Homo homini rodentius est

Why Google has to go mobile

On Monday, November 5, Google is expected to announce that it is rolling out a platform of mobile phone services as part of an “Open Handset Alliance” with various wireless hardware manufacturers and, perhaps even, a carrier or two. The move has been anticipated for months and has helped drive the company’s stock valuation to stratospheric heights (but still nowhere near the heights seen in the last tech bubble). As a result, the breathless Google boosters in the tech blogosphere are emitting even more hot air than usual, going so far as to declare that Google, a company with [“a global strategy so sweeping and audacious that it is breathtaking”], is on its way to becoming the [biggest company in history] !

While the move into mobile has some obvious business logic for Google — they are an advertising company always on the lookout for new places to stick ads — it’s not immediately obvious that their decision to go into direct competition with Microsoft in yet another space (mobile OS) and with carriers who like to control the software ecosystem of their products is such a guaranteed win for them. To figure out what might be driving their strategy I looked at Google’s 2nd quarter 10-Q SEC filings for the past four years and found some trends that suggest they have little choice about entering the mobile market, if they have any hope of maintaining the kind of momentum that investors have come to expect from them.

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It’s Google’s News, and don’t you forget it.

There have been a few times when, in perusing the Google News site, it has appeared to me that stories that show their main competitor, Microsoft, in a bad light get prominent coverage, but good news not as much. Yesterday settled any doubts I had about the objectivity of that exercise in New Media: on a day when Microsoft made a very significant announcement about the launch of their health care initiative, HealthVault, there was nary a mention of it on Google News. I checked throughout the day and it never showed up. Not in the Sci/Tech section. Not in the Health section. Not even in the Business section. Could the Microsoft news blackout on Google News have anything to do with the fact that Google is also developing a product to manage consumer health information, though [not as successfully] as Microsoft?

[Link] that opens a new window with archive of Google News from yesterday.

Clicking the image link to the right will bring up an archived view of what Google News was publishing at about 6:30pm yesterday when I got home from work. This is at a point in the day when many people go looking for news and when it should be clear what the most important news stories of the day are — but there’s nothing about HealthVault. It can’t be that the information wasn’t “news worthy”, because the New York Times featured the launch prominently on their site. Prominent tech sites like [TechCrunch] covered it. In fact, using another news aggregator (that is not in direct competition with Microsoft), Techmeme, we can look back at [an archived view] of that site at 6pm yesterday and the prominence of the Microsoft announcement is apparent. [According to Google], “Our articles are selected and ranked by computers that evaluate, among other things, how often and on what sites a story appears online. As a result, stories are sorted without regard to political viewpoint or ideology and you can choose from a wide variety of perspectives on any given story”. Without regard to political viewpoint or ideology. They don’t say anything about regard to Google’s PR. This is not merely a curious glitch in the vaunted computer algorithms — it is, I suspect, evidence that news selections that appear on the Google News page are subject to some very old-fashioned human filtering.

Things like this should be enough to put a cork in some of the more [hyperbolic] New Media [bloviators] who constantly herald the death of traditional media forms while touting the virtues of “Web 2.0” bounders. With Asperger-like devotion to all things algorithmic and inhuman, they conveniently overlook the fact that it has taken generations to build trustworthy journalistic institutions where objectivity — if not perfectly met — is at least aspired to and professional standards include more than merely serving the bottom-line. When it comes to the commercial takeover of the Net, we are subject to upstarts who care little about time-tested standards. Their standards are profit-making and self-serving PR and information is merely the means to those ends.

Don’t be evil. Yeah, got it.

iPhucked: Apple advocates face an angry god

Not so Precious? Apple fanboys feel the pain.

