The Truth about the Facebook/Google War

October 29, 2008

Google embodies everything that we dream the internet can be.  Their search engine transformed the way we found information.  And through the years, it seems like they lead the way for other internet companies to build their own space.  They represent freedom.

Facebook represents the newer, more united internet.  A network of people that grew out of control because it filled a void that we never even knew existed.  They lead the way in an area that has taken off in the last 3 years.  They are the epitome of social networking, and continue to grow their aspirations almost as fast as they grow their reach.

For these two companies, to say that they don’t directly compete would be very shortsighted.  Almost every online company must be aware of others, and these are the two giants of our time.  They are far and away two of the most innovative companies on the net, and they have enough money and power to dream and accomplish many things that we have yet to even contemplate.

As they grow, they also grow fearfulof what other internet powers meet do.  Though they will not openly say it, they must be afraid of losing out on the next big thing, or being beaten to the punch of some new project they are working on.

The poll from my last post shows that the majority of respondents felt that it was a good thing that these companies have been fighting back against each other.  And of course, in the traditional business sense, competitionis a good thing.  The internet, which represents freedom of ideas and information, must be a competitive marketplace, with no one company having too much control.  In this way, the pressure these companies put on each other will lead to each of them working harder.

But competition, perhaps especially on the internet, can make companies fearful and greedy.  This is an area that we have only started to understand.  Internet startups and entrepreneurs have proven that there is a limitless value to the online world.  We have only scratched the surface of its use.  And it seems that if these two giants worked together they could unlock more of the hidden magic in this marketplace than working against each other.

In my eyes, competition is good for the consumer when a market has limits.  When companies battle over set market share, they add value to their products and get better.  But in a field that has no limits, does a head to head battle make sense?

The internet is still a fresh, relatively undiscovered field.  In the coming years, we will no doubt develop new uses that are yet to be conceived.  And it is going to take companies acting on their own terms to continue to innovate and develop these new areas.  A Facebook vs. Google internetmay not be the best scenario for anyone involved.  The two companies share many of the purest and most innovative qualities that have made both of them successful in the online world.  They should continue to develop these commonalities and find a way to coexist without competing in order to get the most out of the internet in coming years.

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Google vs. Facebook: What does it all mean?

October 24, 2008

It is well documented that Google and Facebook do not like each other. They can barely stand to be in the same room or at the same conference as one another. It’s a strange relationship.  It’s not like Yahoo and Google, which is like a sibling rivalry in one industry. These are two of the most powerful companies on the internet, both with clear aspirations for the future of the web, who fear each other just enough to make coexistence impossible.

Awhile ago I read an article in Time magazine about the future of the internet, and who will have control.  The three options: Apple, Facebook, and Google.  The reason: Each are in a position to expand their territory, have the money and ingenuity to make major moves, and each have a very different belief when it comes to what the internet is best used for. The article analyzed the good and bad aspects of all three, but did not take the time to address whether it is good or bad that there is that kind of battle for control.

Should the battle even exist?Let’s take a closer look at the war waging between Google and Facebook.  First, their underlying culture as it relates to the use of the internet are conflicting. Google believes in the freedom of information and the ease of which people can access it. Whereas Facebook holds sacred the anonymity of its users and closes its network to outsiders, including Google.

When Facebook wanted an advertising partner, they went to Microsoft, another company that is not too fond of Google. Open Social, the project Google started to make social networking more inclusive, did not extend the invitation to Facebook. There is a war brewing.

Let me know if you think that an internet where Facebook and Google hate each other is good or bad for the future of the web. Is it a pure case of competition being good for the consumer? Or is there an underlying negative aspect to these two powers going toe to toe? I will let you know what I think in my next post.


Separation of Products and Communities (part 2)

October 22, 2008

This is a follow up to my previous post on companies using web 2.0 technologies to add value to their brands.

The question to ask yourself when developing your online communities, how much do you separate the product from the “society“?  Do you have to be a customer to join the group?  Do you have to pay a subscription to join the conversation?  And how much control do you take to manage the way the network works?

The answer will be different for everyone.  There are multiple ways to do it right.  But at the same time, there are multiple ways to do it wrong.

Rule #1 – Too much control is always a bad thing.  Control, for certain companies, may be important.  But it will almost always kill a social network or community.  The great thing about the major networks is the freedom that people have to do whatever they want and talk about whatever they want.  They find people with things in common, and they network.  Now with your company, the common bond may be the fact that they love your products, but you have to let them do what they want with it, or you will chase some users away.

Rule #2 – Whenever possible, separate participation from spending money.  Make the community free, an add-on to your services.  Maybe they have to be a member of your website, but let them do it at no cost.  And do not try to sell them on anything as part of the network.  Give them stuff to talk about, reward them with options.  But if you push them, they will run.

Rule #3 – Listen.  Instead of controlling what they say and what they talk about, just pay attention to it.  You can learn a lot about your customers by just letting them interact with each other.  Use the information to better structure your marketing and your product offerings.  It will make a difference.

Rule #4– Let them spread the word.  Seth Godin talks about ideas the spread.  Give them great products and services, let them talk about it, and give them the microphone and the power to spread your message.  Soon you will find that you have created a free marketing tool.

Innovating the way your customers interact with other customers as well as your company is a natural path to growth and development.


Separation of Products and Communities (part 1)

October 20, 2008

The Web 2.0 world that we live in has made it popular and fashionable to create communities online.  The onset of social networking platforms like MySpace, YouTube and Facebook have made connecting people online easier than ever.  And now, companies that sell products, either online or off, have found that it may make sense to create their own communities of people online.

