Dear Google, you're so misunderstood
And it's a shame.
I recently watched a fireside chat with Bill Gurley of Benchmark Capital in which he discussed why Google should |be very afraid| of what Amazon has built, calling this dilemma a "funnel reversal."
"Well, what happened is over many years, Amazon has built up this logistics framework and their one click feature and their Prime program to the point where the consumer has zero anxiety about the quality of the product, immense trust about the deliverability, down to a day and a half for most people, less than a day for some items. They trust on price. That doesn't mean they are the absolute lowest price, but people don't think Amazon's trying to get 'em.
So, now, for many of the people I know, they don't disclose Prime numbers, but someone was out saying, I think it may be 90 million? You start your searches with Amazon with Prime checked. And then the second thing you do if that doesn't work is you uncheck Prime. And then if that doesn't work, you go to Google.
This is what I call a 'reversal of funnel', Google has gone from being the starting point to the search of last resort and that's pretty powerful.
As companies can improve the bottom of the funnel that it's so much better, you go around Google.
As people go around Google, it loses out on a highly lucrative part of search, which is e-commerce. When you are looking to buy stuff, Google can charge more for ads."
This is spot on, but it's not Google's biggest problem. In fact, Google is already well-aware of this "Funnel Reversal" thing and the proof's in their latest pudding - Android 6.0 Marshmallow.
Google's answer to funnel reversal is called "Now On Tap" and it just changed mobile search, entirely. It's the kind of feature that will likely become normalized and minimized, further forgotten once it's commonplace, but it's a glimpse into the future of our devices, software, and our communication. Forget about the initial flaws and bugs, Now On Tap is awesome and it's only going to get better.
Run through these scenarios for a sec:
1.) You're having a little texting sesh with a pal about dinner plans tonight (see below). Before you've even thought about whether or not this place, Reposado, is open for business or thought about finding directions, reserving a table, etc., Google already has scoured the web to deliver streamlined results for Reposado - which you just casually mentioned to your friend. Menus, navigation, phone numbers, reviews pop up in an easy-to-digest card. Google just Googled for you. So, mid-convo, you can just ask via voice or a tap, "Are they open?" or "Take me there" or "Call them." You didn't need to do any search, it's already done for you. You didn't even need to specify WHO or WHAT you're talking about. "They", "there", and "them" are all assumed to be Reposado. Sweet, right?
#2) You're messaging (or emailing, Facebook messaging, Whatsapp-ing, etc.) your friend, Matt about what to do tonight after dinner. You suggest maybe seeing a movie. Google Now On Tap has already pulled showtimes at local movies and other relevant movie information because you mentioned The Martian. You didn't need to open the browser and run a search. It's just there, already. From this little card, you can quickly tap to get to IMDB, go watch the trailer on YouTube, or buy the ticket. Plus, on top of it all, because Google understood the context behind the conversation, no time was wasted displaying results for the book because you asked about "seeing" it. If, instead, you had asked Matt, "Have u read The Martian?" and then voiced "Okay Google, who wrote it?", Andy Weir's card with relevant info would pop up. This is just plain cool.
#3) YouTube has - yet again - locked you in for your second lovely hour of new music discovery and suddenly you happen upon Fletcher's War Paint music video. You've never heard the song before and don't know who she is, what she stands for, or where she's from! All you know is this is a tight song and you want to know more.
"Okay Google, where is she from!?"
Wall Township, NJ.
But you have no clue where that is. Nobody does.
"How far away is that?"
Wall Township, NJ is 520 miles away.
Bam! Now that you're up to speed, you can go back to her song knowing she's a small-town girl! You didn't have to define who "she" is or what "that" is, just like a real-world conversation. This is just the beginning of the sort of conversation we can and will have.
Look, I think by now we all understand irrelevancy of page two-and-beyond search results. If Google Now and Siri can't answer or direct us IMMEDIATELY or within the next two results that follow, we no longer have the patience to dig deeper. The question we're asking must be dumb or the answer is completely irrelevant. If the restaurant has poor reviews or is hard to find online, you'll quickly find an alternative. If a product has poor reviews, just buy the other. Convenience now drives consumption.
