Google’s latest product, Chrome, a bare-bone, from-scratch webapp-oriented browser, has triggered a lot of controversy and talks within the 24 hour it was launched:
- the presentation was first leaked – and the PR were very cool about it, explaining what it was, and that the whole thing should be ready by the next day; definitely an adult company, not worried to have its big bang communication intercepted;
- will it respect privacy ? Matt Cutts details why everything should be fine.
- the most interesting talk is about how it is a step towards being a web platform, an OS on top of the OS; once again, Nick Carr’s pinpoint arguments draw the most accurate critic.
- some were surprised and expect the relationship with Firefox would suffer from it: I can’t talk for the psychology of the (now other) open-source browser managers, but I guess they still make wads of cash from the embedded search invite (80% of ad click-through), the two browsers are still very different and they now focus on mobile, and making something as good as Opera; so I think anyone making noise about how Internet Explorer is not the only available option is welcome so far. At some point, the browser market need to be easy-to understand, for the remaining non-Firefox users not to be scared away — but with four major, well-differentiated browser for each platform, the story is still easy to tell.
Obviously, the key aspect (and Google’s most assumed goal) is to point at hogs, blame the bad webmaster, and put Google’s talent to make this lean on the pedestal. Fair game: it’s a needed police work, and crowd-source it to browsers is the smart move, just like Herdict is the right way to point at bad dictators.
However, my main observation is from pages 21 and 22 of Google’s user-manual/CS-phylosophy-discourse comic. To me, the main usability difference ot the easy access to other browser: I can’t toggle from one to another without taking my mouse (yes, it happens to prove a big deal when you spend as much time on-line as I do); I’ve been craving for a keyboard shortcut, and I’ve tried in vain JS-scripts, extentions and Wundrbar, and until Ubiquity, this was just not working.
Well, as you saw in my last post, I was as happy as a fish with my new gadget — and came Google, announcing that it was now easy to toggle from Amazon’s to IMBd’s, to Webster’s search engines. That, a couple of month after Google annouced Unversal Search, dubbed with exactitude and a Lord of the Rings reference: “One to Bind Them All”. GUS was clearly a convenient move that insured them a monopoly-like domination on search engines; Chrome search engine interface is like-wise convenient, but goes the opposite direction on the market-strengthening scale.
Why would Google cut the only branch it is standing on? Ads are still they almost exclusive source of revenue, and although Chrome gives a great boost to webapps, the next promissing market for them, boosting the browser’s usage by giving more search-flexibility, that sounds like an expensive gambit.
I have two anwsers, with two angles: one econometric, the other UI-based.
A mistake many people are making when considering “a market” is to assume that ‘shares’ are every thing; Google, with its peculiar, friendly attitude towards competitors, has learnt that usage is essential, and that you can re-inforce competitors, loose shares, but do so in a way that makes the market grow so much you actually make more money. Considering a service that has more interest if your friends use it (say: are you crazy to say to someone: ‹‹ I can’t remember the URL, but look up for [that word] and it shoudl be the second link. ››) having diversity might encourage your friends to subscribe, because an alternative, simpler, better tailored offer suits them better then nothing. Then, the incumbent might have interest in encouraging competition. That strange econometric pattern (growth is faster then competition) has proven quite unique, and strong, on on-line market: Jaiku founder loves Twitter, because they made his idea worthwhile, whithout having him pay the huge SMS-bill, and he could sell his company and expertise at a better price to Google.
The UI perspective could therefore be: Google might have interest in encouraging people to use more search engines; the more they do, all the better for them because this is not substitute, but complementary of a Google usage.
Or we could take a completely different axis, and see Google once again where they always try to be: where the information is. Knowing what you search on other engines is essential to “organize the worlds’ knowledge” — not to copy it, that would be wrong, but to offer an Actually-Univeral, instead of a Google-only-Universal search engine. What would you say, as a competition authority, if Google sent its users to IMDb anytime you look for an actress’s name? It already does, more or less. What about Amazon? Barnes&Noble? What about a result that compares both? And Zillow, for an adress and a real-estate keyword? E-vents, for an artist whose concert is nearby and soon? etc. That is not being a search-engine, that’s a meta-search engine: a new service, another market. The fact that everyone will be driven to that service is —therfore— not relevant, it is not predatory.
Bu opening the search-engine toolbar, Google seems to be doing something as important and encouraging webapp, and far closer to home. Both are very promissing, both for users’ comfort, and Google predominance; whether that is evil is once againt something forth-coming events will say. This unusual move seems to prove that Google hasn’t lost its mojo, not yet.