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Peter Norvig on Being Wrong  (View post)

Jérôme [PersonRank 10]

Wednesday, August 4, 2010
14 years ago11,484 views

Good: <<We're now at the scale where we can also do things that just make the Web better. We do a lot of open-source projects, because if we release code and some other company makes something really cool that makes the Internet better, we benefit, too. About half of Internet users are using Google search, so if another company builds something and two people start using the Internet because of it, we're going to get one of them.>> (nice but not new)

Evil: <<We've built the ultimate system for making demos internally. If a startup company has an idea, it's like, "Well, I need a copy of the Web to make my idea work, I need a thousand computers, I gotta go raise money to do that." So they spend months or years raising money and building infrastructure. Whereas we have all of that.>> (haha!)

Promising: <<[On Google's biggest mistakes] I can't speak for the whole company, but I guess not embracing the social aspects>> (time to leverage Aardvark).

Surprising: <<I suppose you can have focus groups, but focus groups really aren't important; it's more about what the press is going to say.>>

que [PersonRank 10]

14 years ago #

I was a little surprised about the focus group comment as well. I guess it's a matter of defining just what a focus group is. They can internally test their products with thousands of employees so that is a type of focus group. I think they sometimes fail with real world usability though because of this lack of real world users or usage though. I don't think their employee's are necessarily a good representation of the end users. The company is mostly computer experts or very experienced users. So, that aspect often shows in their products where the functionality seems to be built for users like themselves, not really the majority of the user-base that will actually use it.

Above 2 comments were made in the forum before this was blogged,

Tadeusz Szewczyk [PersonRank 10]

14 years ago #

"remarkably successful at creating popular products"? Like Google Wave?

That's simply false. They have one maybe two successful products: search, Gmail. Most other successful products have been acquired: think YouTube, Google Analytics, Google Docs, Google Maps.

Correct if me if I err but most things they developed themselves went belly up quite quickly.

smj [PersonRank 0]

14 years ago #

Does anyone else find it amusing that this was posted 10 minutes after another post saying that Google is ending Google Wave because “Wave has not seen the user adoption we would have liked.” ?

Roger Browne [PersonRank 10]

14 years ago #

The function of a focus group is to give managers the illusion that they are in control of things. A focus group has little or no usefulness relating to product development.

If you have a focus group of coffee drinkers, they'll be unanimous that they love a rich, dark coffee. But in the coffee shop the bulk of the sales will be for sweet milky coffees.

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

14 years ago #

Roger, but who says that a focus group has to be made up of lovers or fans of that particular product type... why not pick people representative of the whole city/ nation/ globe?

Jérôme [PersonRank 10]

14 years ago #

As a method of collecting *qualitative* data, focus groups are only used to generate hypotheses (see If your participants tell you that they love "rich, dark coffee", you'll need to prove that with quantitative data.

If I had to study what types of coffee people want, I would probably organize some focus groups and in-depths interviews to *explore* consumers' attitude toward coffee and certains type of coffee. I don't want to hear wether they prefer Arabica to Robusta but *why* they would prefer one to the other. There's no way to tell how much they like a type of drink from a focus groups, but you can investigate many hypothetical reasons why they would chose one over the other. To evaluate wether one hypothesis is valid and true than another, I'll have to administer questionnaires or to run experiments.

You can't define an ideal product from a focus group, but you can investigate why it may/did succeed/fail. The Wave team can generate their own list of potential reasons, but I'm sure few unstructured interviews with users and focus groups would obtain much better hypotheses.

[put at-character here]Philipp, it's important to get participants with various profiles/backgrounds (usually in 3-4 groups of 8-12 individuals) but you can't pretend to have a sample 'representative' of your target.

Roger Browne [PersonRank 10]

14 years ago #

[put at-character here]Philipp: you're right in principle, but it's generally too expensive. If you run a brewery, it's not very efficient to have people who don't drink alcohol in your focus group.

[put at-character here]Jérôme: yes, the unstructured interviews are likely to obtain much better hypotheses.

As for Google Wave, I was surprised to see Google say that the take-up was disappointing. I don't recall hearing Google ever pitching Wave to anyone other than early adopters. I don't remember Google sending out the message that Wave was now ready for prime time, and for users to "go for it".

I suspect the decision to cancel Wave was a trade-off. The suggestion that Google needed more engineers for their rumored upcoming social networking / gaming products sounds likely.

There is some nice technology in Wave and I'm sure it won't be wasted. In particular I'd like to see the context-aware spelling correction make its way into other products (Gmail and Blogger being the obvious examples).

Marc Savoy [PersonRank 1]

14 years ago #

Oh! Please! Google's idealistic, hey! we're so cool because we do-no-evil
mantra is getting a bit long in the tooth. It's disingenuous at best, particularly pompous in the wake of the recent net neutrality rumors as reported in the New York Times that Google and Verizon were nearing an agreement where Google would not oppose the broadband provider.

A S [PersonRank 3]

14 years ago #

It is one thing to put in your best and then accept / celebrate failures. It is quite another if you don't give it your best shot, in fact hold it back by your actions / inactions, and then say it was not successful.


1. Nexus One and Google's online phone store never got the kind of marketing and support that a new cell phone needs to be successful.

2. Google Wave – essentially a collaborative tool, but collaboration wasn't possible for many early adopters because it was invite-only and most people we collaborate with did not have the invitation.

Google would be stupid if it expects every product of theirs to be success as quickly and extensively as search or GMail. It is good to stick with some products with great potential for the long run. Wave was a product that would have succeeded well in the near long term.

I thought Google was supposed to be a company with an eye on the long-term. It looks like they expect all their products to succeed in the short term, and if they don't, Google kills them. That is not a good practice.

Brandon [PersonRank 0]

14 years ago #

Beyond the failed products, how many companies has Google had to buy because it didn't have the great idea first?

Even companies that were operating right in Google's wheelhouse:

Pyra Labs (Blogger), Usenet, Postini, Jot, Picasa, Urchin, Feedburner, GrandCentral, Jaiku, DocVerse, Writely, the list goes on and on.

Sakib [PersonRank 1]

14 years ago #

[put at-character here]Tadeusz, also popular products are Google Webmasters, Google Reader, Google Translator and Google Chrome and Google Photos are growing.

As well Google has less concern about "Blogging" issues and soon they will suffer for it and already WordPress dominating the entire web market. Where as, by simply promoting and introducing most efficient, effective and productive features in can bring better positions in blogging platform and as well Google has such power to dominate the web markets. Alternatively, Google has to pay for it, as like they are paying for Google Buzz, Google Wave.

Roger Browne [PersonRank 10]

14 years ago #

What about Google's other big success, AdSense. Was that bought in or developed in-house?

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

14 years ago #

Roger, here's Google's press release from 2003:

"Google ... today announced that it acquired Applied Semantics, a Santa Monica, Calif.-based producer of software applications for the online advertising, domain name and enterprise information management markets .... A key application of the CIRCA technology is Applied Semantics' AdSense product that enables web publishers to understand the key themes on web pages to deliver highly relevant and targeted advertisements."

However, the whole background is more complicated:

Roger Browne [PersonRank 10]

14 years ago #

That's interesting background, thanks Philipp.

It also underscores that, even when Google buys in a technology, they take it much further in-house (Google Docs, for example).

But, yeah, Google is riding the fortunes of "Page Rank + Contextual Search Advertising".

I wonder how Google would have turned out if, instead of doing all the other "cool stuff", they had stuck to what is by far their most profitable product: ads on search results.

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