Most people think of Google as a search engine. Not surprising, given its near-70% market share. In reality, Google is a media company, a platform to attract advertisers. It has used its hard-earned cash to acquire companies like YouTube that either produce or deliver content. Google is using a “string of pearls” approach to near perfection to cover the ways users and advertisers interact with the Web.
Advertisers get sophisticated treatment from Google. For the unwashed masses, Google makes it as easy as pie. And therefore free. To keep costs down, Google has to leave out an important element, the one I believe is its Achilles' Heel - customer service.
As one of the unsophisticated and unwashed, I use a simple (free) tool to publish this blog, from a company called Blogger. I also use a simple (free) tool to allow readers an automated way to access the blog, from a company called FeedBurner. Google acquired both companies.
One of FeedBurner’s great features is the ability to track my meager readership on a real-time basis. Last evening that feature became inaccessible.
“Trouble at the mill! (Some sort of problem occurred; we’re terribly sorry for the hassle it’s causing you.)
HTTP Error Code: 500
Detail: [left blank]
You may have tried to visit a page at FeedBurner that does not exist. Head back to the FeedBurner home page and try again.”
How uncute and unhelpful.
On its “Contact Us” page: “FeedBurner does not offer technical support via phone. If you have a support need, please use the form shown over there.” The form addresses only two specific issues, neither of which relate to system availability.
The “Help” section is a collection of useless FAQs, along with a forum where you can whine and see if other users will help you. Last night there were a ton of postings about the mysterious “error code #500.”
FeedBurner has a blog, which has a posting about once a month. “Recent Press” has a story from October 2007 and one from last July. Prominently featured on the home page is the “announcement” of Google’s takeover…which is now over one-year old.
Are you getting the sense Google doesn’t really give a shit about FeedBurner? What will happen when more people start using Google Apps who haven’t had their learning curve on Excel or Word? What happens when your doctor goes to get your electronic medical records from Google Health while you are bleeding to death at 6 PM some day and she gets “error code #500” ?
Things to watch for:
1) Adoption rates for Google user-side tools and applications start to fall
2) Competitors provide these tools in a way that at least one employee is watching over them 24/7 to make sure they are running
3) Someone invents Web technology for real-time, affordable customer service
Yes, the Web is the future. But free isn’t. Customer service is a requirement, and it costs money. Always has, always will.