… I promise.
As expected, Google finalized its $1 billion investment in AOL yesterday. Reuters provides some of the details.
The Google-AOL deal involves a range of other forms of cooperation. Notably, AOL will allow users of Google’s new Google Talk instant messaging system to chat with users of AOL’s messaging network, the largest in the country. Until now, AOL has resisted linking its system with those run by its major rivals – including Yahoo and Microsoft, which recently agreed to link their own. It does connect to Apple Computer’s message system and several services aimed at corporate users.
There will be a somewhat complex procedure to link the two systems, however. Google Talk users will need to add an AOL screen name to communicate with other AOL users.
If I were an eBay shareholder, I’d wonder about the Skype acquisition, which could end up costing circa $4 billion. For 25 cents on those dollars, Google gets a link-up with AOL that has to be profitable out of the chute and almost gets a Skype-killer thrown in for free. (And anyone who thinks eBay sellers want to be Skype’d by potential buyers has never done much online selling–the best part of using eBay is not having your phone ring incessantly from tire-kicking cretins.)
Say what you want about Google. These people are scary-smart. (Here’s how they find talent.)
I declined yesterday to offer any ideas to West or Lexis/Nexis on what could be done on their legal search properties in the wake of the Google/AOL deal. Upon reflection, that’s not a very giving thing to do late in this holiday season.
So here’s one unwrapped gift to my friends in Eagan and Dayton: look at your home page.
Look at Google. They obsess over their home page (I think you can find it without a link). See this interview with Marissa Mayer, a director of consumer Web products. This excerpt is from a profile a few years ago about what they do with customer feedback:
There’s this one user, a Google zealot – we don’t know who he is – who occasionally sends an e-mail to our “comments” address. Every time he writes, the e-mail contains only a two-digit number. It took us awhile to figure out what he was doing. Turns out he’s counting the number of words on the home page. When the number goes up, like up to 52, it gets him irritated, and he e-mails us the new word count. As crazy as it sounds, his e-mails are helpful, because it has put an interesting discipline on the UI team, so as not to introduce too many links. It’s like a scale that tells you that you’ve gained two pounds.
Ms. Mayer was also covered recently in Fast Company.
Now look at the home pages of Westlaw’s Findlaw and Lexis/Nexis. Findlaw’s design (click on the “Legal Professional” tab at top) is not bad, although the print is a bit small (and the one ad is below the fold). The fact that FindLaw is going after the consumer and pro legal markets at the same time is a challenging mission to pull off.
Lexis/Nexis is more of a hodge-podge, in my humble opinion. I look at it, and want to leave. I would have checked out LexisOne, but couldn’t find it off the home page. Hmmm, they must not want to encourage use of free content…
Google’s challenge in the AOL deal is not to dilute the franchise by inserting too many graphics or banners, no matter how tempting or profitable in the short term.
The challenge for West and Lexis/Nexis is to figure out what they want to be in the next five years and then simplify their initial and ongoing user experiences to enhance the likelihood that customers will stick around and still pay the (increasing!) content fees.
Google is free, fast and easier to use. That’s called competition with a capital “c.”