It always strikes me as odd that in the constant battle for online supremacy, the big companies like Google, Yahoo, MSN, AOL etc habitually make the mistake of over-diversification. Because the competitive landscape of the internet is as volatile as a shed full of fireworks, with new trends and ventures taking off into the stratosphere every week – not to mention the vast majority who achieve no more than expending their thrust against a brick wall before falling the short drop to the ground – the opportunities seem too good to miss. No-one in business likes to feel that they’re missing a big trend. When a start-up is attracting positive attention, the online behemoths take a look and think “that’s great, but with our massive platform we could blow their impressive figures out of the water”. Not so easy.
Countless major sites and companies have tried to follow the trend of social networking. UK music retailer HMV recently closed ‘Get Closer’ only a year after launching the music-based social network. Google, the perceived leader in the online game who garner nothing but high praise aren’t immune either. They launched Orkut, a social network which is big in Brazil but failed spectacularly in most other territories when compared to MySpace and Facebook.
Twitter’s hype continues to burn bright over a year after it first started to attract mainstream attention. It’s a very simple product that does one thing very well. Their status as a major player was confirmed when the world’s 5th biggest website – Facebook – took its first cue from Twitter in March 2009, followed by a series of changes mimicking the trending micro-blogging service during 2009 which saw Facebook risk the alienation of users and app developers alike. This didn’t go down well with the Facebook crowd and rumours of further changes continue to circulate.
It can work the other way too. For years MSN Messenger (now called Windows Live Messenger) has offered voice and video chat along with their dizzying plethora of social products and functions (can you name all the things that come under the Windows Live brand? I can’t!). Look at how relative newcomer Skype took that and refined it, focussing their entire business on that one key function and making it a top product.
So why don’t companies learn? What many forget is that being on a website is not like being in a shop, to leave one website and enter another takes no more than one click on the bookmarks bar, quite possibly easier than navigating to another part of the site they’re already on. And more importantly, users are happy to use ten different websites regularly, they don’t necessarily want everything all on one site. All we care about is whether the site is performing the function required at that moment and that it’s the best at what it does.
I know what you’re starting to think – “doesn’t this guy work for MySpace? Helloooo!!”. Well, yeah. We’re slimming down the site a lot and have realised all of the above and more thanks to our shit-hot new executive team so expect to see some truly great stuff coming out of MySpace in the near future This is not an official MySpace communication, it is my personal blog, but need to say that in the interest of context
Let me know what you think about best in class web products and if the big sites’ failures are just part of the process of building a portfolio of great products.