Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Google Product Theory

I realized something about Google that might be meaningful while watching the Seth Godin talk at Google, which is required watching for a Google fanatic like me (and probably anyone actually).

There has been a lot of quick judgement of their beta release strategy that I am sure would be unavoidable for a company of their size and position. In the end though, what Google has been doing is recreating basic web tools in new, more useful variations or webifying basic functions such as the database.

But that is exactly what they did with search, the "first" web native tool. What made Google was a three step process:

1. Create a better basic tool (search) with a dramatic difference from existing tools: Innovation

2. Build user loyalty and exponential growth through focus on user benefit (also remove barrier by making your product free): Branding

3. Careful monetization that does not impair user benefits: Value capture

Somewhere along the way Google was able to elevate the tool (search) into a product and this is the real key to their success. Everyone that worked with Google early on from Yahoo to AOL thought they were partnering with a tool company that would rapidly be replaced by a better tool down the road. The magic of Google was turning the tool into the product.

But in order for Google to become what it has become, there was a second key innovation: Adwords.

My thought on Adwords is that its development was highly unlike search in that it was more a method than a tool and that its development was directed toward finding a balance between competing demands (user attention vs. money) rather than the pure pursuit of the "right answer". Some of us have a harder time than others in accepting the slight of hand that enables Google to say that Adwords improves search effectiveness, but I personally don't mind it.

Aside from the dollars themselves, Google's focus, ability and drive to develop Adwords is what makes it a compelling business and (partially) justifies the stock price.

So when I see the "me-too" beta products coming out of Labs, what I see is just the first of three steps in the high attrition game of Google product development: creating a tool that has the potential to become a product. Google's fanbase is probably enough to allow the product to achieve enough critical mass to begin a virtuous cycle of product enhancement.

One problem I see that probably already hurts the chances of some of these efforts is the lack of consistent focus on the product that Search enjoyed and enjoys. I wouldn't be surprised if teams rotate on and off of projects more rapidly that a complete product cycle, like kids running from seesaw to jungle gym to sandbox at the park, disrupting the tool-to-product effort.

I think you also see that in acquisitions that don't immediately integrate into existing efforts like Blogger. Some products are also fill-in products (blog search) that don't really require passion, but are part of the "grand vision" and will never make the jump to the big time on their own.

In any case, everything that Google puts out will certainly get so much attention and attracts so much competition that they will never get the three year breathing room that Search had.


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