Dos artículos publicados en el New York Times se refieren a Google. Uno hace un análisis de una nueva publicación online, “Think Quarterly”, que Google lanza como herramienta de mercadeo de negocios. El otro artículo compara los enfoques de diseño e ingeniería de Google y de Apple.
Slowing Down to Savor the Data
By NATASHA SINGER
Published: July 23, 2011
“DATA beats opinion” has long been a mantra at Google, where evidence-based research tends to rule. But now the company is showing its softer side with Think Quarterly, a business-to-business publication whose first United States issue is to make its debut online this week.
Although the Web site will be accessible to the public, the e-zine is designed as a business marketing vehicle, promoting Google’s insights and analyses of consumer behavior to clients like digital advertisers and publishers. The company worked with Fantasy Interactive, a digital design agency in Manhattan, to make the publication look sleek on iPads and smartphones.
But Google is turning to a retro technique — snail mail — to try to create buzz for the online project, printing a limited edition of Think Quarterly as a hardcover book. This week, a small group of marketing executives and agencies are set to receive it. How many? Google declined to say.
But we can tell you that the book comes packaged like a billet-doux: fastened with a blue ribbon and secured with an old-fashioned-looking embossed seal. In other words, the fast-information company is inviting its clients to a data slow dance.
“Since we are such believers in the power of digital information,” says Lisa Gevelber, head of global ads marketing at Google, “you especially would not expect us to produce a book.” The hard-copy format is intended to be disruptive, she says, with surprise tactile elements. The front cover can be used as a magnetic word-board, for example, and the heat-sensitive end papers react like mood rings.
The company has conducted in-house research for years, often packaging it for the public in products like Google Trends or Google Insights for Search . But at a time when data is proliferating faster than ever, Google is playing devil’s advocate with the new publication, a leisurely read that noodles over the business implications and applications of innovation and information.
Think Quarterly includes articles by Google executives, profiles of managers at other companies, bright illustrations, data visualizations and large-font quotations that look like Google search results. Like the Slow Food movement, which advocates savoring locally grown produce, it could be seen as an argument for Slow Data. After all, ruminating over selective data seems a logical antidote to wholesale data collection.
The publication aims to highlight information that is “the most salient to how the world is changing,” Ms. Gevelber says, and to identify trends that marketers might harness. Dataphiles may find the site interesting as well.
There’s an article by Amit Singhal, the engineer responsible for developing Google’s search engine, envisioning more accurate and more personalized search technology. There’s a top 10 list of novel ideas — for example, the Gross National Happiness Index developed by Bhutan — selected by Hannah Jones, a Nike executive.
There’s also an article by Dennis Woodside, Google’s president of American sales, on the next big marketing trends. By 2015, he predicts, payment via smartphones will rival credit card use, and niche online content produced by specialists will likely nudge out more general content.
It’s probably not a coincidence that Mr. Woodside’s article underscores the importance of experts. Marketing Google as the pre-eminent data curator seems to be Think Quarterly’s raison d’être. It’s Wired magazine re-imagined for digital marketing executives.
Just don’t call it content creation — a move that would have Google competing with the publishers that are its customers.
“It’s not in any way intended to be a publishing endeavor,” Ms. Gevelber avers.
Whatever you want to call it, the publication represents the latest entry in a long line of high-profile business-to-business marketing and media projects. Dell’s Web site, “The Power to Do More,” promotes Dell products like electronic medical records. The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania has “Knowledge at Wharton,” a site that publicizes faculty research.
BUT Think Quarterly is unusual because, in addition to promoting Google’s own people and products, it seems designed to spur private conversations between Google and its most forward-thinking clients, says Gary Lilien, a research professor of management science at Pennsylvania State University who studies business-to-business marketing. “I think it’s a mechanism for Google to build a community with their advertisers and content providers,” Professor Lilien says. The Web site may be freely accessible to the public, he adds, but “they are not trying to broadcast this — it’s more of a closed club.”
The publication is part of a Google effort, started last year, to package the company’s data analyses and trend forecasts for its clients as the “Think” brand. There are conferences called think events, for major advertisers and business partners, and a Web site called “think insights” for marketers who are interested in research on consumer impressions. Earlier this year, the company published a British-centric online edition of Think Quarterly and delivered it in book format to executives in Britain.
The effort to sort, select and summarize data for others is not new. It’s an ancient, pragmatic response to feeling beleaguered by information, says Ann Blair, a history professor at Harvard and the author of “Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information Before the Modern Age.” In earlier ages, however, the sense of being inundated with information was felt mainly by scholars. After the printing press was invented, Professor Blair says, they felt even more overwhelmed by the sheer number of books available.
Now the public is facing a digital data tsunami. “What strikes me as unique about our age isn’t so much that, as individuals, we feel overloaded and panicked about all the information we should know,” she says, “but the fact that everyone, whatever your walk of life, everyone now experiences overload.”
