Thursday, July 30, 2009

What Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, & Microsoft Does Right…and Wrong

From cloning to bear-hugs to street-fights, every trick in the trade is being employed in the new fight for mindshare between the internet giants and the wannabe giants. But it is also really amazing how little they learn from each other.

Who is fighting whom, and who is cloning whom in this newly intensified fight between the net giants? Facebook is cloning key Twitter features like micro-blogging and publishing, as well as bringing Google-like search capabilities into their until-now private user pages. Twitter is aping Google with an integrated search of tweets on their homepage, while Google is cloning Twitter’s real-time features with their now easily accessible ‘Recent Results’ as well as with Followers in Blogger. Yahoo and Microsoft have forever been following Google’s moves in the internet space, and Google on their part was wise enough to quickly incorporate some of Bing’s only advantages like news results and newer results into their search.

But what they miss out in reading others strengths is also amazing. Here is a list:


1) Asking Your Email Password

It was not Facebook that invented this audacity, but it was they who made maximum gains from the impudence of asking for your email password. They won’t spam or scam with your email account, but be prepared for Facebook’s neat bag of tricks with your address book. Thanks to this feature, even if you haven’t logged on to Facebook yet, the day you do, be prepared to receive many real-world friend-requests waiting – whether you like them or not!

2) Sophisticated Interface

If some web service has defined the Web 2.0 interface, it is Facebook. It not only wins in sophistication, but in sheer beauty. Facebook’s appeal before the young has a lot to do with its subtle cleverness in interface design that requires young brains to figure out. It is something still missing in competitors.

3) Spam Proofing

If you love spamming, you will hate Facebook. And if you hate spam, you will love Facebook. The efforts and controls that have gone into making Facebook spam-unfriendly are commendable. Most competitors are still to learn of its importance.


1) A Ticking Privacy Bomb

Facebook might prove to be a major privacy problem in the not too distant future. With access to millions of address books, and clever ways of finding friends and friends’ friends – whether the user needs it or not – Facebook’s current levels of ensuring privacy might not be enough.

2) Too Much Sophistication

Facebook is a bit too sophisticated for older users, who entered internet in the email-age or even before. Not too evident navigation, and almost-hidden key features are not attractive to even people in their 30s.

3) Too Much Friend Focus

Facebook’s focus on friends, friends, friends, and nothing else, might prove to be a dampener in the long-term. People also get on to internet for escaping real-world friends! Facebook is yet to awaken to this fact.

4) Lagging in Search

Facebook with search used to be an oxymoron until recently. Now there is a better search feature in beta, but it is no match to Google Search, and tons of content is lying waste in Facebook, undiscovered.

5) Lagging in Tweets

Similar to its attitude towards search, was Facebook’s attitude towards tweets. But they can’t be blamed for this. Much like most internet giants they too underestimated the power of a 140-character tweet. They are trying to remedy it now, but it is too little, too late.


1) Believing Limited is Valuable

We all thought that something needs to be unlimited for it to be valuable. The web was about unlimited-ness – unlimited space, unlimited emails, unlimited search, and what not. But the guys at Twitter realized that for something to be valuable, it has to be limited first. Enter the 140-character tweets. It was a paradigm shift like no other in recent web history. The 140-character limit forced the twitterers to at least think before they type, and edit before they send!

2) Focus on Real Time

Twitter also deserves credit for inventing the real-time web. While Google, Yahoo, and other search engines focused on delivering more credible but historical results, tweets represented the current buzz around everything – at least everything worth tweeting about. Agreed, tweets are not exactly reliable as search results, but what the heck if what you want is just buzz?

3) Followers

Another of Twitter’s almost original ideas, the concept of followers is the most blatant self-promotion tool that exists in the web today. With its clever mix of chosen celebrities with huge followers, Twitter gives off the impression that you too can be a guru, thought-leader, or celebrity whom others follow. Getting more followers is the craze in social networking today, much like the once popular link-exchange and click-exchange in search and web advertising. It doesn’t matter that many of your followers are automated porn-peddling robots. The concept of followers provides Twitter with something most other competitors don’t have – a reason to use it regularly.

4) Developer Support

It looks like this is a lesson Twitter directly picked up from Microsoft. Much like the simple DOS which kick-started Microsoft’s huge success with developers, Twitter was something too simple to have a developer community around it. But just like DOS, Twitter too came with a neat and well-defined Application Programming Interface (API) that enabled a huge community of developers writing programs and hosted services for all kinds of devices to access and extend the core Twitter service. The advantage? Tomorrow, somebody might invent another clever way to extend Twitter.


1) Spam Hell

Competition won’t kill Twitter, but spam would. If spam on Twitter continues to grow unabated as of now, it will soon be Spitter, not Twitter. Almost every other tweet you meet is to sell some junk. And it won’t be long before a twitter snapshot looks like your spam mail folder.

2) Got nothing to say?

This is a problem peculiar to Twitter. For many people, there is nothing to say to anyone. They don’t need Twitter. Even worse, they will never understand Twitter. The service is unattractive to such an audience – and that audience is the biggest - and Twitter needs to urgently invent something enjoyable in Twitter - as passive as checking your inbox or viewing television.

3) Too much focus on Followers

In Twitter, life is not worth living if you don’t have an ever-increasing follower list. It is a good initial bait, but it can be tiring too. Soon, twitterers are going to wear themselves out in trying to be a bigger Guru. This too much focus on followers is bad for Twitter, as even without many people following you, what you say has a reasonable audience on Twitter.

4) Tweets are not everything

Tweeting was a good invention, as it married micro-blogging with instant publishing before a sizeable audience. But micro-blogging is not the end, but just another tool that aids more established communication channels. Tweeting was a paradigm shift, but to believe that it is going to stay unchallenged forever would be foolish on the part of Twitter.