Now, the process can be done in multiple ways.  You can create a group within a larger, established community.  You can create your own community using a platform like Ning.com.  Or you can build something from scratch and put it right on your own website.  There are positives and negatives that come with all of these options, but they will all lead you down the right path.

The question then becomes how to use them, and whether or not to control them.  Seth Godin points out that many times, when companies try to have “the best of both worlds”, most often they end up with nothing.  It is important that you have a clear focus for what this community will be all about.  Will it be a place for your customers to discuss products?  Will you use a Facebook group to promote new products?  Will you host online services through this network?  What is the goal, and what value is it adding for your customers?  Sometimes too much control can take away from the value that a community will have for both you and your users.

In my opinion, any company can make use of Web 2.0 technologies to add value to your brand.  The most popular companies have used them to generate feedback through direct and indirect conversations with customers.  Blogs, wikis, even discussion boards (though ancient) have all given users a voice.  And social networks make their voices even louder, as they interact with each other and the company at the same time.

This is a real strategy that can help your company grow and develop.  But don’t take it lightly.  Put in the time and effort (and money) to do it right.  A well executed networking strategy will help you create better products, deliver a clear message to the public, generate online buzz and word of mouth marketing, and so on and so forth.

More on this to come…


Get Over the Fear – Change Something

October 16, 2008

Innovation is, in essence, change. And change has a way of striking people in an odd way. Change is too often regarded as unwanted, unnecessary, and scary.

In businesses and industries that have been around the block, change is often shot down. People equate change as an admission of wrongdoings, or a waste of money and resources, or a burden.

And the people that suggest or bring about change, take the risk of being shunned or hated for it. The reason that the US economy has led the way is that we accept failure. We see challenges and opportunities as good things, and we praise those that take chances. You can fail, but still create real opportunity. Failure is not the end. But it is still far too hard to change things.

The greatest business innovators in history have had to face the doubts of their peers. And often, those doubts turn to personal attacks. This has led to a fear of standing out, or being different.

Henry Ford faced criticism for creating a car for the masses. There is no need for everyone to have a car, they said. Steve Jobs faced criticism for creating personal computers. No one will want a computer in their household, they said. “THEY” were wrong.

Realize this, most often, the people that are against change are those that are profiting the most from the way things are. They are not thinking about what is best for the industry, or the people they serve, they are thinking about themselves. And they see change as harmful to them, because they are so good at the status quo.

It takes a strong mind and an even stronger will to face these doubters head on. If you have an idea, you have to know that somewhere, someone will not like it. Don’t be afraid of defending yourself. Don’t be afraid to stand toe to toe with the status quo. Don’t be afraid to be different. That is how things get done, and that is how we, as a country, move forward.


When We Need to Retool

October 12, 2008

There are times when an industry has gone as far as it can go on their current practices.  At times like that, it becomes necessary for a new player to come along and shake things up.  Most often, it takes a new player because the cost of changing the way an existing company does things is far to great for anyone to get accepted.  There are too many highly paid board members and CEO’s with too much pressure from stockholders to suggest drastically changing something within an organization.

As an example, I will use the struggling Airline industry.  Nothing seems to be working for them now.  At one point, it appeared that Southwest Airlines has come into an industry that needed a new player at the right time to change the way things work.  But it is apparent now that the change that should have been felt was not widely accepted.

When you have to charge someone an extra $20 to change their reservation on the phone, there is a problem.  In affect, you are scamming someone who is already your customer.  This person has already made the decision to fly with you.  They have already paid money, choosing your service over that of your competition.  So why make them question that decision?  Why make it any harder for them to get what they need?

When you have to charge people to check a bag based on how much it weighs without announcing that to them before they come in, there is a problem.  If I purchase a ticket online, and it does not warn me that I will pay an extra $15 because my bag is one pound over a limit, what am I supposed to take from that?  What happens the next time I need to fly, am I going to happily choose your company again and pack a little lighter?  No, probably I will do some more research and do everything possible to choose another carrier.

So what does the airline industry need?  Where does it go from here?  For starters, it needs an outsider’s persepective.  It will need a new leader, one that steps up and challenges the things that today’s giants take for granted.  How can you reward people for being loyal?  How can you save money for the company, and relay that savings to everyone who chooses your service?  Fuel is expensive, but is there a way to pay for rising fuel costs by cutting your expenses in another way?  Stop looking for little ways to “steal” money from customers.

It’s time for someone to start to think a little differently about the way that we fly.


Take a Day for Innovation

October 8, 2008

In a small business, it is common to caught up in the little details that dominate your day to day activities. Routines get built up, small projects take longer than expected, and you end up stuck doing the same things day in and day out. That is why it is necessary to take a day, or at least a few hours, from time to time to think outside the box. And what better day to do this than a holiday.

There is something that we are doing at my company that I wanted to share with you as a suggestion. On Columbus Day, which is this Monday, instead of taking the day off, we are having an “Innovation Day”.

On Innovation Day, we will stay away from the phones. We will stay away from the computers. We will stay off of our email. We will not break out the task list and go through the details of every tiny project we have to work on.

Instead, we will spend the day in solitude or in work groups, and brainstorm. The goal of the brainstorm is that there is no goal. This offers a chance to speak and think freely about the business on a larger scale. It gives people the chance to voice their opinions about where we have come, and where we should be headed. And it allows time to focus on NEW projects and ideas that could be put to use in the near future.

On a day when most people will be taking off or getting caught up on the little things, we will be innovating. And scheduled innovation time is always a good thing, because even if nothing big comes from it, it inspires and energizes a group of people to think about things a little differently. And that is good for a company of any size.