20 May 2010

Does Google Get It Right Always?

Google has been the all conquering hero for some time. But as we have seen of late that gleam is wearing a little thin and with a certain amount of tarnish on it. The recent privacy spat over their "accidental" collection of data is an example. I used to work for a very large company who was also accused of such bad behavior. So I have some empathy for the impact.

After the huge hype for Nexus One phones - the unlocked Android based phone directly from Google - the company decided to shut it's only web store. I recently had the opportunity to play with several Android phones. Its funny that the level of quality on the software of the Android phone was not unlike the way Google handles search. Its almost good. But it takes a degree of effort to get a great result. If you work in software a long time - you realize that users expect perfect results. Yet we never get the perfect answer. Many times we don't even get a great answer. But I really did expect the product to be a lot better than it is. I also got to play with other versions of the Android. WAY BETTER!!!!

This had me thinking what will Google be like if (or rather when) it goes directly into the travel transaction business. ITA has built a very good business in solving search for single vendors and neutral players such as Kayak, Bing and of course Orbitz. One thing is for sure - the nice gentlemanly rules of the club will not be played by Google. Why? because they don't play by the rules as we know them. In fact Google's whole business ethic is about breaking the rules. Good thing or bad thing?

So the one thing that worries me more than anything else is that quality will be a casualty. But stick with me here a moment. Perhaps Google took a look at the quality of travel content and decided that actually it matched Google's loose approach to quality. Lately I have become involved in search. I think search is going to have a profound effect on travel and the way it is managed and handled. We are still very early in search in travel. This will be a long road. There is so much more to be learned about search. Mostly that the ability of the content to be searched can - at best - be described as embryonic. Travel content (or more accurately components of travel products) don't lend themselves well to search. So we tend to simplify and abstract the minimum level of data in order to serve up search results which if we are truly honest are pretty crappy. Oh yes and of course few if anyone (on the true supply side) really wants to let the product be searched effectively.

To answer my own question - I believe that Google just may be correct about travel.

But it doesn't mean that it is right. Nor does it mean that Google's way is the right way.

But we are about to find out how much fun it will be to try. And my exhortation to everyone else - particularly the existing players in the business - is we had better get serious about search. If not we will be saying that Google has become the evil empire.


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