Google Offers [Beta]

As the internet has grown and Web 2.0 has emerged, a number of new developments have hit the web. Amongst these has been the development of “Perpetual Beta”, but what does it mean? According to leading Web 2.0 spokesman Tim O’Reilly, Perpetual Beta is a key facet of the growth of web 2.0 and is defined as:

Users must be treated as co-developers, in a reflection of open source development practices (even if the software in question is unlikely to be released under an open source license.) The open source dictum, ‘release early and release often’, in fact has morphed into an even more radical position, ‘the perpetual beta’, in which the product is developed in the open, with new features slipstreamed in on a monthly, weekly, or even daily basis. It’s no accident that services such as Gmail, Google Maps, Flickr, del.icio.us, and the like may be expected to bear a ‘Beta’ logo for years at a time

Google who are synonymous with cutting edge web applications and even more synonymous with betas. Ever since the start of Google there have been a number of Google Betas that have ended up being fully -fledged web applications, these have ranged from Google search, GMail, Google Maps, Google Chrome, Google TV and many more.

Google Offers

In January 2011 the multinational company launched a new service called Google Offers which is currently only available in a limited number of metropolitan areas within the United States. The idea of Google Offers is to provide subscribed users with an e-mail with a local deal of the day. They then have the opportunity to buy that deal within a specific time limit (usually 24 hours). Once enough people have made the purchase, the Google Offer is triggered and users get a discount.

This isn’t a new idea, one of the leaders in this field is a company called Groupon;  Groupon features a daily deal on the best stuff to do, see, eat, and buy in more than 565 cities around the world. By promising businesses a minimum number of customers, Groupon can offer deals that aren’t available elsewhere (for more on Croupon try reading a fellow classmates blog post). As a result of Groupons success Google attempted to buy the company in November for $6 billion. As a result of that failed buyout Google set about creating its own service called Google Offers. In addition to the features offered by its competitors Google has also introduced a new element to the coupon subscription game, as Google Offers displays deals on a map (integration of Google Maps) and allows users to pick bargains based on location and compare competing deals within the service. Google has also integrated it into a number of other web 2.0 services including Facebook, Twitter, Google Reader, Google Buzz and e-mail sharing options. Below is a video on how Google see the system working…

But how does this new beta service from Google stack up against the idea of “Perpetual Beta”? According to Watson (2011), successful beta services have a number of common features, how these features relate to Google Offers is shown below:

  • Release early and release often: As with many new products, their are often growing pains. To alleviate some of these issues Google as it has done in the past with previous services has released a streamlined service that is only available in 5 locations. Then Google will continue to be add features/releases as the service grows using agile and iterative development techniques.
  • Engage users as co-developers and real-time testers: One of the main reasons Google has limited the availability of the service to just a number of towns is to allow them time to get the service right before making it national and global. By using a small sample audience and real life testers to start off with Google is able to assess its users behaviour and statistics to make informed product decisions that will allow for a better rounded service.
  • Instrument your product: One of the major advantages of a web 2.0 based system compared to a desktop driven environment, is that the service provider is able to compile statistics and capture what users are saying about your product  in order  for the provider to create a better system and a far more user friendly driven environment.
  • Incrementally create new products: Theres a saying “What version of Google are you running?”. Google has made a name for its self by launching products in beta and then gathered  significant feedback from users, which is then used to incrementally added new features which are done in such a way that the user unlike a desktop OS is unaware what version of the web 2.0 service that there running. New features will almost certainly continue to grown with Google Offers.
  • Make operations a core competency: Google has become far more than a search engine, and its management of data to day data has played a large part to its success and its able to utilize what information it gathers to its users. Google Offers is no different as it uses many facets of Googles business and makes Google Offers seem a collaboration of current Google products – while finding a niche and need within the market place.

As Google continues to grow its online business, it will inevitably continue to utilize a “Perpetual Beta” approach as a way to make its products better and faster for its users. As its does so it continues to move away from one of its competitors:

 “Microsoft’s business model depends on everyone upgrading their computing environment every two to three years. Google’s depends on everyone exploring what’s new in their computing environment every day.” (Wainewright, 2005)

This statement alone in my opinion shows how Microsoft, once the leader of IT on the planet is being overtaken by its competitors as they embrace new technology.

As for the electronic coupon idea, the pool of services in this domain is starting to get crowded, with Google entering the market and Facebook having launched Facebook Deals to connect users and local businesses with discounts, all this competition can only mean good things for there users. For a more im depth review of the coupon services check out this infographic.

Further Reading:

Google Enters Coupon War

Google Offer Sneak Peak

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Innovation in Assembly…. Google Maps

Google Maps is a web mapping service provided by tech giant Google, it provides many map-based services, including the Google Maps website and many of the our day-to-day websites and applications, over 350,00 infact. Google offers the service, called an API (application programming interface) to developers to use free of charge as long as its not for commercial use. 

Firstly what is an API, according to Wikipedia:  its a particular set of rules and specifications that a software program can follow to access and make use of the services and resources provided by another particular software program that implements that API. Secondly why would Google hand the keys over to there software to complete strangers? To answer that question its important to understand one of the key patterns of Web 2.0 according to O’Reilly, who states that “Innovation is in Assembly”, in laymen’s terms this means when commodity components are abundant, you can create value simply by assembling them in novel or effective ways… Like online maps. This approach to snap on services allowing  companies the ability to beat there competition by  harnessing and integrating services provided by others. Google as you would expect is making money on this service just like there world renowned search engine. They do this in two main ways:

  1. Sell ad space on the service. This is done in two different ways: 1) using Google’s acclaimed AdSense engine that places advertising that is related to the topic the user has searched for whether that is in a search engine or a geographical location. Option 2) was introduced in 2010 and allows companies to pay Google to have their brand logos inserted into the map as part of the icons. 
  2. The second way Google Maps makes money is buying selling the service  to enterprises who pay for the rights to use the Google Maps API behind protected logins and intranets (which is currently against the free terms of service).

But its clear that Google Maps didn’t just succeed just because it was making the Californian based company money, the application successful met some of the best practices in application statergy, as outlined by Watson (2011):

  1. Google offered API’s for its service
  2. Google Maps has exceptional design by remixability (flexibility), this was actually stumbled upon my Google who found that there map service that was being created at the time was being hacked and in-fact made into a mashup. Google changed their business model… and the rest is history i guess.
  3. Google included developer support (tutorials), and allowed for analytics of there map service, this ensured that they followed the API best practices theory for uptake.
  4. Google Maps used/uses already existing standards meaning devlopers could use the tool without learning a new coding language.
  5. Google managed to build its business model (AdSense) into the API.
  6. Google is Google Maps biggest customer – be your own customer

As mentioned at the start of the blog, Google Maps API is used around the world in hundreds of thousands of applications and websites, you would almost use it everyday, and thats what makes API’s and Google’s one in particular so usable is it flexibility.

Further Reading:

Google Maps Mashups

How Google Makes Money

Googles Business Philosophy

O’Reilly – Web 2.0