The Apple Store isn't the Only Place Intelligent People Go to Die

Apple announces an iPhone and people stand in line for it, despite the manufacturer never having entered the phone market before.

A new line of computers is announced with some new feature never seen before in the platform, and people make a rush on the store to get their hands on the new sexiness.

Apple announces a new line of iPods and the rush to get one takes over the market with a hysteria only eclipsed by the rush to buy other Apple products.

I wrote the post, The Apple Store: Where Intelligent People Go to Die last year but since then I’ve noticed that Apple really isn’t the only company that has this effect on its customers. Google does as well, in a slightly different way.

The obsession with Google is less about consumer usage and more about press and media obsession. Whenever Google does something, it is covered ad nauseum.

Google has now released their G1 Android phone, a first for a company who, like Apple, has never been in the phone business. The G1 phone was announced earlier in the year and is built on the Android platform, an open source code base that seeks to challenge the way phones are done in the age of the iPhone.

T-Mobile is the carrier of choice for G1 users. It is available in the United States and will be available on October 30 in the UK with the same carrier.

Fortunately there hasn’t been a consumer obsession with the first generation Google product yet, as there is already a security flaw that could allow malicious keystroke logging software to be installed on the device. What do you expect from a company who is perpetually in beta?

My point is this: Google is a great company that produces highly innovative products that always run a chance of revolutionizing the landscape. But, they are subject to the “Don’t buy Generation 1″ rule. Consumers and media need to be careful not to simply give the Big G a pass because they are the Big G. Approach every product with skepticism looking to falsify their claims. If they pass the test, then use the product. Google, Apple, Microsoft, or any other company with any other product out there. It takes time for a product to fully gain trust, and in the meantime, you don’t really want to have security or stability problems.

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Google Shiny is Not as Hot as You would Think

Much has been said about Google Chrome Shiny this week. Google stormed the internet by announcing that they too had a browser that web users could be proud of. They claimed the best of all browsers while slipping in some legal language into the EULA that revoked privacy of user browsing data while using the product. That was quickly changed when their bluff was called.

Regardless, Shiny has created quite a buzz with people like Gabe Rivera, the founder of Techmeme, claiming a 14% market share of all Techmeme readers using Shiny. That may be the most dramatic number I’ve seen, but certainly folks have been bandying around their numbers as if this was a huge coup de grace.

Let me remind you of what Brad Feld said in 2006: The first 25k users are irrelevant. (Disclosure: Brad is an investor in Lijit)

Got that? Irrelevant.

They are all kicking tires. There is nothing “new” here, as far as I can tell, and anything Google is greeted with a bunch of tire kickers early on. People want to get in, test things out, see how it works and then decide on what works for them.

You’ll see another surge in market share when Shiny becomes available to the Mac, and those users will be irrelevant as well.

That is not to say that Google cannot command a noticeable market share, but there are big hurdles to overcome:

  1. The browser market is saturated already: IE7/8, Firefox 2/3, Safari, Opera, to name only a few
  2. Internet Explorer, Safari and, well, Konqueror maybe are the only gifts that keep on giving. These are the browsers that are bundled with the Operating Systems and it is the only way to ensure market share. Google needs an OS in widespread adoption to compete on this level
  3. Google says they are innovating, but there is nothing innovative about the browser. It is built on Webkit. That is, it’s Safari.
  4. Google privacy concerns will continue to keep hawks like myself away.

The real measure of success is not going to be today or tomorrow. It’s going to be in six months. After the tire kickers run their test drives and uninstall from their systems. I’m guessing they can command a solid 2% market share by June of 2008. No better than that though. It will always be a niche browser.

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Google Blog Platform

A few years ago, in the early days of blogging, Google made a play to buy the Blogger platform. What occurred after that was a long period of time where Blogger received no love from their new parents. Also during this time, Movable Type came along and was then eclipsed by WordPress. WordPress went from a project to a business with the advent of Automattic and WordPress.com while the software remained an open source project for anyone to use and build upon.

It wasn’t until WordPress.com came along that we began to see some forward motion with Blogger. Google tied it to their authentication system and added some spit and polish, but nothing earth shattering. One of the biggest failures of Blogger is not the platform, but the management. It is the single largest source of splogs (or spam blogs) in the world – a failure of leadership that can be placed squarely at the feet of Google management. Meanwhile, WordPress.com is an open and airy environment that is policed actively (but passively, if that makes sense – no one is being a Nazi about content, but spam is ruthlessly dealt with).

While Google continues to release a parade of new products (anyone tracking the release of Google Shiny(Beta) today?), some of their largest and most potentially lucrative assets continues to meander aimlessly in an industry that continues to expand at a relentless pace.

Here’s a comparison between Blogger and WordPress.com

Blogger WordPress.com
Cost Free Free*
Personal Domains Yes Yes*
Template Control Yes CSS*
Javascript Yes No
Discoverability No Yes
Remote APIs Blogger Movable Type, Metaweblog, Atom, WordPress
Portability w/Domain Hosting only WXR Export
* Optional Paid Upgrade

Of all the migrations I’ve ever made, the biggest challenge exists around Blogger blogs. I’ve moved WordPress to WordPress, Movable Type to WordPress, Blogger to WordPress, Serendipty and Expression Engine to WordPress. I’ve moved TypePad to Movable Type. Blogger to Movable Type. You get the point. The most difficult migrations are off of the blogger platform.

Mark Evans suggested this morning that Google buy WordPress.com for name recognition and platform familiarity. The idea is to bolster the suite of services that Google offers now that it will have its integrated browser. Mark argues that WordPress.com has tons of traffic.

Here’s a hint though. Google doesn’t care about traffic. Plus, they have Blogger. Granted, Blogger sucks but according to Compete, it gets more traffic anyway.

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So here’s what we know. Blogger gets more traffic, but savvy users like it less (particularly the UI and SEO). We also know that Blogger is a closed platform and that it is laden with spam. We know that Blogger is under very little active development, or their release schedule is abysmal.

We also know that WordPress is an open source platform that invites external developers to hack on it. We know there’s viable business in using the platform (hey, you don’t have to pay for active development on the platform!). We know that there is a hosted and self hosted version currently and that the WXR format makes it easy to transfer data around. We know that Akismet is open source and can be used to kill spam as well. We know that there are tens of thousands of people developing themes, plugins and offering knowledge. We know that it is possible to have a hosted version of WordPress in the vein of Blogger. We know Google engineers are smart.

So here’s what I propose instead. Leave Automattic alone. Let them keep innovating and building their enterprise client list like the New York Times, Dow Jones, and more. Matt has no interest in Google (at least he didn’t) as his philosophy is largely incongruous with Google (open source via mostly closed source).

Instead, Blogger should be transformed into an WordPress MU platform. Google engineers can solve problems such as providing FTP to other hosts, as Google has, with the new WP_Filesystem class that is used for plugin and automatic upgrades.

They can use their cloud to provide DNS services to point Blogger blogs to a different host, as they do now. They can tie in Google Auth with the available hooks. They can even port existing Blogger theme offerings to WordPress themes.

They retain the traffic and immediately compete on a close level, at least by all tangible metrics, with WordPress.com. Of course, there is that little thing about management styles where WordPress.com wins hands down in the current paradigm, but… thats something that can’t be addressed by technology.

Personally, I think it’s a solid play. May not happen, but it probably should for Google’s sake.

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