Category Archives: Google

Two Dodgeball Founders Quit Google

And they announced it on Flickr, which is ironic, kinda, since it looked like Dodgeball was going to be Google’s Flickr — a semi-trendoid, fairly simple community application with viral uptake…and more question marks than zeroes on the balance sheet.

What went wrong? No follow-through and no support from Google, which seems to be off chasing other shiny objects instead of tending to the products and talent in which it invested. This may be another data point that demonstrates that tactical is the new strategic.

Because I am craven, I whipped out a spreadsheet to figure out how much money the two founders might have walked away from. It’s impossible to know the dollar amount without knowing how much Google paid for it and whether they had investors, etc., but since they were less than 2 years into what was probably a 3-4 year earn-out it seems like the number must have been non-trivial, yet not psychotically large, again all depending on what the purchase price was and whether they had any investors. But my point, and I do have one, is: good for those guys for following their passions and not buying into the myth of the golden handcuffs.

I should mention that I am/was a enthusiastic user of Dodgeball and I still ping my contacts every so often (mainly to let me wife et al. know where I am). It would be a pity if Dodgeball underwent an unfortunate transmogrification now that two of the founders are out the door.

How To Coexist with Google: Answer Your Email

About a month ago I was having a talk with someone who was interested in Approver.com. They’d tried the site and liked it, but they couldn’t believe that I’d have the audacity to compete against Google.

To be honest, competing against anybody didn’t enter my mind when I built Approver, since I built it to solve a somewhat narrow document-sharing problem that had bugged me over the years and at the time there was really nothing like it. At any rate, what Approver does is sufficiently different that what anybody else does shouldn’t cause us to lose much sleep. An internet business is way more than a bunch of web pages and a database. Yes, we have an in-browser word processor too, but in some respects, we come to praise Microsoft Office, not to bury it.

But this person I was talking to wanted to know how a small team could possibly build a business that could possibly withstand the Google juggernaut.

Set aside the fact that, for whatever reason, Google doesn’t execute in a particularly overwhelming fashion across more than a few of the product areas it competes in, not for lack of trying. I’ve blogged about this before, although you don’t have to take my word for it: statistics say it more compellingly than my Google-dissing potty mouth ever could. Google is no 800-pound gorilla, they’re not Microsoft circa 1995, and internet businesses can certainly compete on a lot of different levels with Google in the room.

"Noreply" emails are okay in certain situations. But sending out an email message pertaining to a revenue-generating activity, then telling the potential customer that you don’t actually want to hear from them, is completely ass-backwards.

A lot of big companies fall into this trap. Remember when a lot of big banks shut down their branches in the 1990s because they’d decided that coming into contact with customers cost too much money? The joke was that the ultimate design for a future bank branch would have a moat and barbed wire around it. Google’s passion for automating everything and minimizing contact with real people is the internet version of the bank branch with the barbed-wire moat. I’ve seen eBay run into problems with this from time to time, but Google seems to be raising it to an art form.

I’m religious about looking at all the feedback email and support requests for Approver.com myself. I’m going to keep doing it until they come and haul me away. I’ve gotten a few startled emails from users who couldn’t believe
that I give out my personal email to everybody who registers for the
site. I figure, if I require you to give me your email address to sign
up for my site, it’s only fair that you should have mine, too. Is that
totally insane of me? I suppose time will tell.

If I don’t have time to look at the mail that users send me, I really shouldn’t be in business. The common response to this (usually offered by internet dudes who have never run their own businesses before) is "oh, that will never scale." But one need look no further than Craig Newmark to see an example of a nonlinearly successful internet business person who somehow finds time to do this well, and to do it himself (although I’m sure that with millions of users, Craig has at least a little help these days).

I should mention that I was originally trying to reply to Google to let them know that the link they referred to in their email — the one that would hypothetically lead me to pay them money — was broken. Oh, well, I’m they’ll find out about it eventually from somebody, or maybe they’ll write a Python script to take care of it or something.

Wikipedia founder says to challenge Google, Yahoo

Link: Wikipedia founder says to challenge Google

The on-line collaboration responsible for Wikipedia plans to build a search engine to rival those of Google and Yahoo, the founder of the popular Internet encyclopedia said on Thursday.
Wikia Inc., the commercial counterpart to the non-profit Wikipedia, is aiming to take as much as 5 percent of the lucrative Internet search market, Jimmy Wales said at a news conference in Tokyo. "The idea that Google has some edge because they’ve got super-duper rocket scientists may be a little antiquated now," he said.

