An article over at the New York Times 'In the race with Google, it's consistency vs 'wow'' discusses the differing approaches of Google and Yahoo to the introduction of new technology and resources. The fact that Google hasn't added some of the basics to its mapping service in comparison to the Yahoo and AOL offerings is the starting point for an indepth discussion on how both engines (MSN, AOL and Ask get very short shrift) are trying to increase their user base.
Alan Eustace (Senior VP at Google for engineering and research) is quoted as saying "We are trying to come up with something that is new and different, that makes people say ?Wow.? " Yahoo on the other hand is taking a rather different approach of ensuring that their services are predictable and consistent.
Although the article doesn't use the analogy it does remind me very much of the tortoise and the hare story, with Google of course being the hare, bouncing along, playing to the audience, not really looking where he's going, but getting there very quickly. The Yahoo tortoise carefully places one foot in front of the other, and it isn't very exciting, but you know where you'll be with it.
Is one approach better than the other? Clearly there are examples that can be drawn from both camps; the speed of Google mapping with its click and drag approach certainly did draw 'wow' responses. 'Wow' is exciting - it gives bloggers something to write about, teachers something new to teach and industry commentators something to talk about on the conference podium. On the other hand consistency is rather dull, but ultimately important if you want to provide a raft of integrated services.
I'm as guilty as the rest - when demonstrating features from search engines I like to demonstrate all the 'wow' functionality, and the delegates love it and enjoy playing with it. But at the end of the day, when it comes to answering quiz questions they tend to go for the resources and functions that work, and that they can rely on.
What I'd like to see is a situation where I can look at a search engine, with all of its offerings, search syntax, extra resources and so on and go 'Wow - all this stuff works well together, and it's really exciting', but perhaps that's asking too much?
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