In one of my all-time favourite blog posts, from one of my all-time favourite bloggers Joel Spolsky outlined the challenges faced by the Microsoft Excel team back in the 80s. They were a long way behind Lotus Notes in terms of market share, and with their new product they had significant number of hurdles to overcome.
The solution was to break them down into a limited numbers, and devise a strategy to break each one individually.
|1. They have to know about Excel and know that it’s better||Advertise Excel, send out demo disks, and tour the country showing it off|
|2. They have to buy Excel||Offer a special discount for former 123 users to switch to Excel|
|3. They have to buy Windows to run Excel||Make a runtime version of Windows which ships free with Excel|
|4. They have to convert their existing spreadsheets from 123 to Excel||Give Excel the capability to read 123 spreadsheets|
|5. They have to rewrite their keyboard macros which won’t run in Excel||Give Excel the capability to run 123 macros|
|6. They have to learn a new user interface||Give Excel the ability to understand Lotus keystrokes, in case you were used to the old way of doing things|
|7. They need a faster computer with more memory||Wait for Moore’s law to solve the problem of computer power|
At some point during this process, the number of people using Excel would suddenly ‘tip’ and leap over 80% in a very short time frame.
And history shows that’s exactly what happened.
People are saying today that Google+ can’t overtake Facebook (including me!) Well, that’s not technically true. There are big barriers, but taking Spolsky’s format, here are the hurdles that Google face.
|1. They have to know about Google+||Easy. The media cover every tiny move you make and by choosing high-profile bloggers and industry people to trial the product, you can blanket the universe with coverage at little cost.Also: your homepage is the most visited page in the universe (hint!)|
|2. They have to get a Google Account||Maybe tricky. The main entry point is Gmail – but that’s a pretty distant third behind Hotmail and Yahoo. Allowing members to invite non Gmail users is the best bet (although problematical already)Alternatively, open it up to non-Gmail users. Don’t treat Google Accounts and Google+ accounts as the same thing and allow sign-ups from other email providers.|
|3. They have to get their Facebook friends on there||Facebook allows a data export. Make sure you develop an import facility. It’s a big jump, but doable.Create a Facebook app that integrates feeds – and an app for Google+ that integrates Facebook feeds.The more synchronisation between the two, the more you lure people into making a decision|
|4. They need all the things they expect from Facebook||Raw functionality – status updates, adding friends etc is the easy part. Porting across Farmville, Bejewelled blitz etc is the real kicker. These are Facebook’s attention keepers.Developing and releasing an application API is an absolute must.Making it less restrictive than Facebook will encourage innovation and attract eyes.|
|5. They have to be able to take Google+ with them||You need not just a mobile-friendly site, but a dedicated, super-slick app.|
|6. They have to learn a new user interface||Make sure that Google+ behaves exactly the same way that Facebook does, with no crappy new conventions. Choose ‘groups’ over ‘circles’, for one thing.|
|7. They need patience and money||Facebook aren’t going to just roll over. This is no cakewalk, so Google had better have deep pockets.|
Make no mistake. Every one of these steps is hard, and without successfully completing them all, Google+ will fail.
People at this point like to drag out the whole “Google has the money…” argument, but no business – no matter how large – has endless patience with big-numbers projects. Google+ has a finite spell to get it right and Facebook are not exactly paupers.
Looking at it now, it is nowhere near ready to take on Facebook. I’ve been playing with it and it’s fine enough. It’s easy to use if you’re accustomed to Facebook, and is pretty clean.
But building up critical mass means a lot more than just convincing Scoble. Without an audience, and with no ‘fun’ elements beyond the Hangout facility, Google+ faces a very short timescale before it gets written off.