Lorraine Twohill, Google‘s Marketing Director for Europe presented an excellent keynote address on how Google has leveraged its original core search service to expand existing and create new marketplaces on the internet, packing what seemed like two hours worth of information and anecdotes into a half-hour presentation. She discussed the rapidly changing user experience within the networked environment. Users were originally “pushed” information in similar fashion to traditional media such as television or newspapers. Technologies such as RSS feeds and improved search engines allowed consumers to “pull” only the information that they wanted or needed. Most recently, newly innovated sites and resources have enabled those average citizens to join the content creation marketplace and to publish their works to a global audience.
Google’s mission has always been to assist its users in finding the information and resources they want as quickly and as easily as possible. Ms. Twohill stated that Google’s goal with the search site was all about getting the user off of the site as soon as possible; if they are able to point a user in the proper direction in a fast and simple fashion, it is more likely that user will return again later and become more loyal to the service.
It is well-known that the internal Google environment encourages its employees to contribute ideas and innovations for the company’s use. About 70% of work time is spent on improving the core search services, 20% is focused on developing all of Google’s other offered products such as Gmail and Google News, and the remaining 10% on truly new innovation. Google allows its employees one day out of every week to work on their own private projects. If a project seems useful, the employee will be given a couple of engineers to work with and will develop the ideas in the Google Labs. This process is how most or all of their related products have been produced.
Google watches trends in the marketplace as well, in an attempt to pre-position themselves for continuing future success. She discussed the huge increase in broadband penetration throughout the world (except for the sorely lagging United States) which has enabled consumer creation, remixing, and sharing of richer content. User created video has exploded recently with hosting sites such as YouTube and Google Video. An excellent example was the recent well-known soccer match in which former player Zinedine Zidane headbutted another player. The video was passed around and remixed by thousands of people, who posted more than 23,000 related videos to public hosting sites.
Another trend that is gathering steam is increasingly easy and available access to information technology. Mobile devices allow connection to the ‘net from almost anywhere, and projects such as MIT’s one hundred dollar laptop will help provide access to populations that cannot afford traditionally spendy computer technology. Getting everyone wired will only increase the level of consumer participation and information sharing.
And there is a pent up demand for self expression. This is the heart of the definition of Web 2.0: that people want to be seen and heard, to have an audience, to be a part of a community. Google has opened APIs for some of its products, such as the personalized homepage portal on their core site – accessible by registering a free Google account – allowing the audience to create modules that any other user can place on their customized page. The explosion in gadgets submitted was no accident, as it scratched that creative itch for module authors.
The internet is new creative playground. Edgy content can not only survive but become extremely popular on the internet where traditional media such as television might refuse to even show it. An ad agency for Ford Motor Company produced a series of ‘net-only commercials for the Ford SportKa, an automobile model unavailable in the states. But many many thousands of U.S. citizens watched the commercials on the internet along with their global brethren, which had scenes such as a bird getting whacked by the car’s hood as it flew over and being flung away thus preventing the bird from ruining the car’s paint job as they do so well, and the even more questionable version with a cat being decapitated (via special effects) by a SportKa’s sun roof. These commercials were extremely popular on the web, and their humor helped to build Ford’s brand in its targetted market. Some traditional television commercials show up on the web in extended versions, such as the recent Bravia commercial with the colored balls bouncing down a street in San Francisco. Consumer creators can have brilliant success as well, as demonstrated by the “Chinese Backstreet Boys,” campy lip syncers who uploaded several videos that were viewed hundreds of thousands of times, and who eventually were even signed by Motorola to star in commercials promoting Motorola products.
The main point of Ms. Twohill’s presentation was that the internet today is enabling everyone to play, rather than just the traditionally commercially supported agencies and artists, and where everyone can have a global audience if what they create holds appeal for others. The world of Alternate Reality Gaming is no stranger to this phenomenon, as it was mainly supported in the early years almost completely by grassroots productions. Some of those creators have already gone on to work professionally within the genre for commercial productions. The future may see even more user-created games as more tools and resources become available and as they become easier to use, which one hopes will provide more opportunities for success both for creative artists and the genre itself.