When Is Arrogance Good?

Have you ever watched one of those inane interviews after a sporting event in which the on-field "talent" asks the stud quarterback, power-forward, or pitcher "how it felt to win that big game today..." or some such? If you've watched as much sports on TV as I have, you may have seen this interview play out hundreds of times, with only one or two occasions being worth listening to.

Their poor quality is not the athlete's fault though. After all, the very thing that enables an athlete to become that stud performer, those non-reflective personality traits, generally spiced with ample arrogance, is what will keep him (and somewhat less often, her) from providing a meaningful answer to that question. That's why it's the smart jocks who use clichés. They know better.

Notice I left golfers out of my list of sports above. That game requires so much more reflection that the assertion doesn't hold, but I digress.

The reason I'm leading with this is because of a topic I've touched on a bunch in one way or another over the past six months - Google's arrogance. This time, however, I'm not going to take the "Do no harm" company to task. As with their April Fools Day launch of Gmail last year, I come to praise Caesar, not bury him.



What Google is up to with their launch of a new IM service is nothing short of taking their most meaningful step yet toward the development of a complete Web Operating System (OS). Remember the late 1990s, when Netscape was the browser of choice for many and people were chastising Microsoft for having spent too many development cycles on enterprise software? Even Bill Gates had to admit that Redmond had underestimated the Web market.

Despite making huge and multiple gains in Web markets, Microsoft's technology leadership position has been bruised by Google in no small way, and has admitted that catching up just in search presents major challenges. One of the results is that Microsoft is a far more nimble company now, with development teams making great strides and building better technology. Let's also not forget that Google is a Microsoft company with products and tools that are designed to work within Microsoft platforms. This is hardly an usurpation we're talking about here.

But, a Web OS along the lines of what I think Google is trying to create would deliver a serious body blow to Microsoft, as well as to many other companies trying to play catch-up.

Remember when Google's Search Engine didn't accept advertising? Many of us were using it for some time before there were such things as paid search, let alone sponsored links. Why did we use it? Because it was a better search engine which delivered better results in a simple, elegant interface. Google built a tremendous brand well before they monetized it. Of course, this was done by design.

In some ways, what Google did was to leverage Geoffrey Moore's "Early Adopter" strategy, designed primarily for B2B markets and make it work in the consumer market. Surely you recall having read his "Crossing the Chasm"? Build the brand and make its applications as user-friendly as possible, well before undertaking any monetization strategies. What they did was nothing short of well-executed genius applied in ways well beyond what any early adopter acolyte could have anticipated. Of course, others got there first. But, that's another column.

Think of how Google has been replicating that endeavor in the past 18 months, but toward a different product. With Gmail, Google Sidebar (which used to be called Google Desktop Search), and now their own Instant Messenger beta, Google has been providing free and useful applications that will put Google code on millions of users' hard drives.

Not only are they expanding their brand, they're expanding their footprint in ways that are meaningful to users' hearts: hey! 2GB of free storage; and minds: (I can find documents on my hard drive in two seconds and search against their topics to improve them on the entire Web at the same time!). Increasingly, and just as significantly, Google is expanding its technology's footprint by dropping all their code on so many hard drives.

Google isn't likely the only one doing this, of course. I'd bet that Yahoo! is planning along these lines too and Microsoft may yet beat both of these companies to it. But, at least in this case, the very thing that an increasing number of critics point out about Google - its arrogance - may be the characteristic that enables it to tilt at the biggest windmill of them all.

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