Staying likeable

Nicholas Carr has an excellent article on how the internet, rather than removing middlemen, has spawned a mega-middleman in the form of Google.

For much of the first decade of the Web’s existence, we were told that the Web, by efficiently connecting buyer and seller, or provider and user, would destroy middlemen. Middlemen were friction, and the Web was a friction-removing machine. We were misinformed. The Web didn’t kill mediators. It made them stronger.

We know Google is a big hairy 800lb gorilla. What’s remarkable is how loved a gorilla they are. Often when companies are perceived as too successful, pressure groups form to turn on them: witness the scale of dissent around McDonald’s, Tesco, Wal-Mart, Starbucks et al.

Staying likeable when you’re massive is not easy.

So how does Google do it? There are many reasons, but I think the big three are:

  1. Accept no substitutes
    Google aren’t dominant in search because they bullied their way onto our toolbars – they’ve earned it through being the best. I’ve come to believe that, were I to use another search engine, I’d somehow be getting substandard results
  2. Free to consumers
    Pretty much everything Google offer to consumers is free: search, gmail, image search, Docs (an excellent alternative to Office) and more. Imagine how Starbucks could quell its detractors if it could give its lattes away for zip (btw – could they do that??).
  3. Constant wow factors
    From streetview to moon maps to witty gmail features, Google come across as a company that does stuff for fun – they love life, they love the web and they’re not a place where killjoy accountants have wrestled control.

This all adds up to a feeling that Google is on our side. Who cares if industries get shaken out or that a corporation knows our intimate secrets? It’s more than a fair bargain, thanks.

Can they sustain this? Sure for the next year or two, but people move on (or retire rich) and cultures change. Can the next wave of Googlers continue to woo us? Will a future CFO be tempted to put ads on the home page? Will shareholders demand ‘new ways of monetisation’?

Will we still love them tomorrow?

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