The Google mystique: An exploration of the modern Cracker Jack box

Try this experiment: Go to Google (, type in “failure” in the search box, then click “I’m Feeling Lucky” instead of the “Google Search” button. The page that comes up for me as I write this is the official White House Web site for George W. Bush.
Does that mean that Google can be “tricked,” or is that the most accurate association with “failure” worldwide? I have my own opinion, but I’ll let you decide.
Regardless of what you think, the Google phenomenon is amazing by anyone’s standards. The most successful search engine by far has also become a provider of some of the best applications and services too — and most are free. Whether organizing your photos (Picasa), placing IP calls or text chatting with instant messages (Google Talk) or sending e-mail (Gmail), the tools are all there and they all work well. Clicking the “more” link at the Google site is like setting a kid free in a candy shop.
Research analysts like to compare Google with Microsoft and Yahoo, but they typically do so on a feature-by-feature basis. Who’s search is better? Who has the best IM or e-mail? Which company will offer free broadband? And so on.
No one will ever understand Google’s success that way, because Google’s advantage is conceptual. For example, Yahoo and MSN have structured their Web sites so that their revenues critically depend on people coming back to those same portals. Google has practically nothing at its Web site — except the toy box — and what kid would ever avoid a toy box for very long?
Instead of taking the information hub approach, Google follows the user around like a puppy not wanting to stray too far from its owner, and always willing to fetch that stick.
In essence Google has reinvented the Cracker Jack box, that some of us should remember from our childhood — a box of caramel-coated popcorn and peanuts and a free toy somewhere near the bottom. You never knew when a new toy would come out, so you kept buying more. A simple, cheap, effective concept that was enormously popular for its time.
So, while companies such as Microsoft and Yahoo are spending all their money and effort on better popcorn and peanuts (search) and improving existing toys (applications), they’ve totally missed the concept. Google already has the best search and Google doesn’t have to have the best toys — just a new one every now and then for us to add to our collections. As long as the toys are sturdy, reliable and simple to use, that’s enough. We’ll keep coming back for more.
What’s interesting is that most IT professionals are taught the KISS principle (keep it simple stupid) in their early training. Unfortunately, you can’t apply KISS without a philosophy, conceptual framework or analogy. Google figured that out while they were young. And it’s hard to teach old dogs such as Microsoft or Yahoo new tricks.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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