Folks, I’m sure you’re all tired of hearing about the collapse of Microsoft’s grand plan to buy into Yahoo’s cutting-edge 1998-era business model. As for me, I’ve been puzzled throughout the whole MicroHoo spectacle. After all, who gives a damn about traditionally-structured content portals these days?
Rather than watch MS and YHOO duke it out, I’m paying very close attention to the evolution of iGoogle. Probably because it’s not being promoted vigorously, iGoogle has gotten comparatively little attention from the IT and search pundits of the world. But I believe that could change quickly. In truth, Google is building a new, vibrant business model in plain sight, quietly perfecting its approach gadget by gadget and application by application while downplaying this effort’s strategic importance.
Is iGoogle revolutionary in and of itself? Not at all. The widgets and content the service offers aren’t miracles of technical sophistication, and for any one of the functions it offers (say, Calendar) there’s lots of competition available elsewhere on the Web. Besides, the other search majors offer customization, too. It’s just that they don’t do it as well.
What makes Google special is the simple, clean execution it brings to user-driven content display–which includes an amazingly flexible drag-and-drop feature for arranging widgets on the page, countless options for enhancing the content and a range of useful features which can easily be lumped together.
Taken together, these interface design options are far more powerful than they sound. For example, I’ve found that having the freedom to put Google mail and the Google calendar smack dab on top of one another, as I do, is the perfect way for me to stay on top of my life. It’s not rocket science, but it gets the job done better than just about any other approach I’ve tried.
Of course, if I didn’t already use a bunch of Google apps, having access to them through iGoogle wouldn’t be much of a benefit. But like most Web workers, I use lots of Google services already, so Google’s got me where they want me. Ultimately, iGoogle gives the search giant complete ownership of my workflow. (Whoops — did I just say that? iGoogle is scarier than I thought!)
The endgame, ultimately, will come when iGoogle begins to offer you access to proprietary features, such as Google-hosted personal health records. (Trust me, they’re already working on the latter–I saw a demo at a recent trade show, in fact.) When you begin to rely on iGoogle to control your personal health data, read your e-mail, get directions and maps, display your carefully chosen list of news, recipes and gossip and keep you abreast of your local weather, all ordered on the page in a way that you like best, Google now has you body and soul.
So, go ahead, Microsoft, and pursue portals or even a Facebook or MySpace buyout. That’s all well and good. But if you guys are the insanely brilliant people they say you are, you might want to think about Google’s strategy for completely seducing users–and what your role should be in a world where all content is widgetized and used on demand.
Sure, iGoogle’s still young now, but it’s going to kick butt when it grows up. How will you respond? — Anne
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