Saturday, February 14, 2009

Elgan: Don't be fooled by Google's phony 'beta' label page 2

Don't buy it. You can't!

Despite tossing around the words "beta" and "experimental," the reality is that Google simply co-opts these words from the world of for-pay software in order to protect itself from scrutiny and criticism.

Because Google's "experimental" and "beta" products and features attract millions of people to choose Google over its competitors, it is also fair game to criticize these same offerings and use them as reasons why you might want to avoid Google and instead embrace Google's competitors.

How much money has Google made from Gmail? The business model is and will always be an "attract users and sell advertising" proposition, regardless of when it arbitrarily chooses to remove the word "beta" from the Gmail logo. So what makes it "beta," exactly?

And the "low-key" launch via casual blog post? Ha! Google knows that this has more or less the same impact as advertising during the Super Bowl.

This week, Google launched a potentially cool new feature for Gmail that adds your city, state and country to your Gmail e-mail signature. It mentioned it almost in passing on the blog. But as of this posting, a search for "Gmail signature location" without the quotation marks brings in well over a half-million results. The feature has been covered by every major technology publication, and major news publications like The Washington Post. Google knows that announcing Labs features on the blog will set off a cascading explosion of coverage that exceeds an official press release and big-money marketing campaign by the likes of, say, Yahoo or HP.

The truth is that designating new features as "experimental" and announcing them only on a blog is just a charade, a marketing gimmick. It's just Google's way of having it both ways. It launches apps and features that grab market share, attract eyeballs and give it the traffic it needs to make billions of dollars per fiscal quarter. But gosh, gee, it's just little old us trying out a few ideas, so don't criticize!

Hey, we can all play that game. This publication you're reading now uses a revenue model similar to Google's. You're reading this for free, but the publication makes money by selling the advertising you see on this page. The publishing company pays me to write it out of money earned from those advertising dollars.

But you know what? I've decided that this article is still in "beta." My opinions are "experimental." Even though I'm (theoretically) influencing thousands or millions of people, stealing readers from the competition, earning money for myself and the publisher, and elevating my own personal fame, reputation and glory with these brilliant ideas, they are in fact beyond reproach because I'm calling this column "beta." I'm not finished with it yet, and my ideas are mere trial balloons.

I don't want any disagreement posted in the comments area while I'm at the bank cashing my check. Gimme a break.

New rule: If a "product" is attracting eyeballs and making money, if the users don't know they're beta testers, if the beta is unlimited in time and in scope, and if the product will never, ever be offered for sale anyway, the words "beta" and "experimental" have no meaning at all. And the products are open to criticism.

I'm proposing that we all stop taking Google's "beta" and "experimental" labels seriously, and just see them for what they are: Marketing gimmicks.

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