Monday, December 29, 2008

Addicted to Google?

I have frequently tried to develop the premise that Google plays a significant role in our addiction to consumerism (which may now be supported by the preference for online shopping during the current economic hard times). This morning, on his Open Road blog, Matt Asay posted a new perspective on such addictive behavior:

Ultimately, then, I think we use Google out of habit, not superior search. For most of us, it's the search engine to which our trusted computer adviser pointed us, and we've never looked back. Why would we? Because we don't have any way of independently verifying that a competitor would give us better search results, there really is no justification for switching.

In other words our susceptibility to addiction extends to Google itself, which then feeds our addiction to consumerism.

Asay is less interested in how Google plays on our addiction to shopping and more interested in the extent to which the "Google habit" drives off competition, particularly any competition claiming to be a "Google-killer." His conclusion seems simple enough:

In other words, for competitors looking to kick the Google search habit, you can't take the Cuil route and compete on search. It just won't matter if you're better. You need to create a different, compelling habit.

I am inclined to agree, but I am not sure how actionable Asay's advice is. From my point of view, the lesson to be learned from Asay's story is that user behavior is always more important than the power of any new technology (at least as long as the assumption that your users are human beings still holds). The worst mistake any innovator can make (and just about all of them do) is to assume that the user's behavior is equivalent to his/her own. The failure to even recognize that this is a mistake that matters is the primary reason why I tend to go into a rant at even the slightest sign of "innovation hunger." The situation is further complicated by the complexity and subtlety of human behavior, particularly where critical factors like motive are concerned. The instruments most often applied (from fields such as market research) are far too blunt to bring out the data that tend to matter the most. The good news is that Google has yet to find better instruments. The bad news is that Yahoo! and Microsoft are in the same boat!

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