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May, 2007:

Google Reader – now with off-line capability

I did not intend to have two Google-related posts two days in a row but yesterday I didn’t know that today Google was going to launch Google Gears. Google Gears is a new offering that allows developers to build off-line web applications. What better way to demonstrate that than by improving arguably the best RSS reader on the market, Google Reader, by adding off-line access to it. Scoble has good early coverage of Gears on his blog.

There seems to be some strong synergies between Google Gears and other platforms getting a lot of press of late such as Adobe Apollo or Microsoft Silverlight. I need to complete some additional reading before understanding the friend vs. foe line each of these development environments. For some additional background, I wrote an earlier post on Adobe Apollo after seeing it demonstrated at Web 2.0 Expo.

My colleague, Greg Merkle, and I have had a number of conversations about the merits of various readers. I’ve used Google Reader for some time and consume all of my RSS using it. Greg refused to fully convert from his heavy Shrook usage because of his need for off-line access to his feeds. Looks like Google just won over another user.

Other Mentions:

Other Good Follow-ups:

Google Flight Risk Towards Competitive Innovation?

Over the weekend, I read a provocative article, The Final Days of Google: It is going to be an inside job by Robert X. Cringely which I found via a Valleywag post. It is a very good article that I recommend reading if you have the time but the quick summary is that Cringely’s hypothesis is that the company that gives Google a run for its money will be started by the talent and ideas being incubated at Google today.

While I think any company runs the inherent risk that employees will leave to start their own profitable venture, that goes with the territory and also applies to almost any type of firm in any type of industry. But my sense is that Google employees, while incredibly intelligent and talented, pose no greater risk towards building a competitive innovation than anyone else. Check out the article’s comments which tend to agree with that premise. Here are a couple of reasons why, starting with the weakest argument:

History

Historical track record is a great predictor of future outcomes. If you look at the recent technology leaders and innovations that have taken place, they have not occurred from founders flight of established technology leaders. Google itself came out of the academic arena as did Yahoo! I’ll admit, I have not done the proper diligence on this point, just going off memory. Happy to be challenged or verified.

Copyright

Copyright is a strong deterrent to the scenario. Google implemented the 20% time program a key competitive advantage to develop future products and business. As such, they clearly have policies in place to protect that advantage. Any work product that is developed at Google is the property of Google. My sense is that would apply to both the engineers and the researchers completely their work with Google funds. So, it would really take an astute individual to hold an idea back and strike it out on their own, but it most certainly couldn’t be in the search space.

Power of Google Platform

We must not lose sight of the value of creating and developing new ideas on top of the Google platform. Many of the ideas fostered by the 20% program are built upon the framework of the Google search architecture. It is not going to be a seamless transition to simply take that new idea into a new self-standing company even if copyright (discussed above) was not a problem. It is going to take a strong disruption to unseat Google, especially if it is going to be in the area of search. Time will tell if it will be something we already know about like semantic search written about today at Read/WriteWeb.

Final Thoughts: Googlers will leave to start their own ventures. It would be naive to think that they wouldn’t. Google has a keen ability to find and foster both technological and entrepreneurial talent. That will not stop in the people they hire at Google, it stays with people forever. However, it doesn’t mean that the new ideas that former Googlers develop will come from the Google idea bank nor be in direction competition with Google’s business.

Related Reading:

Views on the Bubble

Recently, Michael Arrington posted Silicon Valley Could Use A Downturn Right About Now causing some interesting and probably healthy conversation. This includes the Valleywag criticism within their coverage The Genie is Out of the Bottle and The Bubble isn’t all bad. Goes with the territory when you are a member of the Technology/Media Triumvirate (TechCrunch, GigaOm, PaidContent). A couple of views jump out at me on the topic overall.

Arrington’s Comments

First, I find it interesting that Arrington, someone who stands to profit most from a healthy technology economy, is the one calling for a downturn. Downturns and bubble bursts have typically not been kind to those whose readership depends heavily on the industry remaining in full throttle mode. Looking back at the first bubble, publications like Red Herring, Industry Standard, Business 2.0 and Wired were the rage and when 2000 hit, the burst hit them as hard as it hit the start-ups they wrote about. As much as I love reading new media outlets covering today’s upswing, I am not confident that there is enough business for them if the bubble bursts and we see a similar downturn.

