Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Ripping off for fun and profit.

"Jobs was angry because he felt that Android was ripping off the key features of the iPhone."

Nowadays, Mark Zuckerberg probably feels the same. With Wave and Buzz, Google's home-grown attempts at social networking, Google tried to use gmail to get people into their user base. It didn't work because Wave and Buzz had interfaces and functionality very different from Facebook, a dominant design in the social networking space at the time. People decided not to move into an unfamiliar territory.

Now, with some tweaks, the new Google+ service is an obvious ripoff of Facebook, with a little bit of LiveJournal functionality - circles instead of friendlists - thrown in. It feels familiar, it looks familiar, it acts familiar. People seem to be moving in in millions.

Innovation by ripoff appears to be a winning business strategy for Google. They've done it with other major commercially successful products: Overture (text ads model - AdWords), Yahoo Maps (Google Maps), Youtube (acquisition after Google Video failed), iPhone (Android), and now Facebook (Google+). In many ways, this is similar to what Microsoft did in the 1980s and 90s - use their dominant operating system as leverage and a cash cow to rip off successful technologies: integrated software development tools, Windows PC interface, video gaming machine, office suite software, web browser, database/SQL solutions, and others.

No wonder Steve Jobs was angry about Android. It probably felt like a déjà vu, though this time it was Google, not Microsoft, ripping off Steve's ideas.

By the way, if you are into vintage bumper stickers, there's one for you on eBay right now:

tags: innovation, technology, business, model, platform, computers, history, microsoft, apple, google, facebook, social, networking, information

1 comment:

Dan said...

Interesting post. I was thinking about the same similarities between Microsoft and Google. "Innovation through imitation" seems to be working for Google just as it did for Microsoft. I don't see anything particularly wrong with this approach if it works. In fact, even Apple is somewhat guilty of this. The original Mac was partly a rip off from Xerox Park and the iPod was definitely not the first digital music player. Then again, Apple made significant improvements to the product rather than just straight copying.