12:45-1:15am “Competitors That Keep Me Up At Night” Timeslot: Now Accepting Applications.

Today I watched Eric Schmidt arrogantly debate the neutrality of the Google search algorithm for its shopping product as he was questioned in a hearing regarding whether or not Google is “cooking” search results to favor their own product versus other comparison shopping sites.

And there aren’t enough hours in the day or get out of jail free cards from my employer for me to discuss my opinion on display bias… so moving right along.

Quality < Speed?
What I am hopped up about today is something pointed out by a veteran in my industry, the notorious Professor Sabena

Google argues that it’s okay to release a crappy product because it has to “meet the needs of the market”

Basically, they are proposing that how quickly you meet those needs is more important than how effectively you do so. In many scenarios, I’d tend to disagree wholeheartedly unless first-movers advantage is imperative to success… and when Google is the company in question, well, Good Good Almighty, you’ve got to be kidding me.

They have the eyeballs of the world in the palm of their hands, so what the hell are they scared of losing by spending a few days making their products suck just a little less.

But that’s the argument they use to justify mediocrity, and we all universally reward them for putting out a bad product by simply using it. 

Why? Because it’s easy. And 80% of us start our searches for everything there… with most high-schoolers having never known a life without Google.

So as they slowly lower the bar defining what constitutes a minimum viable product in the world of search, we unwittingly continue to lower our standards to a level that let’s them release more crap, grow share and media inventory, and sell ads at even higher rates than ever before on a products they have to invest fewer and fewer dollars in for people to use. I’m assuming, but if so, it’s brilliant to be sure.

And there we stand as accomplices in screwing the rest of whatever market in which Google has decided to play that week.

The Higher Standard
So, the bigger question is should they be held to a higher standard because of their dominant position in the market?

I think that’s the question being asked in many different industries currently, but I personally have zero confidence that the general population will chose anything other than the option in life that requires the least amount of effort… and with Google’s existence as not just a brand but a part of our culture that is more hard-wired into our lives than any in my 29 years of existence, I know what most people will choose.

And as Google continues to push the bar further down to see how little effort it can get away with, the growth will continue.

Good vs. Evil

But if they are screwing over thousands of other companies in the process and likely the economy as a result, as Professor Sabena proposed…

Do they have to be held to a higher standard of “good” because by default any other option is, in effect, evil?

As much as I would like to say the demand for good products and inspired customer experience is enough to keep innovation alive in yards where Google decides to piddle, I know human nature won’t ever allow a belief in principle with no real-time gratification to win the battle against the habitual self-serving behavior of individuals… we all by default choose whatever is easier.

And ironically, isn’t that just what Google is trying to do with these products… we’re all different, yet all the same.

Even so, products like the one in quesetion on Capitol Hill today will become what one day in 2080 people will look back and say “Why on earth did they ever voluntarily use that product or suffer through that experience?”  

“It was all they’d ever known” I fear will be the answer.

Empowering
As a product owner myself, I refuse to empower the decline of quality by using tools that suck. Shipping crap for the sake of speed, volume, share, revenue and thus even more control is obviously appealing based on the end result, but it’s reckless, to be sure.

And sustainable or even plausible in my industry? Go wash your mouth out with soap.

At the end of the day, I don’t care what becomes of the crappy shopping product. I just don’t want the low standard of quality to permeate Google’s organization and become a permanent MO across all verticals. Any industry benefits from the threat of disruption, as it inspires people like me to work that much harder, and I can’t have you bowing out of mine this early. The fun is just getting started.

And I do sooo want the chance to hate you, but it’s like picking a fight with the new kid in class who seemed so cool at first, but then was placed in remedial math, spilled juice on his shirt at lunch, and then fell hard on his face at recess… it’s just not a fair fight… yet.

So, pull yourself together, people. And start acting like the company that used to keep me up at night.

-SKE

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