words to name everything, so brand confusion is built-in for anything that the world hasn’t already become addicted to (Word, Excel, Office, etc. I think “PowerPoint” was a slip-up and would have normally been called “Slide Show”)

    For as long as MS dominates the desktop market I’d just as soon see them fail at everything else. Yes, we need competition. What we don’t need is for MS to once again leverage an existing monopoly in order to create another.

    Microsoft’s desire to not only do better than the competition but to (to use one of their words) destroy them, makes everything they do suspect in my mind.

    MS having sucked the air out of the room for the PC marketplace will in the long run (getting shorter every day though) cause the US to be a third world country for high tech (some say we are already there). Google and companies like them are the only hope we have of remaining relevant. If MS and their bloated desktop were to dry up and blow away tomorrow it would be none too soon for me.

  7. nmw says:

    Does anyone know whether M$ has a trademark on “live”? (IANAL)

    Otherwise, I wouldn’t refer to it as a brand (but rather simply a domain name).

    Whether that string confuses some English-speakers is another matter, but I think it’s a “cool” name (I admit that it *does* give me the *impression* that the something about the site might be “fresh” or “filled with vitality” or something like that).

    BTW: is it really necessary to have a “TypeKey” account to post a URL? (testing: http://www.cobranding.org )

  8. Dave says:

    i agree with errol, there was already ten years of brand investment in MSN… why create a new (and incredibly bland) brand like Live.com?

    at least you have a base of users to start with using MSN. they could probably have even used Microsoft.com or Windows.com as poor but acceptable choices. Live.com is just stupid — it’s like choosing Door.com or Air.com… nothing memorable whatsoever.

    contrary to XBox, which has perhaps spent a HUGE amount of money to at least get some decent market share & memorable branding, Live.com has been an UTTER waste of time & money, and in fact is a significant step backwards from MSN.com.

    high time for Ballmer to call up Diller & pay up for Ask.com. how much would it cost? $5B? $7B? at least they could add some market share, a decent brand, and some good search assets. either that, or buy Yahoo already. sheesh.

    hey Stevie B, when you stop throwing chairs around, you should remember the 1st Rule of Holes: when you’re in one, stop digging.

  9. Alex says:

    Maybe Microsoft will buy Yahoo?

  10. Jon Gos says:

    Personally, I hope Microsoft fail miserably with this “Live” stuff and most of their other projects. They need to be taught a lesson, which is to rethink their role and effectiveness a company. Vista mises the point entirely, instead of really trying to advance things, they put out an OS that’s fairly boring (for any long-time Unix user) and unnecessary given the current landscape of desktop OS (the future seems to be integration with web based services). Instead of chasing Apple, they should find ways for Apple to chase them. They’re the Goliath in the field. Stop worrying about the Davids (Google, Apple, Yahoo) and innovate.

    Innovation will bring success.

    It’s these reasons that make me not like them as a company. They just seem too petrified right now to do anything meaningful. Take some risks.