How Google's counterculture changes everything

Don Reisinger is intrigued by Google's counterculture and thinks it speaks to something on the Net. Does it?

Don Reisinger
Don Reisinger
Former CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
3 min read

In the world of online services and editorial content, a term known as "stickiness" becomes the rallying cry of Webmasters and marketers alike. In essence, these people are fearful that if they lose visitors on the site, they'll never get them back. But for some reason, Google doesn't feel that way. In fact, it's more than happy to send you out in the wild.

Why is that? Why has Google always been a company that has single-handedly taken the tried and true mentality of Web site owners for years and turned it upside down. On top of that, why has the company been able to succeed if conventional wisdom suggests that should never happen?

Maybe because the old idea of keeping people on the site isn't necessarily the best way to go. Perhaps users want to use a service that acts as a means to an end instead of a vehicle of infinite knowledge. Maybe users are sick and tired of sticky services and want nothing more than to bounce around the Web in search of the very best content no matter where it is.

Have consumer interests changed or is Google just a search engine and, thus, a place where the inherent task of the service is to move people along? According to one Google representative, the counterculture was bred out of the company's drive to get people out of the way on search.

And while it's plain to see Google (and, obviously, other search engines) employing this "push" mentality to search, it may not be so easy to see on its other services. For example, I'm not too sure how that push mentality relates to Gmail at face value. But when you consider the fact that you can set up a Gmail account and use it on any other service, it quickly bears fruit. What about Picasa? Sure, you keep coming back to use the service, but it's for a reason--you want a better-looking picture and get out of there as quickly as possible.

And it's this idea of speed and the length of time you can get in and get out that makes this counterculture so interesting. Although certain services attempt to do the same thing as Google, the speed with which you can find or do exactly what you want and be on to the next thing is easily what sets Sergey and Larry's company apart.

The company does that with its search, does it with Gmail, does it with Reader, does it with Picasa, does it with Docs, and the list goes on. In fact, Google is probably the largest online firm in the world that does as much as it can to get you off its pages. Doesn't that seem at all counterintuitive?

But perhaps most fascinating is the inherent risk that piggybacks on the counterculture mentality Google is so quick to mention. After all, if just about every Web site on the Net says users should be kept on those pages for fear of losing them to something better, what does it say about Google when it wants users to go out and find something?

In essence, this is a company that has the guts to let you do what you want and hope that you will come back because the service is much better than anything else available.

But if nothing else, this counterculture speaks to something that many in this business simply don't want to mention--readers and Web surfers simply aren't trusted and need to be lured into more and more pages so they will stay at the site. Simply put, the average Internet user isn't trusted and never has been. And yet, when they finally are trusted, good things happen to the company who trusts them.

But if nothing else, Google has shown that trust can go a long way and it shouldn't be abandoned because the Old Guard subscribed to a faulty belief that users need to be kept on a site for as long as possible. Everything on the Internet is a means to an end and never the end itself. Every single person reads editorial content, searches Google, modifies pictures, and listens to music for a reason. And to think that a particular site is that reason is both misguided and dumb.

Google is on to something with its counterculture and should be followed by more companies than just search engines. The Internet has changed and no site is safe from the perils of stickiness.