Google’s Buzz Tweaks Are Lipstick On A Pig, And Why Google 2010 Is Like Microsoft 1998

Just because something can be done doesn’t mean it should be done.

February 9, 2010, the day that Google Buzz launched, will go down in history as the date that Google crossed the line from good to evil. But not for the reasons most are citing.

Buzz critics, including yours truly, have focused primarily on Google Buzz privacy problems.

But perhaps the bigger problem with Google Buzz is its inherent anticompetitive nature. A comment on my first article about privacy problems with Google Buzz states:

You have to admit leveraging an installed base to enter a market is not unprecedented:

Google = Microsoft(?)

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/feb/14/google-gmail-buzz-john-naughton

Yes, that’s it. Google 2010 feels a lot like Microsoft 1998. Consider the parallels:

Microsoft

Google

year

1998

2010

dominant product

MS Windows

Gmail

inferior product

Internet Explorer

Google Buzz

excluded competitors

Netscape Navigator

Facebook, LinkedIn

litigation

US DOJ vs. Microsoft

TBD?

losers

consumers

consumers

In 1998, Microsoft gave preferential treatment to its own browser. Google is giving preferential treatment to it’s social network in 2010:

Social Network

How To Find Contacts Via Gmail

Twitter

1. Go to https://twitter.com/invitations?service=gmail.

2. Enter Gmail username and password.

3. Click the “find friends” button.

4. Wait for response (API sometimes times out).

5. Select those you want to follow and click the “follow” button.

LinkedIn

1. Go to http://www.linkedin.com/findContacts?displayFindContact.

2. Click the “Check Webmail” button.

3. Click the “Gmail” icon.

4. Enter Gmail username and password.

5. Click the “Upload Contacts” button.

6. Wait for response (API sometimes times out).

7. Select those you want to connect with and click the “Invite selected contacts” button.

Facebook

1. Go to http://www.facebook.com/find-friends/index.php.

2. Enter Gmail email address and password.

3. Click the “Find Friends” button.

4. Wait for response (API sometimes times out).

5. Give up if you have a large number of Gmail contacts (note: this process usually times out for me for this reason).

Google Buzz

auto-magically

Regardless of the outcome of the US DOJ vs. Microsoft case (the US “lost” and Microsoft “won”), the ultimate losers were consumers, who are still paying the price (malware, viruses, botnets and the like) of being force-fed Internet Explorer.

I am not suggesting that Buzz has security flaws, although it may. I am suggesting that Google has crossed the line. Lawsuits will come. User choice will be sacrificed. Uses will lose.

We all cheered for Microsoft when it was the tiny startup that challenged IBM in the DOS wars. As we did with Rocky, we all rooted for the underdog. Then something happened in the sequels. The underdog won. Then it became the defending champ. Then we stopped rooting for it. The Rocky sequels sucked.

So, too, with Google. Google began as the tiny startup that challenged AltaVista, Yahoo, WebCrawler, Excite, and the like in the search engine wars. Google won. Google is now the defending champ. I have stopped rooting for Google.

We need a new underdog.

Erik J. Heels writes about technology, law, baseball, and rock ‘n’ roll. You can choose to follow @ErikJHeels on Twitter.


External Links: How Good Underdogs Became Evil Monopolies

  1. US DOJ vs. Microsoft re Internet Explorer
  2. EU vs. Microsoft re Windows Media Player
  3. Browser Wars: IE Usage Peaked in 2003
  4. Google Buzz Warning: Force Feeding Users Can Result In Vomiting

Internal Links: Related Posts

7 Replies to “Google’s Buzz Tweaks Are Lipstick On A Pig, And Why Google 2010 Is Like Microsoft 1998”

  1. I don’t think the parallels are as deep as your tables make them out to be.

    Google can’t “automagically” export to third party sites because it would violate people’s privacy. They do the next best thing, which is providing an open API and an export mechanism for their users. What more could you ask for? What more does any company provide to third parties?

