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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Next Great Game (and Why Google Can't Play It)

Sorry, but this Da Vinci code thing - I wanted to write about it last week because I was shocked - is very bad news.

It's not just that it is Google essentially selling out. In fact, it's a very telling symptom of a buried disorder.

Why would Google do this? It goes against every principle that made Google great. It is Google stepping backwards in time, rewinding the clock to 1.0, essentially because old media is throwing money at it to do so.

Let me explain.

The next great business game is going to be about ripping branding apart and making it hyperefficient, hypercultural, hypersocial. This is the game MySpace is playing. This is the game Google wants to play.

But brands are about what make us human: the cultural and the social. Google, as we know, is deeply algorithmic. It is like HAL 9000.

Now, this is a problem. A big one.

Why? Because Google can't play this game. It has very different competencies - in my language, it doesn't understand subduction and the commoditization of meaning. But more on that later.

This move is very important because it's a tell: buried deep within this move are the seeds of Google's strategy decay.

Consider the difference between buying profiles on MySpace - a deeply cultural and social move, which is exactly why it's revolutionizing branding; versus solving puzzles on Google.

It's not just hilariously ironic that brand revolution a la Google is, well, the strangely robotic move you'd expect from HAL 9000 - solving puzzles, no less - it's also deeply out of sync with the social capital that is brands (much less amplifying it, like MySpace does).

Google is forced to do transparently backwards-looking things like this because, like a mouse in a trap, it can see the cheese - it just can't get there. It doesn't know what to with the social and the cultural to redefine branding (hence it's Joga experiment a few weeks back).

This is lame - because rather than try and build competencies in the social and cultural, Google is just choosing to rewind. And that is very Yahoo - a player who is playing the game more for the media industry than for consumers. When Google chooses to flip it's equation to match Yahoo's, we will have the same old media all over again.

Except this time, it will be folks like MySpace + Fox who are the disruptors. Funny how the great wheel turns.

-- umair // 1:42 PM //


hey there love the blog. question tho - maybe i'm a little thick but what exactly do you mean by "commoditization of meaning"? is it like MEANING transcendently or the meaning of something in particular?
// Blogger Nick // 4:56 PM


Joga has barely got off the ground, so I can't see where Google has messed up there?
So far, it looks like it's going to do really well.
// Anonymous Dino // 5:11 PM

Hey Dino,

Because Orkut is only full of Brazilians. That's great, but it's a random outcome - not a strategic one.

No matter how well Joga does, Google's upside is limited.


The meanings that make up brands.
// Blogger umair // 5:14 PM

It doesn't seem that this is a rebranding exercise nor repositioning a Google account to represent a cultural statement--rather a gimmick to drive people to try out Google's vanilla, 1.0 tool set (mail, calendar, etc). Battelle:"Mayer told me, in no uncertain terms, that the strategic goals of this promotion for Google was to familiarize folks with Google's services beyond search."
// Blogger Anderson // 8:36 PM

Hey Anderson,

Does that make any sense to you? Google closes off most of its betas for fear of too *many* users.

Battelle may have swallowed the party line (and I doubt even that) - I think it's transparent that Goog can see branding 2.0 is the next big thing.

Joga is pretty close to what MySpace has been doing/is up to; unfortunately for Google, they have no idea why MySpace is successful at the socila.
// Blogger umair // 9:53 PM

Hi Umair,

>>Does that make any sense to you?

I suppose so. To me the affair feels like a cheap experiment that will probably fail and not be repeated.

Google deserves a bit more credit in the hypercultural space. Between February 2005 and February 2006, Blogger's page views grew 200% more than My Space: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/04/03/AR2006040301692.html
Assuming Blogger is Google's play against My Space, it has done well leaving it alone. When Google has puzzling Hollywood tie-ins with Blogger, then your decay seed will be blooming!
// Blogger Anderson // 3:00 AM

i agree with what anderson is saying, i dont really see this as much more than trying to push people to their non-search products. as for the closed off betas, as well as the broken betas (site maps, analytics), i think it has more to do with marketing (i.e. generating buzz) than any real capacity concerns or strategy revolving around supply constraints.
// Anonymous kid mercury // 9:00 PM

Hi Anderson + KM,

You're falling prey to the fallacy of numbers. Google may have page views, but who doesn't these days? The point is that it fails to capture real value from the social. On a percentage basis, MySpace's micromedia margins are richer - and will get richer.

I would also put Blogger down to the original Blogger kru - not to Google.

I can't see how it's meant to "push" people to try other products.

