Facebook, Google, and the mirage of "engagement"
I've been struck by a host of stories lately with headlines trumpeting the fact that people spend more time online with Facebook sites than at Google. Google, of course, has played into this narrative by positioning themselves as a social alternative to Facebook.
What's sad to me is that Google used to pride itself on the speed with which it helped you find the information you want, and then get out of the way. "Time on site" is a terrible metric for an information utility!
When I'm looking for the answer to a question, when I'm looking for directions or my next appointment, or directions to my next appointment, when I'm getting routed to interesting articles that I want to read, Google provides more utility the less time I spend on site.
There's a real danger here that Google will fall into the Yahoo! trap, forgetting who they are by pursuing the competition. Yahoo! was a terrific content destination, and lost its way trying to be a search engine. Might Google be doing the same in trying to become a social destination?
With a little time to reflect on the Google I/O announcements, I'm disappointed by how many of them were social time wasters rather than real improvements in utility.
I do think social should be an important part of Google's strategy, and overall, I'm impressed by the way they are integrating social across all of their products, but my advice for competing with Facebook is to constantly focus on how to make social data more useful - which may mean less time on site - rather than more "engaging."
Of course, both Google and Facebook time on site is dwarfed by the "time on site" of television, that vast wasteland of passive consumption. That ought to tell us something about the folly of time on site as a metric.
I want services that help me get more benefit from less time online, not services that take me further and further from time in the real world.
This may be why of all the announcements at Google I/O, I'm most excited about Project Glass. While the demo for Glass emphasizes how it can be a powerful vector for social sharing of experiences (that skydive was awesome!), Glass will avoid marginalization (I heard several people refer to it as "the Segway of 2012") only by focusing relentlessly on becoming useful rather than becoming engaging. It will need to slip into the background rather than being in the foreground, a tool for enhancing our engagement with the real world rather than our engagement online.
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- "When I'm looking for the answer to a question, when I'm looking for directions or my next appointment, or directions to my next appointment, when I'm getting routed to interesting articles that I want to read, Google provides more utility the less time I spend on site."
Google's decision to shutter iGoogle is exactly the type of decision that runs counter to the idea that you posed above. While I appreciate the Mobile paradigm on a Mobile device, I think that it is ill-suited for the desktop environment. A Dashboard utility such as iGoogle is much better suited for the Laptop/Desktop model, and doing away with it is doing a great disservice to the users of their products, be they Gmail, Calender, Reader, Tasks, or Android Devices.
The alternatives Google has suggested (implied really as they have made nothing as useful as a suggestion for an iGoogle replacement) with the alternatives being direct competitors of Google, which seems a terrible business decision, or third party providers of Dashboard services which unnecessarily exposes the Android/Gmail user base to unnecessary third party risk over their data should they choose to expose their Google account to these third party applications as the alternative to iGoogle seem at best short-sighted.
While some have rightly pointed out that the users of the free services that Google provides are not their customers, it seems that Google has lost sight that these users of their free services are actually the product which they are selling to their customers. It is the targeted advertising based on all of the data which Google has mined from our emails and search histories that Google makes its revenue from. If they do not cultivate that product, instead turning their backs on that base of users, they will run the risk that lose a valuable asset in the process. It are those eyes and those clicks that they count on to make their money, and if those eyes and clicks are looking at Bing or Live or Yahoo or Netvibes instead, then Google is losing revenue to those competitors.Jul 9, 2012
- Agree. Less is certainly more. And, why DO people spend more time on Facebook? Because it can be so gawd-aweful slow?Jul 10, 2012
- Jul 11, 2012
- Here's my longer reaction on tinyurl.com/7mwuhky- Latest post - On Platforms and Stickiness -Jul 12, 2012
- Jul 19, 2012
- Time on site is the new KLOC - sadly.Jul 25, 2012
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