Google Buzz – This year’s New Coke

As a former IBMer who witnessed and participated in IBM’s resurgence in the 90’s, I’m a big fan of companies who are willing to regularly reinvent themselves and “eat their own lunch.”  Listening to the market, IBM invented WebSphere, eventually ignoring the screams from the Lotus division that Notes/Domino was a fine web platform that IBM already owned.  The Lotus folk were telling the truth – but the bigger truth in the market was that the great majority of web developers were using and would continue to leverage open standards like html,Java, jsp, xml, etc to build enterprise web applications.  The cost of switching these “native web” developers to learn to program for Domino would have been enormous, not only in terms of cash and effort, but in terms of lost opportunity.  IBM didn’t blink.  We introduced WebSphere, embraced the open source and open standards movement, and with smart investment and developer community goodwill, we created a multi-billion dollar business from the ground up.  And Notes/Domino has continued to be relevant for companies focused on enterprise collaboration as the centerpiece of their strategy.

Done well, companies willing to introduce game-changing products ensure their future by competing against their heritage.  And then there is  the New Coke fiasco of the 80’s. Faced with growth by Pepsi , Coke made the bold decision that they could compete better if they changed the flavor of the product – to make it more Pepsi-like.  What happened?  The Coke fans revolted, freaked out, demanded the original product be returned to the shelves.  And the folks at Coke learned a huge lesson.  They introduced Classic Coke, kept New Coke around until it died a natural death and then began introducing additional Coke products on a trial and error basis.  Coke today have a great business based on their core brand, and strong, customer-driven extensions like Coke Zero, Diet Cherry Coke, etc.

For some dead on commentary on the sugar water business, check this wonderful Coke ad from “The Invention of Lying”: 

The folks at Google are all about monetizing what they know about us and keeping us in “Google World” for as many hours a day as possible.  Frankly, I’m already there.  Between Gmail and Google Calendar, I am an open book to the folks at Google.  And I’m interested in Google Wave – it looks like a new environment focused on sharing in a non-Gmail panel.  But Google Buzz looks like an intrusion to me.  Of course there are other opinions on the utility of these two environments, here’s one from the Shiny Shiny blog.

I use Gmail for business every day.  And yes, my business is based on noticing what is going on in the world around me and understanding how I can leverage these political, technological and cultural movements on behalf of my clients.  But I need my e-mail to be my e-mail, not a Facebook competitor.  I already have Facebook – and I’m a big fan.  But I may well become less of a fan of Gmail if “Google World” is being forced down my throat every time I want to check my e-mail.  I’m sure I won’t be the only Gmail user who finds this new tweak to a product we rely on every day to be the one that forces us to question our trust of the Google team.

Now if I could just remember the password for my other e-mail account…

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