Primary and secondary purposes: just not getting the difference.

John Gruber provides an analysis and comparison of recent memos from Steve Jobs and Steve Ballmer. He’s mainly interested in the style of the memos, but I noticed something revealing in an except he provides from Ballmer’s.

In discussing Google, Ballmer makes the following statement:

We continue to compete with Google on two fronts — in the enterprise, where we lead; and in search, where we trail. In search, our technology has come a long way in a very short time and it’s an area where we’ll continue to invest to be a market leader. Why? Because search is the key to unlocking the enormous market opportunities in advertising, and it is an area that is ripe for innovation.

[Emphasis mine] No. Search is about search. As in, searching for information. That is the first and foremost purpose of a search engine, and it is why users use them. Users do not turn to Google – or any other site – to be served ads.

That is something that Google understood from the start, and that Microsoft – and a host of other companies – simply do not get.

Google does offer ads on its search pages (and in other services, such as Gmail). They are simple textual ads, though. They do not affect the speed with which the page loads, or distract from the primary purpose of the page. They can be easily ignored while the user does what he or she visited the page to do.

Other companies, however, regard content as secondary to advertising. It is noteworthy that, on many pages all over the internet, the ads load first, followed by the content – the reason you went to the page in the first place. Sometimes, a flash ad will then pop up over the content. Even short magazine articles are divided over multiple pages: each page loads more ads.

And this problem is not just limited to the internet. Television has become a platform primarily for serving advertisements; programming is secondary (and often hidden behind an annoying animated ad).

For all its faults, Google understood that forcing users to view advertisements is not the way to attract them. The advertisers may have the big money, but it is users who have the eyeballs advertisers are seeking. Disrespecting users by treating them not as individuals, but as resources to be exploited, will only drive them away. Eventually, the eyes glaze over the ads; there are too many to keep up with, and they all disappear as noise in the background.

Customers, whether they be computer users or TV viewers, will find alternatives to ad-laden sites or channels. In online search, that alternative was Google, which displaced prior king Yahoo, which was very useful until the ads became more important than the search itself.

In summary, Google did not get where it is because people use its services to view its ads. The ads are peripheral to the experience, and do not distract from it. If I had my way, there would be no ads at all (actually, I do have my way; thank you, AdBlock Plus and Customize Google), but I am more than willing to live with ads that treat me like a person, instead of just an itchy index finger.

Until Microsoft learns that, it will never dethrone Google. And the same goes for every company that treats content as secondary to advertising. All those advertising dollars drive the user away. You may think that’s a smart strategy in the short term, but, in a few years when you are an also-ran, you’ll realize that all the ads in the world are of no value if there is no one there to see them.

TAGS: , ,

1 comment:

Deb said...

Yay! Adblock Plus and Adblock Plus Element Helper. That one works on text ads.

I hardly ever see ads and even if I did, I wouldn't buy anything. Sometimes the product placement is overwhelming when you watch a show. Very irritating. The DVR and fast forward are my friends.

Really glad to see you back in the saddle again.