When one thinks of Google as a brand, the first thing that strikes is ‘innovation’. Be it the iconic ‘Gmail’, ‘Gtalk’ or their search engine itself, the products are engineered with simplicity and user-friendliness has always been kept at the helm of the stack of features.
Another such initiative by Google was ‘Google Buzz’, a social networking tool integrated within Gmail. It was discussed like any other new Google product, but what is intriguing to note is the way it failed to take off in the online space.
exchange4media spoke to industry experts and sought to find out why it didn’t create the ‘buzz’ and was it expected in first place. Also, what could have possibly worked in Google’s favour.
The Ailment – Was it a success or failure?
To begin with, the discussion demanded a call on the product being a success or a failure. Two of our three online experts thought it bombed in the digital circuit much like an anticipated blockbuster dies at the box office. Sanjeev Jasani, Vice President, OgilvyOne Worldwide, said, “Yes, Google Buzz has been a failure and the whole world has already sat up and acknowledged that. The Google we all know always launched its products first as a Beta (Gmail, Google reader, Chrome, etc.), but for some strange reason they went ahead and launched Google Buzz without putting it in Beta. What’s worse, it had huge implications on privacy, usability and functionality. The way I see it, probably they were feeling the heat from Facebook and Twitter, and in their bid to get ‘social’, they rubbed people the wrong way and launched a product that had huge issues.”
Adding to the discussion, Rammohan Sundaram, CEO, NetworkPlay Media Pvt Ltd, said, “Google Buzz is a failure simply because it is not reinforcing the purpose it was built upon! It was built to compete in the social sphere on the power of the Gmail registered user, that is fundamentally wrong. If that would have been the case, then Yahoo! should have easily been a winner in the social space, keeping in mind Facebook has 500 million users worldwide, if you look at Yahoo!, then it has 700+ million unique users worldwide, but does not yet have a successful social platform. So, the point is it is easier to build communication tools faster from a social space than vice versa. So, to me, Facebook can easily become a Google if it gets its act right, but I don’t believe that Google can become a Facebook.”
On the other hand, Mahesh Murthy, Founder, Pinstorm, believed that it was a failure due to its non-aggressive marketing. He stated, “It’s not been a failure technologically. It’s a really good example of how communication can change life by allowing real-time collaboration on a page seamlessly. But, it’s a failure of marketing – in not ensuring significant usage of the new technology.”
Possible Remedy – What could have worked in its favour?
Our digital experts had tips on the new product on how it could tip the other players in the same business. Murthy explained, “The key to marketing a product that involves collaboration is to get enough of a critical mass of users out there so that it crosses the tipping point. In that aspect, Google Buzz was more like an instant messenger than an email product. But sadly, they marketed it like they did for Gmail – giving out just a few invites at a time. This made collaboration happen only between very few people who got early invites and the big mass didn’t get an opportunity to try it out till it was almost dead.”
Jasani believed, “It should have first launched in Beta to test it, got substantial feedback and then modified it. That way, you test it on a few and don’t make a complete hash of it. Moreover, it should have taken care of privacy issues and had an opt-in mechanism built in.”
Sundaram interestingly added, “Goggle, with its enormous amounts of data, could have been successful had it built a social platform before Gmail. Gmail could have been a byproduct of Buzz, but Buzz can’t be a byproduct of Gmail, that’s where they have gone wrong. So, it is going to be tough for them to build one unless they acquire a large player, which was what the endeavour was when they concluded a transaction with Orkut, but somewhere lost the plot!”
Prescription – Where does it go from here?
True, the ‘buzz’ never happened, but it is still a dormant part of Gmail, the undisputed leader in emailing category. So, what lies ahead for the ignored tool? Sundaram answered, “I don’t think Google will let it die, because this is their one big hope of reviving their social presence. So, my belief is that they will mine their enormous amounts of data and probably might come out with a user friendly tool that encompasses a consumer need, if not in all aspects of Buzz, then at least in some of their properties like say photos and videos.”
Murthy believed, “Well, Buzz itself isn’t dead, merely confined in limbo. I believe someone soon – perhaps a breakaway group from Google or elsewhere – will take up the ideas from Buzz and not repeat the mistakes, and we will still enjoy a radically different type of communication.”
Jasani added here, “This is definitely not the end of Google. Absolutely not. They are way too big to sink. They are changing the Google Buzz experience every day and will react quickly because that is how they work. They will continue to dazzle the world by introducing new products in the future as well. But, the battle for the micro blogging space is truly lost and I don’t think they can regain ground.”
Cause & Effect – Does a flop show like this shake the online biggie?
Does a small effort going unnoticed affect the company that has had more success stories than a few unnoticeable failures? The answer was unanimous. Jasani emphatically replied, “No, it doesn’t. As mentioned above, they are way too big. In the digital space things happen every day. Soon this will be forgotten. Do you remember Google Wave? Well, that was a disaster as well, but has that reduced the number of Gmail or YouTube users? Not at all. As long as they continue to innovate and move on nothing can shake them.”
Adding his bit to the conversation, it was a big no from Sundaram’s side as well. He said, “No, I think this is not a letdown for Google, but a beginning of a process of reinventing itself. They have been striving hard to get hold of a large audience that exists in their space and failure of a product or two is just part and parcel of the game. They are so good in two aspects that covers 90 per cent of the Internet audiences worldwide with search and mail that they will at some stage leverage it to their advantage. ‘When’ is something that we will have to wait and watch.”
Murthy concluded, “Well, it certainly goes to show that a large size is no indication of how successful your new products will be. The digital product battleground is an even one – and it affords equal opportunity for entrepreneurs to create large businesses as it does to established stalwarts.”