On Google integrating Google+ into Chrome

posted 08 November 2011, updated 08 November 2011

MG Siegler on Google integrating Google+ into Chrome:

Right now, Google bakes G+ into most Google properties via the black nav bar. This undoubtedly spurs a lot of usage. What if the next phase is to take it a step higher? Go right to the browser itself? ... They already have users logging into Chrome now for syncing, etc. We’re already much closer to this happening than most probably realize. ... From a business and integration perspective, these would ... be smart moves. But they’ll also remind people even more of 90s-era Microsoft. Google has to tread carefully here.

I think most people agree that Google should try to avoid being like 90s-era Microsoft, if only because everybody hated 90s-era Microsoft. But there's a bigger reason than Google's long-broken promise of "don't be evil", which is that this strategy doesn't work. You cannot make a bad product popular by integrating it into a good one; all you can do is ruin the good product.

Microsoft, of course, is famous for this. They integrated their awful browser deeply into their operating system. On the face of it this would seem like a vindication of the strategy: Explorer became the dominant browser for years. But while everybody used Explorer, they'd ruined Windows: Explorer was one giant security vulnerability, leading to a huge decline in public confidence in the operating system, making Apple's locked-down approach more attractive. It was a public-relations nightmare, over and over.

And there are lots of much clearer examples. Yahoo's integration of, well, everything into everything else. You name it: they integrated Mail into the front page, News into Mail, YAP into both front page and Mail, My Yahoo into everything. RealNetwork's integration of so much crap into their media player that everyone abandoned them. More recently, Apple's integration of Ping into iTunes was met with derision and further complaints of bloatware. None of these integrations made the crappy products any less crappy, they just made people abandon the popular products in favour of cleaner, simpler alternatives.

Of course, making use of the popularity of your existing, popular products to boost the popularity of your new product is a sensible strategy: you get a burst of traffic and can reach critical mass fast. But if it turns out the new product stinks, you need to turn it off fast. Google tried it with Buzz and it was a disaster; they tried it with Plus and so far it's been working, because Plus is a much better clone of Facebook than Buzz was a clone of Twitter.

But the shine seems to be wearing off Plus, and they're not turning around the APIs they need fast enough to bring developers onto Plus as a platform, a crucial plank of Facebook's popularity. If they build notifications into Chrome to artificially boost its popularity rather than beefing up the APIs to genuinely improve the product, they'll find they have a revolt on their hands, with users abandoning Chrome.

Hopefully, Google knows better than to make that mistake.