Interesting that people are making Google into some sort of omnipotent 800-pound gorilla, almost as if they want it to take on the role that Microsoft had in the 1990s. But with hindsight, we know that the myth of the omnipotent Microsoft was just that, a myth, and it’s definitely the case with Google today. No company can do all things well, and there will always be opportunities for disruptive upstarts — we shouldn’t let the existence of a big, successful company suck all the oxygen out of the room.

An Ad Upstart Forces Google to Open Up a Little

Link: An Ad Upstart Forces Google to Open Up a Little

"Because traditional networks are blind, I’ve always assumed that many of the places where your ads come up are on B- and C-level sites," Mr. Klein said. "With Quigo, you know it’s on ESPN.com, not Joe Schmo’s sports blog. It’s a premium site, and you’re willing to spend more money."

Maybe I’m missing something here, but this seems a little thick-headed. Internet marketing is about clicks, not how good your ad looks on an "A-list" site. (Unless your goal is to impress people with the size of your ad spend as opposed to driving quantifiable results for your business.) So if Joe Schmoe drives more clicks to your site than ESPN, doesn’t that make Joe’s blog an A-list property by definition?

Google Calendar on Mobile Devices?

Speaking of getting all my information through my mobile phone, I have started to use Google Calendar in a big way. However, Google Calendar explodes spectacularly on my phone, which may cause me to dump it if I can find something better. Is anybody using a web-based calendar that works with Windows Mobile that they like? (I should point out that I don’t want replication here; I’m done with replication, permanently. I want a web calendar that also happens to work with Windows Mobile’s web browser.)

Update: I have started using 30boxes and it is tremendous. Only thing it’s lacking is the ability to import my Google Calendar data, but I’ll do that manually over the course of the next few weeks.

Don’t Charge Money for APIs that Accelerate Your Business

I’m doing some marketing for Approver this week, including the press release I mentioned earlier but also some other stuff. I’ve been familiar with the Google AdWords product but I’m using it seriously for the first time to promote the site this week.

The user interface to the AdWords site leaves something to be desired. It’s slow. It’s not well organized. Some of the most important information (like whether a keyword you’ve bid on is actually displaying in search results) is buried in the user interface. And useful tools created to help you correct ineffective bids are accessed off to the side instead of integrated with the rest of the site.

AdWords is a complex product, but it’s clear that the interface wasn’t designed organically as much as it was bolted together over time. I understand how this could have happened, and I really empathize with the folks who are responsible for keeping this multi-billion dollar train running on time.

At one point, as I so often do, I threw up my hands and said "I need to hack together something that this user interface isn’t letting me do."

So I looked into using the AdWords API, but hit the brakes when I noticed that they charge for access to it. Even worse, it’s far from clear just what the charges are. (Confidential to AdWords team: what is a "quota unit"? If you’re going to set up a crazy system, define your own lexicon for it, and expect people to pay money for it, the least you could do is link to definitions and documentation.)

Setting that aside, charging for an API like this is lame. It’s like selling tickets to get in to a grocery store. You might be able to get away with it if you run the only grocery store within 500 miles, but it’s not going to win you any friends. And at the end of the day it’s self-defeating for Google — the whole point of AdWords is to capture value in exchange for business results, not tax users for creating applications that help accelerate Google’s business.

When I was at eBay we charged for the API for a few years. Defending that to developers was one of the most difficult parts of my job. The only honest defense I could offer was that charging for the API imposes a tax on usage which ensures that developers use the API efficiently. The unspoken flip side of that is "if we made it free, our servers would get the crap pounded out of them."

I suspect that imposing a tax as a blunt-force method of imposing operational efficiency in the absence of 100% stability and uptime is what’s going on with the AdWords product. But even when eBay was charging for access to the API, we still provided a way for little guys to get access for free, at least on a limited basis. AdWords doesn’t seem to do that today, which is a pity.

(eBay did make its API completely free shortly after I left, and the sky did not fall, as far as I know.)

I suspect that we haven’t heard much about the AdWords API tax since it started back in November because APIs are a sort of esoteric and mysterious thing to the folks who cover Google. There could be another reason, though: the big SEO guys (who are likely the heaviest users of the AdWords API) aren’t going to complain about this much because it has the effect of suppressing or eliminating potential competitors. Which isn’t good for Google’s business either.