Connect the dots guys - Da Vinci code, Joga - these are simply about Google seeing $$ in branding shifting online.

FYI, the closed off betas are not because of capacity constraints, it's because they drop the cost of experimentation.
// Blogger umair // 9:09 PM

Umair - I think it's really funny hearing you talk about MySpace revolutionizing branding and "hypersocializing" brands. I know for a fact MySpace was founded as a clone of Friendster by a bunch of direct marketers looking for page views. And besides advertisements on a boatload of pageviews, what has *actually* happened or changed to make that a revolutionary business model?
// Anonymous Anonymous // 10:47 PM

Hey Anon,

My understanding of MySpace's founding is very different - explicitly about reshaping music using the social. But I could be wrong.

As for "ads on a boatload of pageviews" - have you actually spent much time on MySpace? If you have, it's pretty obvious that the play is very different.

Thx for the comments guys.
// Blogger umair // 10:59 PM

MySpace was founded by guys who worked at X-drive, notoriously one of the crappiest Dot-Bombs in Santa Monica/LA during the boom. I remember getting calls daily for X-drive recruiters trying to sign me up or have me recommend coders for them. I think they blew through like $90m or something and are still barely in business.

Well, the story goes that 2 guys working there learned the lesson of not spending too much cash and getting nowhere. But they believed in the concept of free space- what especially got them excited was the idea of allowing bands to store their music there and then have a place where people could listen to it.

They got a bit of money together, hired 3-5 of their favorite coders from X-drive, and started what was basically the lean, mean version of X-drive. Because there was no crap Web 1.0 legacy code to work with, they had their coders write lighter, easier to use, but still kind of crappy code but added key features to connect all the files together.

Then they got people including themselves out to clubs and music places, and spreading the word. Well every local band in LA of any merit has at least 20 fans, so each of those fans signed up. And of course in the indie/dance/emo/goth/whatever scene, if you like an obscure band in LA chances are you like an obscure band in Ohio, and on down the line. Friendster was taking off at this time so there was an obvious model to crib from for certain features.

As it exploded, they realized that purely and simple, the features which increased pageviews and sign-ups were being able to let the bands (and by extension the users) customize the page, but always to have the music player right up front and ready to go.

That music player was the killer app which really accelerated the amount of bands, and then their fans that signed up in massive, massive numbers.

Being smart guys they rode the wave and reacted to the users immediately. Because of the light and simple code, which uses brute-force methods to get things done, they were able to always drop in new features and always, always increase pageviews.

So, in other words, music was the wedge because it's a massive connector. The true marketing droids only got involved when the company got its major funding/purchase by Intermix, who were the first to recognize the sheer power of the network and try to really monetize/track/ it.
// Anonymous Franklin // 4:53 AM

Franklin you're not even close. After Xdrive went under the founders formed an email marketing company that spammed the xdrive list (among other lists). MySpace was orginally another online storage company that had gone under, so the founders bought the email list and spammed that too.

At the time Tom Anderson was running a porn site called www.teamasian.com (look at the way back machine on Alexa to see what it looked like.)

That email marketing company was bought by Intermix, and it was at Intermix as employees of that company that the founders came up with the idea for MySpace. That's why Intermix owned the majority of the company.

The music element came later - at first it was just built to be a clone of Friendster.
// Anonymous Anonymous // 5:52 PM

Comments here:


Love the blog umair!
// Blogger David // 9:22 PM

NOT EVEN CLOSE. Tom Anderson was a circus performer in West LA. He had a band of midgets that carried out his every wish. This was after a brief stint with in Wrestling. Check out the archives on www.wwe.com.
// Anonymous Anonymous // 8:17 PM

Hi Umair,

After seeing more traffic numbers from comScore Media Metrix, I hope you flesh out the idea here:

>>The point is that it fails to capture real value from the social. On a percentage basis, MySpace's micromedia margins are richer - and willget richer.

Are you arguing that myspace's explict social networks create those higher margins? Does Google capture some of this value in the blogging/commenting dynamic?

>>I would also put Blogger down to the original Blogger kru - not to Google.

Agreed. I think it's also to Google's credit that they have left Blogger more or less to its own cultural/branding devices. I'd guess that many don't even know it is Google property.

Another interesting cultural contrast between Blogger and myspace is in the advertising approach. myspace asks "customize, but please don't cover the ads"; Blogger asks "customize, want us to run (our unnamed parent's) ads for you and cut you in?" If Google bought a myspace profile, the profile would be for Blogger.

// Blogger Anderson // 7:36 AM
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