Thursday, February 10, 2005

Down, boys! Down!

Like a pack of so many alpha males, the top dogs in online media are fiercely streaming new products onto the Internet to mark their territory. The problem is that the stuff doesn't work, frustrating users and devaluing their reputations.

Take the new "local sites" from Yahoo and Google. Please.

Both companies recently trotted out search sites that are supposed to steer you to the closest pizza parlor or hardware store. The idea is that the proprietors of said businesses will purchase keyword ads to promote their pepperoni or power-tool specials. Suffice to say, these early endeavors need lots more work.

At Google's "beta" local site, I got 10 completely irrelevant listings when I hunted for "The Aviator," the Howard Hughes biopic. My luck was a bit better when I looked for "digital camera" and provided my home address. In that case, only 6 of the 10 listings were completely irrelevant. Though the first two listings were on point, they would have sent me across town, if I didn't know any better. In fairness, the third entry did point to a camera shop less than a mile from my door. But I already knew that.

In searching for "The Aviator" on Yahoo's local site, I got four utterly random listings that had nothing to do with the movie or any relation to each other. Six of 10 listings for "digital camera" actually were for camera shops, but not one of them was for the one nearest my home.

The new local sites aren't the only points of failure.

When I used Google's new mapping function to look for Lawrence, KS, I got a great, detailed map of Lawrence, but when I zoomed out to locate the town on a map of the whole state, Lawrence was gone. When I asked for the location of Fowler Creek Road in Sonoma, CA, I didn't get a map showing me the road, but I did get a bunch of irrelevant ads, including a listing for a Thai restaurant three counties away.

As previously discussed in this space, Microsoft's heavily promoted new search engine performs about four times worse than Lycos, Dogpile or Yahoo. And A9.Com's semi-illustrated Yellow Pages are incomplete, inconsistent and oftimes irrelevant.

Each of these companies would tell you that these are "beta" sites, or works in progress requiring further testing and refinement.

In the olden days of technology development, beta products were confined behind the firewall for use by in-house testers. Products were not publicly released until it was reasonably believed that they would work as advertised.

This all changed during the Bubble years, when "time to market" was prized over stability, functionality and common sense. The bubble burst for a lot of reasons, but one of the principal ones was that people stopped believing Silicon Valley's fairytales.

Companies like Microsoft, Yahoo, Google and Amazon are too big, too important and, arguably, too competent, to degrade their reputations by hustling half-baked junk into the marketplace. Why are they doing this?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Public betas are much more effective as they allow a larger audience to test the product before it is made final.

Thats why its not on the home pages, because its BETA. It's like looking at an un-born child and telling the mother its going to be a horrible person.

I'm astounded at your arrogance and ignorance.

8:36 PM  

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