Google: The Empathetic Ad Vendor

January 31, 2013

Yowza. I just read “Google’s No. 1 Asset Is Its Ability to Empathize with Its Users through Design and Product Development.” You must read this remarkable assessment of Google’s most important strength.

The main point of the write up is that Google is a into design in a way that makes the Project Runway hopefuls seek digital inspiration from Mountain View. Here’s one passage I noted:

What I’ve [Drew Olanoff] also learned while covering Google over the past two years is that it has an uncanny ability to put itself in the shoes of its users, almost to the point where they can leverage data and feedback to build, in essence, the perfect product. When I say perfect, I don’t mean flawless. I mean that when you use Google products, you’re in essence a Googler, too. Google takes the concept of “dogfooding” to unparalleled levels, putting current and new products through such rigorous real-world testing cycles, that it’s impressive that things ever see the light of day. When you scrutinize something so much, it’s easy to scrap it because you’ve fallen out of love with it after seeing it all the time. Not Google, because it has a system in place to get feedback from both employees and outside users. The system makes the go-to-market plan a near bullet-proof approach to launching products, because there’s a good sense that it’s something that people will want to use, and use a lot.

The article uses the word “legacy” to describe Google’s contributions. I wonder who else has used that word? Oh, I remember. I did in my 2004 The Google Legacy monograph, which is now out of print. I heard that the PDF is available on a download system, or you can send me an email and I will send you a copy.

What is fascinating about the write up is the peek into the future. The author asserts:

As we change, Google will change. Google learns from us while we learn from its products. It’s a nice give-and-take relationship that Google has sustained since its inception. Most of us can’t understand exactly what Google does or how it does it, so the only way we can really grow our trust for what they do is to feel really good when we use their products, and that has everything to do with design. The fact that most products under Google’s massive umbrella are getting a refresh is a testament to that understanding. We never knew what we wanted from Google, and now that we have it, we have no idea how we want it to look.

Yep, Google is the future and Google will do exactly what its users want.

Now my view is just a bit different.

First, Google is in the ad business. After more than a decade of trying to generate significant revenue from “controlled chaos” product development, Google is focusing on monetization. So the big shift is not to the user. The big shift is to monetizing the user. There is a difference, in my opinion. The purpose is ad revenue or any other type of revenue as the stakes in online grow higher.

Second, Google’s number one asset is its getting a free pass to do whatever it wants to do. As a result, Google is showing more moxie. For example, Googlers and child went to North Korea. The European regulators are getting smiles and Google mouse pads. Nothing is in place to stop Google. That’s a big plus.

Third, Google has a sense of desperation fueling the company. Management is mortal. Competition looms from Samsung, Amazon, and—dare I suggest it—Facebook.

Fourth, Google has plumbing. The pipes and valves are aging but the embrace of old timers like the singularity person and the founder of Inktomi show that technical ideas are needed. But Google has lots of technology. Google has lots of engineers.

Net net. Google has some strengths. I just don’t think that empathy is number one or even in my top four. I would ask, “Empathy?” Mathematicians and engineers and scientists. Not the word I would choose.

Stephen E Arnold, January 31, 2013


One Response to “Google: The Empathetic Ad Vendor”

  1. Anoymous on January 31st, 2013 2:43 pm

    Mr. Anrold bring up some good points about Google concept of empathy. His seminal works, Google 2.0 and The Google Legacy truly help shead light on Google’s business model

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