A Bubble?

Secondly, the bubble itself. I don’t live in the valley so I can’t reflect on Arrington’s view on how “hostile” or different the valley has gotten, how far we are from the purity of entrepreneurism during quieter times. I can reflect, however, on the first bubble from my time at About.com and living through the hype and the burst. The parties were thriving, start-ups were coming out of no where and features were launching as full-fledged companies that had no shot of surviving on their own. In that, I do see some similarities to the late 90’s. But for some reason, I don’t see it as a bubble like before.

My View

I may be wrong, but aside from the incredible acquisitions taking place, I don’t see the same behavior in the venture capital community where unsound ideas are being funded. Yes, there is the set of companies that are simply being built for exit, and they are numerous. But do we see 12 different online bookstores trying to be the next Amazon.com? I don’t believe we do.

The thing that concerns me most is the fact we live in a new web, much of which is based on platform capabilities and web services. So it isn’t as easy to see the duplicity of effort as we should have seen in the late 90’s when it was so obvious. I do not see as many copycats and large number of companies trying to do the same thing (except for perhaps the social networking space). What I see more is each company has their own lense on problem(s) they are trying to solve. The issue is that no economy is going to support so many players in the platform, web services, mash-up space and there will be losers as the environment shakes out. That is healthy.

But is it a bubble? Not if healthy economics and survival of the fittest kicks in. And not if there are winners in each of the key verticals of the new web. In the last 90’s there were a lot of start-ups simply launching with no real problem to solve or customer base to address. That I see as a fundamental difference to today.

The “Echo Chamber” Reverb

The infamous “Echo Chamber”. If you have a blog that concentrates on any topic regarding the web, you are pretty much right in the center of it. It is a term you hear a lot out of the valley. For example, Fred Wilson has 19 different blog posts where he uses the term. My personal favorite is from his post, Outside the Echo Chamber, where he describes his encounter with a typical American:

Our driver said, “why is it that Google is so much better than Yahoo when they are both owned by the same company”.

That type of comment really makes one think. It is challenging to keep perspective about the views of the web outside the “echo chamber” when we are so involved in the web, the innovation taking place around us and the great solutions. As Geoffrey Moore would classify us, we are the innovators and we are the early adopters; there are whole other classes of people AFTER the chasm.

And on that point, does the average person actually care about Twitter? Well, I can’t say that I do either, I haven’t been able to relate to the hype (Renee Blodgett is with on this) so I would welcome some enlightenment about it. But overall, we should understand how the reverb affects us, our immersion in OUR own immersion.

But then again, for every comment like the one above, I get pleasantly surprised by others. Like when my uncle who is trying to price his house said “well, I guess I’ll check out the other houses in my neighborhood on Zillow“.

Other coverage and resource on the Echo Chamber:

Customers Do Not Always Know

Very often it seems to that firms make a fundamental mistake by following the age old adage “the customer is always right” and by extending it to the “customer always knows”. And in the world, and especially in the world of web-based products, that is simply not the case. In case anyone stops reading right here, I am NOT saying that customer input is not important and should not be valued.

10 Faces of Innovation

I’m currently reading The Ten Faces of Innovation by Tom Kelley at IDEO. It is a fantastic book that I highly recommend to anyone who does product development whether it be web, packaged or even service. Tom makes important points about where good ideas come from and that breakthrough ideas rarely come from the customer directly. He even states that “Most customers are pretty good at comparing your current offerings with their current needs…”

Tom goes on to make his point even more clearly by re-stating a quote from Henry Ford when he said:

“If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse.”

I cannot begin to tell you the number of times in my prior and current roles where the sentence is said “we should ask customers what they want”. That simply misses the mark. Or sometimes your were on the money but by the time you do it, the target moves. Steve Jobs once said, “You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.

So the solution is to always aim for the pain point. The questions to customers should always be towards the pain points and to what solves a particular problem or objective that they have. Asking customers what they want in your future product is often the equivalent to asking someone what they want for dinner on November 8th, 2011; they simply do not know.

Customer input has its place and it is an invaluable input to understand there here and now. Is your product solving their needs? What should it do right now leading you directly towards incremental improvement ideas. But be careful when looking for customers to spell out where your next innovation is going to come from. They probably do not know and they may not even initially jump for joy the first time you explain or show them it.