ON THE SHOULDERS OF COMPETITORS
One of the most popular discussions today on tech.memeorandum is around Yahoo!'s Jeremy Zawodny's (aka Yahoo!'s "Scoble") post titled "Google is Building Yahoo! 2.0". As Om Malik pithily summarizes it,
There's no question that Google is desperately trying to build a Yahoo! 2.0, feature by portal feature...this includes as Tristan elegantly summarizes in his post above, all the components of an online service.
If one were being truly candid, Yahoo! today is AOL 2.0, and AOL in it's 2.0 days was CompuServe 2.0 (for those with long memories, Prodigy was in there somewhere as well, a bastard child of IBM and Sears, trying to be a Minitel 2.0, which was France's Internet 2.0 before there was an Internet). And Microsoft throughout was a distant, stumbling, faded copy of each of these, starting with AOL 2.0, constantly changing it's target to copy.
In other words, all these services have built upon each other using the latest technological innovations of the day and that will continue into the indefinite future.
But all of them are still just Online Services 2.0, and still Portal 1.0. A user of any of the online services from the eighties would instantly recognize and find familiar anything on today's Yahoo! or Google, or tomorrow's Microsoft Live, albeit with a little more whiz-bang.
The question is how do they change their game in a true Web 2.0 way. And that is NOT just about using the current hip technologies like Web 2.0 and tags and the like.
It's potentially about taking some necessary and inevitable risks with their users.
Let me explain.
In a post a few days ago titled "On Google World Domination and Public/Private Boundaries in a Web 2.0 World" that the portals themselves are seeing the need to open up their services to third parties through APIs, something Scoble and others have been encouraging in recent posts.
But there is a real problem as the big portal companies go into the Web 2.0 world, and it's a possibly intractable one.
Yahoo!, Google, Microsoft MSN/Live, AOL, (along with Amazon, eBay and Apple for a sub-set of the portal services) need to come to terms with the reality that most of their users WILL ALWAYS NEED TO have accounts at their competitors because they'll NEED TO CONNECT WITH PEOPLE AT ALL of those services.
In a Web 2.0 world, where by definition these services are about connecting with people across these services, these services are still competing on the traditional model of winner takes all.
The underlying assumption by each player is that if one service can offer the latest and best X.0 version of each of the services in question that they'll have that customer's TOTAL online business for the indefinite feature.
The reality is that as a user, I'm forced to have accounts at ALL of the services because in an oligopolistic world of online services, most of the people I need to connect with could be using any of the services on any of the portals.
Obviously in terms of email this works fine. I can send and receive email with anyone across any of these systems and other email systems.
But in terms of almost every other service in Tristan's grid, I am forced to have as many accounts at EACH of the services within EACH portal as I need to maximize my
This is most obvious of course in instant messaging where each portal is still an island in itself. The recent announcement by Microsoft and Yahoo! to make their services interoperable is a step in the right direction but will still not happen until next year, and it still leaves out the other systems that matter (AOL) etc.
And I know there are third-party services like Trillian and others that allow interoperability of IM systems but for the most part they are NOT there yet for mainstream audiences.
In the new Web 2.0 world, the list of isolated islands are providing sometimes show-stopping points of friction:
- Separate blogging services at each portal, some within protected walls as at Yahoo! and AOL
- Separate photo services.
- Separate personalized news services.
- Separate email accounts. Here a pet peeve is the inability to access multiple Yahoo! and/or Google Gmail accounts within a single interface. Even the old AOL made a user go through hoops to log in and out of accounts to access the other email accounts a user was allowed to maintain under a primary account.
- Separate shopping accounts of course.
And so on.
No one online service is going to "own" a customer, something that used to be possible in some sectors of the off-line world (he's a "Ford" man for life, etc.)
In a Web 2.0 world, there is going to be an increasing amount of fragmentation of services that users will want and the multiple services at which they'll need to have accounts at (free or otherwise), to get them.
These won't just be from the big portals but also dozens if not hundreds of new startups that'll continue to grow, evolve and consolidate.
Think about it as a microchunking of online services. That's dozens, and possibly hundreds of user names and passwords, and log-ins and log-outs a day for every single user.
And it gets especially complicated when needing to access all these services not just via a PC, but cell phones, PDAs and any number of wired and wireless gadgets coming down the pike.
That's a LOT of friction where increasingly the scarcest and priciest commodity is user attention. That attention is a function of a very limited 24-day that each user has, and there's no amount of Internet innovation or network effects that's going to expand that.
It's a tough problem and possibly NOT solvable by any of the portals regardless of how cool their latest whatever is.
It may require a third party to help centralize things...kind of a Trillian for everything. But then that Uber-Trillian dare never go into the official Portal business, as they would then compete with the folks whose cooperation they need to inter-connect everything.
But that seems to be the beginnings of a Web 2.0 portal, where to "own" the customer, they may need to let the customer go...
...wherever they need to go, while making their use of ALL these services more efficient, less time-consuming and manageable.
It may not be a centralized portal at all, but a peer-to-peer client that connects all the various services I use across all the portals, big and small.
We're potentially talking about a shifting of the center of gravity of an online service: from a centralized place for online services to a centralized place for each user's online services, including ALL of their services at the old centralized "portals".
Whatever the architecture, the current structure of online services is increasingly creaking at the seams. Some truly out of the box thinking AND EXECUTION is going to be needed for the real Portal 2.0 of Web 2.0.