    Google also can’t monopolize its services like Microsoft was able to do with IE because the channels they use are more open. If users wanted an intel box in the 90s, they had little choice but to turn to Windows, and therefore they got IE with no need to consider buying Netscape. You can’t make that argument in the realm of modern social media. With minimal effort, I can go to whichever social network (or search engine) I want to participate on. I don’t think Google is at risk of antitrust legislation.

    –Robby

  2. Greetings Robby,

    I agree that Google’s dominant product is search, but there are 175 million Gmail users (according to Comscore.com).

    The auto-magic part is how Google imports new friends for Buzz via Gmail. What Google should do is treat Buzz like it does other social networks: as a separate product that has to compete on a level playing field. Buzz users would then have to connect to Gmail via the Google Gmail API as Facebook does now.

    Finding new Facebook users via Gmail is a painful process whereas Buzz is integrated with Gmail. This parallels nicely with how Microsoft pretended that Internet Explorer was part of the Windows operating system. And made it hard for users to disable/remove the product.

    And legal action (FTC complaints) have already begun, albeit focused on privacy, not on antitrust. But give it time.

    And don’t shoot the messenger.

    Regards,
    Erik

  3. It’s true that there have been FTC complaints, but to my knowledge they have been mostly filed by competing companies with ulterior motives (e.g. the Apple showdown). I don’t think these inquiries will lead to any debilitating lawsuits. I still have trouble with the Microsoft analogy.

    If Google merges Buzz with Picasa, is that any different than how Facebook merges status updates with photos? Is Google merging Buzz with Google Reader any different from how Facebook merges status updates with Notes? Should Facebook be required to keep their services separate unless explicitly directed otherwise by the user? What defines something as one product other than a common name?

    The Microsoft case is an interesting one. They were able to put Netscape and others out of business by shipping a free browser with a monopolistic operating system. That would not work today. Browsers are now a commodity thanks to Mozilla, Apple, Google and others.

    Today’s social sites are valued by their audience and their content. I could launch a Facebook clone tomorrow, but nobody would join because their friends are on the real thing. Google has access to a lot of data, and that gives them a leg up in providing high value content. I see that it’s a competitive advantage, but I don’t see how it could lead to a successful antitrust suit. People can turn to Facebook without any cost or effort. It’s literally as easy as pushing a button.

  4. Greetings Robby,

    It will be interesting to see what happens when Facebook launches its webmail service to compete with Gmail. If I were Facebook, I’d make the email service a standalone product.

    And to test the Microsoft analogy, you have to look at it from the right side. The issue isn’t how easy it is to “switch” from Buzz to Facebook. (That would be like “switching” from Internet Explorer on a PC to Opera on Linux.) The issue is how easy/difficult it is to disable the (anti-competitive monopolistic new product) Buzz while continuing to use GMail. Just like MS made it hard/impossible to remove IE, Google has made it hard/impossible to remove Buzz.

    IE did not belong in the operating system.

    Buzz does not belong in Gmail.

    Google knew exactly what it was doing when it launched Buzz:
    – Google has a “Trusted Tester” program to let outsiders test new products pre-launch, and it chose not to use it.
    – Google could have worked with TRUSTe.com to make sure that its privacy practices live up to industry best practices, but it has chosen not to. (Google is not a TRUSTe sealholder, http://www.truste.com/blog/?p=505, but its competitors Yahoo, Microsoft, and Facebook are.)
    – Google has minors who use Gmail but chose not to screen for this.
    – Google could have integrated Facebook, LinkedIn, Plaxo into Buzz but chose not to.
    – Google chose to launch Buzz with auto-follow enabled.

    “The Seven Habits of Successful People” by Stephen R. Covey teaches that “responsibility” is the ability to choose one’s own response. Google chose its response. And it acted irresponsibly.

    Google’s bungled launch of Buzz may not result in antitrust litigation. But companies are what they repeatedly do. And Google’s launch of Buzz was a classic case of a monopoly injecting a competing product into an existing one without giving its users any real choice. In so doing, Google 2010 acted a lot like Microsoft 1998.

    Regards,
    Erik

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