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The Thursday Signal: Is Google Losing Its Customer Focus?

By - February 11, 2010

Screen shot 2010-02-11 at 8.43.07 AM.png

I’m a bit reticent to jump into this, as I’m not sure you all care that much, but I’ve got a decent reason for writing about Buzz (yesterday’s piece) again today.  

First, I’ve seen a piece (Calacanis) proclaiming Buzz the second (third? fifth?) coming of social. Facebook will “lost half its value” due to Buzz’s arrival, Jason opines. I think this is silly. Then again, I seem to think a lot of things are silly. Pretty soon, I’ll be chasing kids off my front lawn, the way I’m going. And I’ve not used Buzz, nor will I, as I’m not a Gmail user nor do I plan on becoming one. So don’t listen to me if you are a Gmail addict who wants to recreate your entire social experience in that medium. Go nuts. I’m all for more options.

Anyway. The larger issue to me has to do with Google’s approach to customers. The Google mantra has always been “we design for our customers.” Here’s the official declaration on Google’s corporate philosophy page (the first two points are also in the image above):

1. Focus on the user and all else will follow. Since the beginning, we’ve focused on providing the best user experience possible. Whether we’re designing a new Internet browser or a new tweak to the look of the homepage, we take great care to ensure that they will ultimately serve you, rather than our own internal goal or bottom line.

For the most part, Google has hewn closely to this strategy. But it has a major blind spot when it comes to Facebook and Twitter – Facebook in particular. I can understand ignoring Twitter – one could argue it’s not ubiquitous and therefore can be left off the feature set of new products. But ignoring Facebook when it comes to social search and status update is akin to ignoring oxygen when it’s time to light a fire: it’s silly (there’s that word again).

Furthermore, it’s not designing for your customer. Just about every one of Google’s customers has invested significant time and energy into their Facebook social graph. Launching social search (my take here) and Buzz with the pretension that Facebook doesn’t matter can not be explained away (at least, Google isn’t trying). What Google customer wouldn’t want at least the option to have their Google searches filtered through their Facebook social graph? And what Google customer wouldn’t want to at least have the option to import their Facebook connections and data feeds into and out of Google Buzz (not to mention publish into Twitter)?

Google made a clear decision to exclude Facebook from both social search and Buzz, and to my mind, that decision was made due to competitive issues – the company’s “own internal goal or bottom line.”

Now, tons of companies make similar decisions every day of every week. Fine.

But if you’re going to claim to be a different kind of company, one that is unique in philosophy and management approach, you can’t continually chip away at your core philosophy and not expect to be called on it by the very consumers that built your brand in the first place.

Oh, and by the way, it might be time to take a look at the second point in that Corporate Philosophy: “It’s best to do one thing really, really well. We do search.”

…and Nexus One, and Android, and Docs, and Doubleclick, and YouTube, and broadband and wifi networks, and blogs, and music, and books, and shopping/checkout, and Buzz, and Gmail, and…..anyway.

I think Google is an extraordinary company. But as I predicted way back in January, it’s time for it to mean something besides search, and for the company to own up to acting, well, like a company that protects its own interests, even ahead of, at certain times, the interests of its customers. It’s not like any of us are paying for Gmail, after all….

Onwards to the linkage:

IPG Goes with Microsoft’s Atlas for Ad Management (ClickZ) The politics between Microsoft and Google continue to play out in the agency holding company battlefield.

Making the Most of Earned Media (eMarketer) Content is key to platform-based marketing programs.

Needed: A New Science For Valuing Content (AdAge) And content companies need to figure that out.

MySpace CEO Van Natta Was Fired by News Corp. Digital Head Miller in Late Afternoon Meeting (D) I like Owen. I like Jon. I don’t like news like this. Bummer all around.

TV Ads Less Effective, Budgets Shifting Online (MarketingProfs). Well, sometimes it’s nice to just sit back and watch it happen.

Live From Yahoo SearchSpeak 2010 (TC) Yahoo’s not given up on search, despite the Microsoft deal. The company is still innovating.

Love Stinks: 5 Parodies of Google’s Romantic Super Bowl Ad [VIDEO] (Mashable) You know, this is why I love them interwebs.

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  • http://www.Technology-Report.com Joseph

    John a thoughtful take on Buzz, but I’m more with Jason’s view. I think this is a clever, disruptive, user-centric approach (though as with all things Google, the user centric always seems to merge with things that will also make Google more powerful).

    Unlike Facebook and Twitter, Buzz is actually trying to connect you to things you’ll find relevant rather than let you do the heavy lifting. You pick your friends and then Google finds what you want. Obviously this may fail to work, but if it does work I think Twitter and Facebook won’t be able to duplicate this any more than they could duplicate Google search.

    Of course you are right that Google needs to find simple ways to better integrate Buzz with Twitter and Facebook, especially for non-gmail users, but that should be not be difficult as everything moves to open source with robusts APIs for these tasks. Buzz is part of the convergence you’ve wanted for some time, so I’m not sure why you are resisting it. It adds functionality to the social experience as a social search tool, so it’s good stuff.