Google may be positioning itself as the curator for digital marketers. The rest of us, however, may have to fend for ourselves.
The Auteur vs. the Committee
By RANDALL STROSS
Published: July 23, 2011
AT Apple, one is the magic number.
One person is the Decider for final design choices. Not focus groups. Not data crunchers. Not committee consensus-builders. The decisions reflect the sensibility of just one person: Steven P. Jobs, the C.E.O.
By contrast, Google has followed the conventional approach, with lots of people playing a role. That group prefers to rely on experimental data, not designers, to guide its decisions.
The contest is not even close. The company that has a single arbiter of taste has been producing superior products, showing that you don’t need multiple teams and dozens or hundreds or thousands of voices.
Two years ago, the technology blogger John Gruber presented a talk, “The Auteur Theory of Design,” at the Macworld Expo. Mr. Gruber suggested how filmmaking could be a helpful model in guiding creative collaboration in other realms, like software.
The auteur, a film director who both has a distinctive vision for a work and exercises creative control, works with many other creative people. “What the director is doing, nonstop, from the beginning of signing on until the movie is done, is making decisions,” Mr. Gruber said. “And just simply making decisions, one after another, can be a form of art.”
“The quality of any collaborative creative endeavor tends to approach the level of taste of whoever is in charge,” Mr. Gruber pointed out.
Two years after he outlined his theory, it is still a touchstone in design circles for discussing Apple and its rivals.
Garry Tan, designer in residence and a venture partner at Y Combinator, an investor in start-ups, says: “Steve Jobs is not always right—MobileMe would be an example. But we do know that all major design decisions have to pass his muster. That is what an auteur does.”
Mr. Jobs has acquired a reputation as a great designer, Mr. Tan says, not because he personally makes the designs but because “he’s got the eye.” He has also hired classically trained designers like Jonathan Ive. “Design excellence also attracts design talent,” Mr. Tan explains.
Google has what it calls a “creative lab,” a group that had originally worked on advertising to promote its brand. More recently, the lab has been asked to supply a design vision to the engineering and user-experience groups that work on all of Google’s products. Chris L. Wiggins, the lab’s creative director, whose own background is in advertising, describes design as a collaborative process among groups “with really fruitful back-and-forth.”
“There’s only one Steve Jobs, and he’s a genius,” says Mr. Wiggins. “But it’s important to distinguish that we’re discussing the design of Web applications, not hardware or desktop software. And for that we take a different approach to design than Apple,” he says. Google, he says, utilizes the Web to pull feedback from users and make constant improvements.
Mr. Wiggins’s argument that Apple’s apples should not be compared to Google’s oranges does not explain, however, why Apple’s smartphone software gets much higher marks than Google’s.
GOOGLE’S ability to attract and retain design talent has not been helped by the departure of designers who felt their expertise was not fully appreciated. “Google is an engineering company, and as a researcher or designer, it’s very difficult to have your voice heard at a strategic level,” writes Paul Adams on his blog, “Think Outside In.” Mr. Adams was a senior user-experience researcher at Google until last year; he is now at Facebook.
Douglas Bowman is another example. He was hired as Google’s first visual designer in 2006, when the company was already seven years old. “Seven years is a long time to run a company without a classically trained designer,” he wrote in his blog Stopdesign in 2009. He complained that there was no one at or near the helm of Google who “thoroughly understands the principles and elements of design” “I had a recent debate over whether a border should be 3, 4 or 5 pixels wide,” Mr. Bowman wrote, adding, “I can’t operate in an environment like that.” His post was titled, “Goodbye, Google.”
Mr. Bowman’s departure spurred other designers with experience at either Google or Apple to comment on differences between the two companies. Mr. Gruber, at his Daring Fireball blog, concisely summarized one account under the headline “Apple Is a Design Company With Engineers; Google Is an Engineering Company With Designers.”
In May, Google, ever the engineering company, showed an unwillingness to notice design expertise when it tried to recruit Pablo Villalba Villar, the chief executive of Teambox, an online project management company. Mr. Villalba later wrote that he had no intention of leaving Teambox and cooperated to experience Google’s hiring process for himself. He tried to call attention to his main expertise in user interaction and product design. But he said that what the recruiter wanted to know was his mastery of 14 programming languages.
Mr. Villalba was dismayed that Google did not appear to have changed since Mr. Bowman left. “Design can’t be done by committee,” he said.
Recently, as Larry Page, the company co-founder, began his tenure as C.E.O., , Google rolled out Google+ and a new look for the Google home page, Gmail and its calendar. More redesigns have been promised. But they will be produced, as before, within a very crowded and noisy editing booth. Google does not have a true auteur who unilaterally decides on the final cut.
Randall Stross is an author based in Silicon Valley and a professor of business at San Jose State University. E-mail: email@example.com.