In the world of marketing, the most valuable customer — the holy grail — is the customer who becomes an advocate for the brand. They are literally worth their weight in gold or, to be more accurate, saved marketing costs. Not only are they locked into your product(s), saving costs that might have been spent on retention programs, but they do the heavy lifting of brand building by energetically recommending your wares to their friends via face-to-face and, in an ever more connected world, online interactions. Apple has been masterful at turning legions of their customers into advocates by creating an aesthetic ecosystem that their customers move into and inhabit. Part of the appeal of that aesthetic has been its adherence to design integrity — to the point of accepting niche status in a market of commoditized digital products in order to maintain total control of quality. Purchase of an Apple product bought one admission into a walled garden. As with any exclusive club, one couldn’t enjoy every benefit available to the throngs outside the enclave. No matter — choice is, by its nature, deeply antithetical to a rigorous adherence to design. Everything was going fine until the unheard of happened: Apple products became popular…

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Google and IBM: The Office is Closed

Last week saw announcements from Google and IBM about office productivity app launches that, according to the tech punditocracy at least, promise serious threats to Microsoft’s lucrative hegemony on the enterprise desktop. Of course, one would expect the bloggers and other pseudo-journalists to get [fired up] about a new assault on the Death Star — even if they have to overlook that the “rebels” gunning for Microsoft are, themselves, two of the most hegemonic companies in the world.

Let’s forget for a moment that IBM has had competitive products in the marketplace for a decade that have made little headway against Office. Their current embrace of Open Office is akin to starting a race over from the blocks with [one foot hobbled]. Let’s also forget that the people at Google [don’t even use] their own products. Why would anyone think that going up against Microsoft in its stronghold was a good business plan? More sober heads, who actually know something about how IT departments purchase and use software, [pretty much dismiss] the likelihood of IBM or — especially — Google breaking the lock that Microsoft has over business apps. Cripes, even Google’s partners [can’t make a case] for their business model. Which begs the question, what are they really up to?

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Lies, Damned Lies… and Public Relations

Supposedly, Mark Twain coined the phrase, “there are three kinds of lies: Lies, Damned Lies… and Statistics.” Had he lived long enough he would surely have expanded his list to include Public Relations — the professional discipline devoted to stretching truth to its breaking point. Which brings us to the Mozilla Foundation. I was always suspicious of the fact that they never made a big deal about the adoption rates for the Firefox browser — only numbers of downloads. Anyone with an ounce of brains knew that was meaningless: downloads don’t equal adoption and until very recently the only way you could update the software was by doing a full download, which could only inflate the numbers. What didn’t make sense was that despite the humongous download numbers they bandied about, the market share of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer on the Net continues to hover between 80 and 90% — just about mirroring the penetration of Windows on desktops worldwide.

Well, lo and behold, the Mozillers finally got around to [admitting] that 75% of people who ever downloaded Firefox abandoned it. Ouch! Gets you right in the pocket protector, doesn’t it? The “open source” solution to Microsoft’s dominant browser is finally dropping the PR charade and openly asking the community for input on how to increase adoption rates.

Speaking of PR, I’m always a little amazed that Google has been able to skate by on its obvious (to me, anyway) methods of promotion. Targeting an army of tech early adopters who are wary of blatant marketing, they very cagily avoid obvious promotion and advertising — but baby do they work that PR machine! To their credit, they have been very successful at creating good will among a population of notoriously prickly nerds by doing things like underwriting conferences like the [Personal Democracy Forum] and stoking anti-Microsoft fervor with the help of “independent” media channels like CNet and ZDNet. But, of course, there’s always a truth behind the PR — if you can find it.

Over-reliant on its single source of income (advertising), Google has made some feint attempts at expanding its product line into productivity apps designed, supposedly, to cut into Microsoft Office’s marketshare. There’s been practically zero adoption of these products by the business community but the tech press — dependent on companies like Google for their life lines to “news” — have been [promoting] them [non-stop]. So, you can imagine how surprised I was (not) when — at that very same conference mentioned above — I saw Kim Malone, of the Google AdSense team, giving a presentation using Powerpoint running on Windows! Not the souped up version of linux that people have said everyone at Google uses and not their homebrew Powerpoint competitor either!

Then, yesterday, I was looking at [this video] of a class on intro statistics being given at the Googleplex, and noticed that not only was the guy running the course using Windows and Powerpoint, he was recommending that Googlers use Excel because he didn’t trust either Open Office or Trix, the homebrew Excel competitor, to be able to do the simple stats calculations that the course required! The knowing giggles from the crowd in the room when he questioned the capabilities of Trix told me more about the viability of their “Office Killer” than any amount of overheated PR. Jeez, if you can’t get your own mutts to eat the dog food…

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