The end of Google’s honeymoon?

It sounded like your typical arch rival, but when Bill Gates announced to the world that “the honeymoon with Google will only last a couple more years,” was he right?

The world has certainly turned Google-Ga-Ga, with Search, Gmail, Adwords, Analytics, AdSense, and Toolbar causing a rampant storm. I’ve read countless news stories and blogs that proclaim Google’s march to the desktop as a wake-up call for Microsoft. Google can now search within the local machine, it will eventually push the internet boxes as a replacement for Windows and eventually take over the world.

Now, I’m certainly not criticizing Google, but this kind of talk seems crazy to me. Google has a powerful and technologically advanced search application. They have built a beautiful search architecture and packaged it into a winning business model. The launch of AdWords and AdSense was pure genius in a cost-per-click market that was serious and unconvincing, but I, for one, have serious doubts about Google’s immediate impact on Microsoft’s monopoly.

I use Adwords, Analytics and AdSense on a daily basis. All my email is combined into one Gmail account, which I read through the Google Desktop toolbar. Google is my search engine of choice and overall, I am happy with my Google package.

But there are complaints and they are growing.

Google’s interface is straightforward. Of course I hear you cry: why would you want to mess up such great technology with cheap varnish? Well, for us technical-minded folks maybe, but I know a lot of non-technical folks (and let’s face it, there are billions of them) who find this very simple approach extremely counterintuitive. Take Gmail, for example. Aside from a powerful search feature, Gmail scores pretty low when it comes to usability. Most of the non-tech people I come in contact with (I’m talking lawyers, professors, middle managers, pretty smart people) have abandoned Gmail for the familiarity and usability of Hotmail. At Hotmail, Microsoft provides a highly polished, integrated product that takes a newbie by the hand and guides them down the path of the email garden. It may not have 2 gigabytes of storage and a great search feature attached, but a couple of folders and a delete button seem to work quite well for most people. Like I said, I use Gmail on a daily basis, but I can appreciate what these people are telling me. Of course we are talking about a beta product, so let’s not stop at this …

Google accounts do not communicate with each other. Often times, I will have to log into my Adwords, AdSense, and Analytics account within minutes of each other, and will be prompted to log in separately for each. This drives me crazy! In Passport, Microsoft has simplified the desktop login process, opening a full set of web-based services in an extremely usable way. Sometimes it seems like Google is trying to keep me out! I would love to see a centralized login from which all Google accounts can be accessed.

My point here is that people demand a polished, easy-to-use experience. Currently, Google is making it difficult for non-technically minded people to access the products on offer. An example can be seen in their help files. Just a couple of clicks on the Google Analytic help files will return numerous 404 error pages. Surely with such a powerful search tool, a 404 should be unheard of. Why, instead of a 404 page, does the king of search not provide me with a list of possible places or sites that could help me? To organize the world’s information, unless it is not available, you will have to settle for a 404 error screen, sorry!

Google has grown very fast, and in some ways, I think the company has been surprised by its own success. The exponential growth of AdWords has generated so much revenue that Google is throwing money in various directions, building Yahoo 2.0 in the process. Many of Google’s services are admirable. Google Search and Google Books have and will change the way humans store and retrieve information. But Google is no match for Microsoft. In fact, in a couple of years, it could be Google that is threatened. Google has a killer model in the Search-Adwords-Adsense triangle. They don’t need any other services to survive in a financial sense, so perhaps we should be grateful that they provide some of these services for free. But on the one hand, I hope Google will take the time to consolidate and improve the usability of its products before they start to pursue even higher aspirations. Google is powerful, but it fails to attract those who are not interested in technology as easily as others. Sure, you can organize the world’s information, but let everyone access it when you’ve done it.

I don’t want the Google honeymoon to end, but I have a feeling it’s about to. Let’s hope they do the work necessary to make a marriage work!

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