Amazon is great. Prime is amazing. But we use search (and the Internet) for more than just purchasing products and services and the most lucrative days of the internet are ahead of us, not behind. The real power of a mobile world comes from impressions and impact as our internet lives are becoming one with our real lives, where companies generate revenue from our stories, our questions, and our online footsteps, not just from the tangibles we buy. While its true that our trust in Amazon's ability to deliver THINGS and SERVICES to us is growing - as is their push into areas beyond just entertainment and cool stuff - let's not forget about Google's position as the Gatekeeper, the moderator. Google occupies that outermost circle beyond the web, controlling what we see and what we learn from the rest of the world. It's scary, yes. But "Googling" will still be a thing in five years; we'll just do it differently. We already are. Google Now On Tap is a huge step forward - in many ways - for the sheer convenience it offers. It's not just about translating the world's information into ad-revenue for THEM, it's about delivering completely geographically and contextually relevant answers to US at just the right time...long before we've even thought to ask. That's powerful stuff.
Google's biggest problem isn't Amazon.
It's that you had no idea this little piece of magic exists. In fact, neither did any your friends. The rest of the world really isn't really quite sure what Google does even on a broader level. Maybe they have a Gmail account, use Google Maps, or are addicted to YouTube, but that's it. Many aren't even aware YouTube is a Google thing, even fewer understand that Android is, too. Unless I forced a new Nexus device into the hands of my friends and coworkers, they'd probably never have exposure. Ever. There's an enormous disconnect between what Google's latest features and projects aim to solve and the average human's awareness of them.
It's clearly working fine, though. The fifty people you drove by, walked past, or saw in passing on your way back from work don't necessarily have to understand what Google does or makes for Google to succeed. It's hard to argue with $15.4B in revenue last year, but if we're measuring success differently, I think this is there's a tremendous potential that's just being ignored. At the very least, not given enough of Google's intellectual capital. This disconnect goes way beyond understanding or discovering the latest features of Google's current or upcoming pipeline — stuff like Now On Tap. To be sure, history has shown us that it can be a good thing that iteration just sort of happens in the background, and, over time, the world slowly realizes innovation. You see a friend using it and you ask. Tomorrow's routine Google search suddenly brings a completely different logo. Or that drop of water on your screen ushers in some 'hidden' feature you legitimately had no clue was there. One day you'll eventually realize that your devices can do these things and you'll transition. Sometimes it's good when we just throw our work out there and let people discover it on their own. Google just builds it and the world catches up later. Thousands of iterations are passed along to our devices in milliseconds and unless you've read the change log or watched the live-stream OR you're part of that super-talented beating heart inside the company, you just wouldn't know. Eventually you will. You'll hear on the news or you'll scroll through headlines. Let's be honest, what real value comes about when all the average Joes & Jans of the world hear about autonomous cars, wifi-balloons, or advancements in mobile search? People are excited, sure, but then what? What action results? Usually nothing. Fundamentally changing the way we access information should be handled differently, though. The very people for whom Google can (and often do) impact the most are completely in the dark and that's a travesty.
"Do you know what Google Now on Tap is?"
"What about Marshmallow? Have you heard anything about Google's latest version of Android?"
Nope. No clue.
"Have you heard about Google Now?"
There over 1.4 BILLION active Android users out there. 1.4 billion out of the 7 billion on this planet use some form of Google's OS. How insane is that? But it took 10 months for just 20% of these people to receive last year's version and I'd wager that more than half of these users aren't taking advantage of or are still in the dark about this one, game-changing feature even after upgrading to this year's version. Delay and disconnection.
I know this because the tech-laden student sitting in front of me in the coffee shop just interrupted her friends conversation to ask what song was playing. I know this because my dad still thinks Map-questing is something people do. I know it takes time. A certain percentage of the universe won't ever understand, but there's a majority that should.
Dear Google, there is tremendous potential in bringing the world up to speed with who you are and what you do. Knowledge really is power. When you empower people, you change lives. One person can impact the world. It happens every second. Empower and enable the billions you touch everyday and we'd be on another level entirely.