Bad Business Idea: Your Ads and Google Searches

So I seem to have a terrible problem with eaves-dropping. It isn't so much that I particularly care about what other people are saying as I have an incredibly low bullshit threshold. So we're sitting at this restaurant attached to a golf course, and the table next to us contains the three archetypal members of any .COM startup:

  1. Young, enthusiastic technology guy
  2. Mid-thirties manager / finance guy
  3. Older "dreamer" (I think sometimes called a Grey Hair) - lends legitimacy

So these three guys sit down after we do, so I'm privy to this intro: The young guy (probably 21 or 22) walks up and says "Check it out" and proceeds to whip out his new iPhone.

Anyone who starts a conversation with an iPhone should not be trusted to make decisions, recommendations, or give advice of any kind on technology. Note this is not all iPhone owners, but simply those that begin conversations with a device they purchased. They are clearly a "style over substance" user, which is fine unless they're recommending what YOU do with YOUR time / money, or explaining why they know the direction things are going. These people are followers, not leaders.

So they proceed to discuss their business venture. Here it is: They're going to release a search engine that pays you. Well, not really pays you, but uses the money they would have paid you to make donations to a charity. And keeps some themselves. Anyhow, they're going to take Google search results (probably by doing the Google API licensing thing the way Yahoo and others do), and "wrap" them in their own ads, and offer premium placement to their partners. Problem 1: Entering any market with the assumption "If we can even get 1%, that's billions!". They then begin to discuss implementation, because clearly this idea is so solid it bears no furhter discussion.

Their basic strategy is to offer advertisers a "tiered" structure. You want bold lettering? That's extra. You want a green background? That's extra. Think eBay listings. But cluttering up a search engine. All in the name of "donating to charity".

They talk about user accounts. Apparently in order to use their search engine, you'll have to log in. Then they can track your payments and donations and stuff. They'll also sell your information.

So these guys seem to have completely missed the whole "user experience" angle. They've designed their product with their corporate goals in mind first, followed by the needs of their advertisers. No one stopped to think what logging in to a page full of ads and a Google search result would do to a user.

They'd be gone. I predict they'll be lucky to break a thousand users. Most of those will be gaming the system in one way or another, or will be the advertisers.

So I want to call this a complete failure of an idea. If you want to break into the search market, you need to do one of three things.

  1. Deliver "addative content" in a way that has never been done before. is trying with their whole "enhanced search" - even Google is letting me pick products, services, maps, local businesses, etc as my possible search results. I don't know what it is, but eBay listing-style ads where the more they pay the more annoying they get? That's sure not it.
  2. Define a positive user experience. Make sure that when I'm hitting your site I know exacty what I'm going to get. Don't trick me into clicking ads. Don't make some half-hearted appeal to "charity", and don't pepper me with ads. I'm just going to block them anyways.
  3. Deliver better / more accurate results. I put this one last because it actually matters the least. If you can best Google at search results (hell, I have to say I find what I'm looking for faster on than sometimes), you'll have a leg up. But almost no one will care.

So there you have it. All the ways in which this idea will fail, and the few things they could do to keep that from happening.

That's all for now. I'll update you when I hear another terrible, poorly thought-out idea.

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