Friday, October 31, 2003

Google and Longhorn

How does an act of branding reveal problems with both Google and Microsoft?

Originally posted October 31st, 2003

Popular commentary suggests that Microsoft's new generation operating system (code-named Longhorn) represents a threat to Google. There are lots of blogs discussing how Google should respond. But there is a deeper issue.
(compiled by Seth Godin and Ramit Sethi)

If you search for "LONGHORN" on Google you will get loads of references to Microsoft's latest software, at Microsoft and third party websites. You will also find some websites referring to Longhorn cattle and Longhorn sheep, and some of the places they can be found.

We must assume that Microsoft marketing people were aware of these associations, and of the opportunities they provided for some mild humour at Microsoft's expense. After all, it is standard practice for IT-literate marketing people nowadays to run a proposed brand name or project name through Google, to see what comes up.

But now try putting "LONGHORN BEETLE" into Google. You will now find a load of other websites, referring to various species of a highly destructive pest. I imagine that Microsoft marketing people were not aware of these associations.

Of course, if you had scrolled through pages and pages of Google search, you would have come to the Longhorn beetle eventually. But the point is that most people only look at the first few (or few dozen) pages. If you don't already know about Longhorn beetles, Google will not draw your attention to them.

Anyone who uses search engines regularly is aware of their limitations. While there are concerns in some quarters about Google's increasing dominance of the Internet search space, this isn't just about Google, since competing search engines may suffer from the same limitations. (While competition is important commercially, it doesn't always give us a genuine choice.)

How did I find out about longhorn beetles then? I looked in an old-fashioned reference book. Not very difficult - but the problem is that using Google (or Internet search engines generally) is so easy that people don't always remember to use other sources as well. Google was okay once I knew more precisely what I might be looking for.

This is one of the pitfalls of using the Internet for serious work. It is not a serious pitfall, as long as people are aware of its limitations, and take sensible precautions. But in its corporate enthusiasm for the Internet, Microsoft is often one of the first organizations to fall into any Internet pitfalls.

Google becoming dangerous when people start to act as if the Internet was the only available source of information, and Google the only way of finding stuff
Microsoft remaning dangerous, Google becoming vulnerable as long as Google represents a source of Internet value as yet untapped by Microsoft
Microsoft remaining vulnerable when its employees themselves get carried away by the wonders of the Internet, and fail to take ordinary precautions.

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