Is Google Heading Down the Same Path as Yahoo?

This post is a continuation of last week’s post, “What Cameron Learned From 10 Years of Doing PR for Apple” which ended by asking if Google could eventually end up like Yahoo. It was a sad ending for the company that was the Google of its day. Verizon paid only around $5B for it (it was worth $125B in 2000). One of the reasons commonly cited for Yahoo’s prolonged decline was simply “a lack of focus.” A recent New York Times article, “Yahoo’s Sale to Verizon Ends an Era for a Web Pioneer” has the details and there are some eerie similarities to Google.

googlebillboard small

On the one hand, Google is doing well at the moment. Android is extremely popular, their stock price has tripled in the past three years, and their advertising business continues to generate massive revenue ($50B in 2015). However, the trap of losing focus is a seductive one. Are they beginning to head down the same path as Yahoo? There are some worrisome signs.

GSearchFirst, the “2016 Doodle Fruit Games” is certainly strange and complex. It even begins to break their strong philosophy of keeping their search homepage pristine. Also, if you have four hours to spare, you can compare Google’s “Code I/O” conference keynote to Apple “WWDC 2016” keynote. If you don’t, the TL:DW (too long, didn’t watch) version is that almost everything Google announced is still “coming soon.”

Even Google’s most recent major product releases have been met by yawns (and head scratching) by the Android community. Their new video calling app Duo seems to work well, but adds additional fragmentation to an already crowded product area. Are new Duo users really going to convince all their friends to switch from Skype, Facebook Messenger, FaceTime, WhatsApp, etc.? This is especially problematic when users have been burned by Google discontinuing products that don’t immediately succeed such as Hangouts, Reader, Wave, and others. Even if the Duo does generate interest, only 14% of Android users have upgraded to Marshmallow (the version released in October 2015) compared to 85% of IOS users.

GMailOn the positive side, Gmail is still the king of email solutions with excellent spam filtering and a clean interface  while Google Maps is still the best option for navigation with accurate routing and traffic information. So is Google doomed? Not in the near future at least. There is still no better option for searching the internet and that alone will insure that their advertising business remains insanely profitable. Is there reason for concern? Definitely. With the incredible pace of technological change, it wouldn’t take much for Microsoft Bing or a scrappy search engine like DuckDuckGo to make a dent in Google’s critical search business. Hmmm. Sounds like a good topic for the next post in this series. Have a great weekend!

What Cameron Learned From 10 Years of Doing PR for Apple

A recent post about the Cloud Computing company, Digital Ocean, got me thinking about what makes certain corporations superstars in their industry. It seems to be an elusive combination of outstanding products that add value to peoples’ lives and great communication about those products. Cameron Craig highlights his five most important communication lessons in the Harvard Business Review article, “What I Learned From 10 Years of Doing PR for Apple.”

  • Keep it simple
  • Value reporters’ time
  • Be hands on
  • Stay focused
  • Prioritize media influencers

It’s a fascinating read and the article was so popular that he wrote a short follow-up on LinkedIn called “One more thing.” This post explained the importance of Apple’s Surprise and Delight philosophy as well as the benefits of in-house versus outsourced marketing. I worked with Apple before, during, and after their “turnaround” and saw their acoustics team apply these concepts. Apple went from one acoustic engineer using the anechoic chamber as a storage room to multiple state of the art chambers staffed by the best and brightest acoustic engineers in the industry. We were all “surprised and delighted” when even the first iPhones were a breakthrough in cell phone audio quality.

ApplePainting smallThe pros and cons of Apple’s products are constantly argued, sometimes quite vocally. For example, a recent Reddit thread “The Galaxy Note 7 is miles ahead of the iPhone” has over 1,200 comments. However, the fact remains that Apple still adds value to a massive number of customers and consistently communicates that value effectively. It’s a lesson many tech companies ignore at their own peril. Even Google, with a virtually unlimited marketing budget has some questionable practices like announcing news too far in advance. Yahoo, of course, is the ultimate recent example because less than a decade ago, it was in Google’s dominant industry position. Could Google succumb to the same fate? The next post in this series will explore some of these questions.

Exploring the Digital Ocean of Cloud Computing

A recent Monthly Recap introduced a company called Digital Ocean (DO) that provides virtual servers for software developers which run “in the cloud.” If you are unfamiliar with this concept, it’s fascinating and their minimalist homepage has a 20 second animated GIF that explains it.  To summarize, you click a few buttons, wait 55 seconds, and can then login as a superuser to your very own barebones Unix server complete with Internet access. A basic server can be created for an arbitrary length of time for just $0.007 per hour or run continuously for only $5 per month. In either case, the price is the same: 30 x 24 x $0.007 = $5. There’s no hardware to configure, no monitor/keyboard to plug-in, no USB memory stick needed. Just click and poof, a server magically appears ready for use.

Needless to say, this service has become extremely popular and scrappy little DO has been compared very favorably with massive solutions from Amazon (AWS) and Google (GCE). However, DO’s founders certainly have had a rough path to their “instant success.” You can see from one of the founder’s public LinkedIn profile that he has spent years in a wide variety of roles honing his skills.

DOFounder

He is clear about the challenges he has faced along the way. In his description of his position as President of ServerStack, he says, “Where I learned how to do things wrong for a decade so that we could make DigitalOcean an overnight success.” He is even an active participant on Quora answering a wide variety of questions on startup strategy including questions on his own company like, “Is it still worth to copy DigitalOcean?

