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Facebook Versus Google +. Lessons Learned.

imgres-2It’s 1995 or 1996, I’m not sure which. Blue Shoe is in high gear, having just been tapped by IBM to work on the Nagano Olympic guest website. I’m at a dinner party at a friend’s house and have the following paraphrased conversation about Amazon with Steve Riggio, (or was it Leonard… not really sure) of Barnes and Noble. It’s been a while, and exact language is lost, but you will get the picture.

Steve: “They will be out of business as soon as we launch our site. We have bricks and mortar to assist in getting people to buy from us, and people will always want to buy books by browsing them in person. They will be out of business.”

Me: “I disagree. The fact that Amazon was the first to market on the Internet, and the fact that millions are already buying from them, means you will never catch up. I believe that once a person finds something that works for them online, they will use it forever, and not everyone has access to a Barnes and Nobles store. Also, many people enjoy sending favorite books as gifts, and they like the convenience of being able to send books to their kids at school. Are you active on the Internet personally?”

Steve: “No. But, I am willing to bet you are wrong.”

I am sure he doesn’t remember that conversation, but I do. Mostly what I remember is that he really wasn’t up to date on the Internet but was confident he understood its worth and its potential. In my professional experience at the time, men over thirty who never learned to type were not doing their own e-mail, nor using the Net with any frequency. They didn’t understand the huge mega shift that was taking place. Totally understandable. And, to be honest, I don’t think it’s changed. CEO’s and small business owners who are not active in Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook Fan Pages, but have a strong opinion about why they don’t need it, abound.

Back to the nineties. The first to market lesson online is one that some didn’t learn. I knew many people with deep pockets who wanted to go in and steal business from someone who had already executed a good idea in a website, and sometimes, not always, I urged those people not to bother investing. Finn Casperson’s consideration of starting an online portal for horse people was one example. In my opinion, it was three years too late and the market was well satisfied by strong web sites where conversations were taking place. Horse people were visiting those sites daily. The riding community was already strongly committed to those sites, and the chances that they would leave them to join his site were slim.

Enter Google+ fifteen years later. As they entered the “We will bury Facebook” market, I couldn’t help but think of Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Netflix and Blockbuster. Ebay and Sothebys. I counseled our client base — whose time is already stretched thin by the need to add more social media platforms to their daily to-do list — to ignore it. Set up an account, but ignore it. I told them we would monitor it and keep them posted.

Last week an article in Huffington Post talked about how Google is making business decisions — and bastardizing the best search engine of all time — to try to make Google+ the success it was never meant to be. Google+ has 359,000,000 members (100 of them are my clients, who never have gone there since setting up their accounts), and they just can’t understand that it will never be what they want it to be. So they shut down assets that we do use where they were first to market (Feedburner is a good example) to try to lure us to the + place, which has really never been a plus for anyone.

George Soros, one of the great Wall Street Tycoons of the Twentieth Century, has never been afraid to be wrong. He is never afraid to sell at a loss when he realizes that he has made a mistake. It minimizes his losses and maximizes his wins. He only has to win one more time than he loses. But when you let the loss eat away the winnings because admitting errors is not an option, then you risk it all.

Enough about all of them. What about you? Not building Amazon or Google+ or going up against huge powerhouses? Doesn’t matter. Whoever is first to own a niche market online has a distinct advantage over money, over brand recognition, over bricks and mortar. It’s the reason you can go from obscurity to billionaire status in an Internet nanosecond.

So, lessons? Go forth and build something new. Out of the box. Unique. And cancel your Google+ account. Maybe it will make them bring back Feedburner.

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