1) Bells & Whistles

Trust Yahoo to deliver the best interfaces. Filling up any Yahoo form is not only a breeze, and not only pleasing to the eyes, but surprising for its user-friendly features like intelligent suggestions and pleasant instructions. And these bells and whistles are available across their wide range of products.

2) Identifying & Nurturing Great Services

As things stand today, Yahoo’s only business strength seems to be this – they have been very successful in identifying and nurturing great services. Just two examples are enough – Flickr and Yahoo Answers. Both were pioneers in their category while Yahoo identified and bought them, but it is to Yahoo’s credit that they are still undisputed leaders in their segments.

3) The Best Spam Filter

Yahoo Mail’s spam filter continues to be the best spam filter around. While some competitors still bring some spam mail to your inbox, some others filter it to your spam mail folder, it is Yahoo Mail that blocks most spam mails from even entering your account.

4) Content

Yahoo continues to be the leading news aggregator, and their bet with content is not at all misplaced. At Yahoo, you will never be short of content – almost all of the world’s best content is syndicated there. Content will be one of Yahoo’s last bastions to fall.


1) Search is Getting Worse

Something is going wrong with Yahoo Search, or something is going great with Google Search. Once the de facto leader, then a viable alternative, and now just an also-ran, Yahoo needs to invent something big in search before they will be forgotten as a search company.

2) Portfolio Now Seems Smaller

Once the web’s largest portfolio of services, Yahoo is shrinking or competition is expanding. Yahoo can’t be pardoned for the too many missed buses. Blogger, YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, or even Google could have been theirs, once.

3) Poor Tools for Small Businesses & Publishers

Yahoo is fast ceasing to be of any use to the websites of small businesses and small publishers. Yahoo just doesn’t seem to have the tools or interest to support the new entrants into web. On the other hand, Google is quickly building up an unimaginably complex network of services for small businesses.


1) Focus on Sales

Microsoft first figures out how to make money. Then they do whatever it takes to make that money. Their model is a far cry from the first-free-then-struggle model of internet entrepreneurship. The core focus is sale, and on that focus they have built up the formidable Windows and Office franchises that are not going to die anytime soon.

2) Focus on Developers

Microsoft not only make money themselves, but through their support for developers and computer-makers have enabled thousands of software and hardware companies to make money. Once an also-ran in even the Windows Application Development space, today their portfolio of .NET has become the most preferred development platform not only in Windows, but several cross-platform niches.

3) A Different Take at Free

So, what if Linux is free? Windows was always free in some of the biggest emerging markets like China & India. Through a clever strategy of ignoring piracy for long, Microsoft ensured that Windows is the platform for the PC, worldwide. Now, with an equally clever strategy of bundling with computers, and a strict anti-piracy stance, Microsoft is making up for all that lost sales.

4) Never Stops Trying

Nobody believes that Microsoft stands a fighting chance against Google in search. Still, Microsoft carries on the fight. Bing might be just another round of effort, but remember, it is their best effort yet. And it never stops trying – after Bing’s lackluster performance comes a further effort to see whether pairing with Yahoo would help.


1) Everything can’t be bought

There was a time when Microsoft thought that anything fancy on net could be bought with hard cash. But Hotmail remains the only major consumer product successfully bought by the software giant. It missed out on major buys like Blogger and YouTube, and now finds itself faced with smart developers like Facebook and Twitter who won’t sell that easily, especially to Microsoft. Similarly, there was a time when Microsoft thought that a cloned piece of software could be given away for free to kill competition. But the anti-trust case has ensured that Internet Explorer is the last such victor, and Netscape is the last such vanquished.

2) Can be outwitted

The biggest blow to Microsoft in the web space is the fact that a much smaller and less resourceful company like Google could outsmart it. And that shows a great vulnerability. If Google can do it from a startup status, many other startups or reinvented companies have a fighting chance against Microsoft.

3) Where is the innovation?

Though Microsoft is trying hard in bettering search and other such problem areas, the company continues to suffer from a lack of groundbreaking innovation. If it needs to fight with the likes of Google and Facebook, they have to be very innovative.


1) The Biggest Provider of Free

Is there any other company offering this much for free? It continues to be Google’s ace. The fact that their services are largely free, doesn’t affect their quality a bit. In fact, the quality is more because they are free, as the free status is for a bigger aim – to conquer the world of information. Coming second in their core business of search is unthinkable at Google.

2) Active Where the Action is

Google has been successful in identifying some of the web’s biggest trends like text ads, video and social networking. And when new services like Twitter and upgradations like Bing appear, Google is quick to upgrade their own features for being competition ready. The length and breadth of Google’s offerings are unparalleled.

3) Well Integrated Offerings

All Google products are tightly integrated with the concept of Google Accounts and seamless transfer of information. For users it translates to an unbelievable ease of access to all Google services, and when the services become more complex like AdSense or AdWords, this integration is mightier.

4) Supporting All

Google is not just there for the big business websites or big publishers. In fact, small businesses and publishers will be pleasantly surprised at the Google tools at their disposal. That too, for free.


1) No Bells & Whistles

Don’t expect many bells and whistles in the Google interfaces. Google excels in the core functioning and not the interface. In fact, the slow upgradation of the Google products’ interface is now more noticeable due to slickly designed competitors like Facebook and Yahoo.

2) Too Many Missed Buses

Google too has missed many important buses. If any company could develop such runaway successes like Wikipedia, Facebook, & Twitter, it was Google. But the fact that it didn’t happen that way should be troubling for the company.

3) Great Features Remain Undiscovered

Google is not too good at teaching its customers how to best use their services to the full. Users often have to stumble upon key features, despite having an extensive help as well as discussion forums.

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