DOCreds

Also, as I mentioned in the previous post, DO has crowdsourced their documentation. It’s a genius idea. Many techies love to play with servers and the incentive of up to $200 for writing an in-depth tutorial makes it even more compelling. To their credit, DO has made it easy by providing “Writing Guidelines” that explain how to write a technical article describing their services and a comprehensive author application.

The result has been a set of 1,379 tutorials covering all the major features of their products which are available at no charge. There’s always so much to say about companies that seem to be run well with the right intent, but I’ll close by simply posting DO’s Core Values again. While “Love is what makes us great” is my favorite, the rest provide that glimmer of hope that there are some companies out there that continue to “Think Different!” and still succeed.

DOCoreValues

Monthly Recap: The Hard Work (and Love) Behind An Instant Success

This month’s posts covered a wide range of topics.

Do You Know Where Your Customers Are?” used Google’s concept of micromoments to demonstrate the importance of the fact that a company needs to be present when and where a customer needs to find them. Today many high tech companies in niche markets still do not utilize the most basic online tools such as Google, LinkedIn, and Email marketing.

Just for Fun… Computer Hardware Then and Now” was a brief tribute to the massive computing hardware of yesteryear. It ended with the observation that in a way, computing has come full circle from large centralized mainframes to personal computers with local storage and back to cloud computing running on large centralized datacenters.

Finally, “Pokémon Go: The Hard Work Behind An Instant Success” provided an overview of the decades of technical and creative genius that have gone into making Pokémon Go the massive success it has become. It focused especially on the conscious design philosophy developed by it’s chief designer Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of classic games like Mario, Donkey Kong and Zelda.

DOInvoiceSoon after writing these posts, I came across Digital Ocean, a company that demonstrates several of these concepts. They provide cloud based virtual servers for software developers. I have dabbled with Linux for decades, starting in the 1990s when I installed an early version of Slackware Linux that was distributed on 24 floppy disks in order to run open source scientific software written in Fortran. Today, Digital Ocean can deploy a cloud based Linux server in under a minute that can be used for less than a penny an hour.

The next post will explain the technical details, but my ah-ha moment came when I was reading their documentation. I came across a post “Digital Ocean’s Writing Guidelines” that explains how to write a technical article describing their services. Digging deeper, I realized that they have completely crowdsourced their documentation and even pay up to $200 for accepted articles. As a result they now have almost 1,500 tutorials. There is some controversy about this practice, but overall it seems like it has been good for both Digital Ocean and their writers.

DOCoreValuesIn the digital world, this company is considered an instant success. They are highly funded and the second largest web hosting provider in their technical niche. However, the founders have traveled a difficult road to arrive at this point. This is another topic for the next post, but one reason for their success might be buried at the end of a very long, “About Us” page. This is where Digital Ocean has published their Core Values. The last of these is “Love is what makes us great” and that might be one of the most transformative values of all.

Pokémon Go: The Hard Work Behind An Instant Success

I tried to resist the urge to write about the Pokémon mania that has swept the planet, but the lure was too strong. Maybe it is because I have loved and followed Nintendo for decades through their many ups and downs. My wife and I still travel with two ancient Game Boy Colors so we can compete in epic classic Tetris matches on long flights. However, to give this post a slightly different twist than the hundreds of recent articles focused on Pokémon Go, I’ll provide a brief overview of the philosophy of the company behind the game.

Despite more technologically advanced hardware, one Nintendo’s key strengths is the unique “fun-ness” of their flagship games. This is a result of a conscious design philosophy developed by it’s chief designer Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of classic games like Mario, Donkey Kong and Zelda. An article in Kotaku magazine, “What Makes Shigeru Miyamoto Tick” explains it well including the importance of game sounds and something the Japanese called tegotae. Tegotae refers to that satisfying feeling of connection between the player and the action on the screen. If you’re interested in more detail on Miyamoto’s fascinating life and work, the New Yorker article from 2010, “Master of Play” is outstanding.

Nintendo has even spawned academic works such as the beautifully titled, “The Legend of Zelda and Philosophy: I Link Therefore I Am.” With chapters like, “Egos, Dyads, and the Social Symbolic,” it is clear that there is a lot more going on in their games than plumbers saving princesses from gorillas (i.e. the premise of the classic game Donkey Kong). Speaking of articles about plumbers, The Ringer recently published a post, “Mario Is Living the American Dream” with the subtitle, “How a humble plumber taught us to love video games — and to never give up on the princess.” I still remember the hours of fun I had rocketing that humble plumber around the crazy world of Super Mario 64. Now, over a quarter of a century later, Super Mario Maker has inspired a generation of makers to create their own versions of the classic game. The beautiful book that goes with the game is a piece of art in itself and the game is well worth buying… for your children of course.

If you’ve been living in a cave for the past few weeks, here’s a little Pokémon Go spoiler to end this post. It’s fun at first, but gets addicting and exponentially more difficult at the higher levels. As usual, ArsTechnica has the statistics and charts to prove it in the post, “How Pokémon Go starts punishing its high-level players.” Maybe you don’t “Gotta Catch ‘Em All,” but it sure is fun catching some, especially when it inspires a great walk!

Artwork from the book included with the Nintendo game, Super Mario Maker
Artwork from the book included with the Nintendo game, Super Mario Maker