  • PC

    This has my initial Buzz experience to a T.

    When I started using it, there were 2 big questions that really turned me off from the product.

    1) Who are these random strangers that are in my feed? Oh, it’s the recruiter that I randomly emailed with years ago. Why can I read his conversation? I feel like I’ve violated someone’s privacy.

    2) Where’s the Facebook and Twitter integration? Great. Now my newsfeed is scattered between 2 different sources. Gah.. not a great user experience.

    I buzz-ed about this and set of this huge debate, particularly with my friend at Google who says it’s because they want to support open protocols. Fair enough.

    But I still see it as a deliberate attempt at ignoring the elephant in the room which is more of a business decision than a philosophical one.

    Lastly, I went back into buzz today and 5 of the 6 people following me are complete strangers. I find this irksome. Now that I’ve had 24 hours to digest it, I see that they created a Facebook like Newsfeed with a Twitter-like connection (Follow) model. It’s an interesting concept… but something that doesn’t belong in my Inbox. :\

    With that said, I recognize any disruptive technology may have some initial aversion.. and if it’s a very large aversion, there’s something good about that. So we’ll see if that stands the test of time.

  • ann

    I don’t like that all my shared items end up in my inbox… I don’t want to sort through that to get to my emails. I have a feeling it won’t last long… for me, at any rate. I’m comfortable with facebook for the social side of it… and it’s a bit easier to get the grasp of… I’m still bumbling around with buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

  • http://anthony.mp/ Anthony Eden

    FWIW, some of us are paying for Gmail, by paying for extra storage. Additionally, some businesses are paying for Gmail through the Google Apps service. Bottom line: I am sure there is some revenue coming from Gmail, but I’d be shocked if it was profitable.

  • Dave

    I couldn’t disagree more. I am a long-time gmail user. Because of their privacy policy, I refuse to use Facebook. I have a large linked in network, but miss out (or do I really?) on the online social scene. Buzz is an option for me and I think with all the Google properties behind it, it will eventually be better than Facebook and Twitter combined.

    Seems to me they have bene focussing on their users.

    Thanks Google, for finally doing social right.

  • http://www.ericpender.com Eric

    So news broke today that Aardvark (a company you’ve said was getting your Spidey senses going) was bought by Google.

    No doubt, this is a huge play for Google’s move into social. Buzz is the first step to building the user base, by automatically opting everyone on Gmail into Buzz. Now they’ll be able to roll out the Aardvark technology to this huge user base, arguably giving Google’s social offering more leverage in actually making a company money, even if this is as simple as serving AdWords ads against a user’s question.

    Two big elements at play here. First (similar to traditional search), the user expresses an intent. Second, a response is offered by someone in the social circle, offering more semantic information for Google to leverage to serve a relevant ad.

    Ideal scenario for Google is that conversion rates go through the roof. Unlike Gmail ads which, I have to guess, don’t convert particularly well, I would imagine these ads could convert at an even higher rate than web search.

    And that could be a LOT of money.

  • http://www.steverubel.com Steve

    John, I fully agree. Google is becoming a big company. I see a shift here underway. IBM -> Microsoft -> Google -> Facebook. This is just the beginning of a new era. And if Facebook were to align with Bing it could mean big things.

    With 1/2 the connected US on the site Facebook is already the white pages for millions. As millions of businesses build out their presence, it becomes the yellow pages. Factor in location technology and you get something even bigger – an ad model.

    Now think about Bing. They have maps and the best non-Google search technology. Their social search is particularly strong.

    Combine this all and I see very big things afoot. Google has a major competitor. Are they up to the fight?

  • http://herdinstincts.blogspot.com/2009/11/why-all-buzz-about-google-buzz.html Amanda

    John,

    I read your blog post religiously and I actually missed this one in my excitement over the Aardvark acquisition announcement yesterday.

    Great minds think alike I suppose as I had expressed a very similar concern in my own blog post on Buzz yesterday, that Google could be losing site of its core principles.

    As an Xoogler, I’m a big fan of the company, brand, and its products and still today am astonished that such a powerful global brand was built with no advertising. They religiously focused on the user and built their search product to support the needs of customers. In doing so they became a poster child for customer-centrism, a concept that many engineering run companies fail to understand. So often tech companies develop features and design products that are innovative, but fail to meet a customer need or provide a real benefit. That’s a recipe for failure, and it happens all the time.

    I’ve built my career as a marketer around the customer experience, and Google increased my conviction by teaching me to focus on the user when developing products. Perhaps the Buzz team has a social blind spot and failed to recognize that people might not want to know the business of near strangers, or acquaintances with whom they happened to exchange an email with once long ago. Alternatively, maybe the user took a back seat to strategic corporate goals and Google’s desire to gain advantage in an industry with intense competitive rivalry.

    My friends and I tried Buzz, and had a very similar experience to PC. In this case it seems that Google’s shareholders have prevailed over the user.