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How Google is Like Walley World

Jun 12, 2015

National Lampoon's Vacation, Clark Griswold is trying to hold his family together on a cross-country trip. In the course of their journey they encounter innumerable obstacles, temptations, and tragedies; they survive insufferable relatives, road hazards, Christie Brinkley, killing their dog, and even transporting a dead grandparent in a chair on the roof of the car. And the driving motivation, the thing that keeps them going and keeps them together is the promise of a visit to Walley World.

Walley World: that magical place of fun, entertainment, thrills, and magic. It's a theme park. It's all their hopes and dreams for summer in one location.

But when they get there... it's closed.

All of their hopes are crushed by the reality.

And that's pretty much how I feel about Google when they announce new products.

This week saw a flood of new announcements from the team in Mountain View at I/O. They're big, beautiful, shiny promises, each and every one: an OS & communication protocol for IoT in Brillo & Weave, Android Pay, Photos, Jump with GoPro, Project Soli for gestural interfaces, Project Jacquard for wearable tech embedded into fabric, Project Vault for secure computing via microSD, and they released Inbox for everyone. That's a hell of a list of releases.

I want to go to there.

But there's a problem. It's Google. Google chronically launches products before they're ready and then those products fail to live up to expectations, wither, and eventually are pruned off the vine and disappear. (Even some of the products that do their job well get killed... *cough* *cough* *reader*)

Google_web_search

Google was built on an algorithm. The original interface was (and is) iconic in its simplicity: a logo, a text entry field, two buttons. To their credit, that interface is largely unchanged and it is perfect. But Google never really learned UX. They learned data and inputs which is one piece of UX but hardly the whole story. Subjective experience, user frustrations and needs, and qualitative - not quantitative - input are essential. (recommended viewing: Emmett Shear, founder & CEO of Justin.tv and Twitch, talking about user interviews).

At core, despite the revolution of Material design, Google applies algorithmic thinking to design and UX with the belief that they'll get input that can make the UX great. But unfortunately that type of responsive (little 'r' responsive as in responding to input, not Responsive to window size) design is not how the world works. When you ship something that isn't ready users will choose something else that is.

The graveyard of Google's great concepts is deep.

I tried Inbox a few months ago and didn't really get into it. I felt like it was over-thinking for me and I was getting a bit lost but when they opened it up wider last week we added it to the Two Bulls' email (we use gmail, and it's great, see? Google gets it right sometimes!) so the team could use it if they wanted. I decided to give it another go and I have to say it's interesting. I find the experience better on the desktop than on Mobile and I think if I give it time my head will wrap itself around this different paradigm but then something happened.

I got an invite.

It's one of the more common things that happens to people who use Gmail at work, and courtesy of Gmail's nice integration with Google Calendar, I can accept or reject the invite and it gets added to my calendar. The only thing is that Google doesn't seem to have implemented that for Inbox yet. When you click on the .ics attachment you get the option to download it, but you don't get the option to actually interact with it or connect it to your calendar.

gmail-inboxgmail-mail

Google has left me with two options for how to deal with an incoming invitation: I can download the invite, open it in a desktop mail program, save the event, accept it, then return to Inbox and process the email. Or I can open a new tab, open my regular Gmail interface, open the email, and process the invite (which will also process the email); of course, now that I'm in my old Gmail interface why should I go back to Inbox, especially if I know that there are other invites in my inbox waiting for me.

And voila: the product withers because they didn't think through use cases that would actively drive you out of the product.

So maybe they'll turn it around. Maybe they'll fix these things. But the fact that Inbox launched last October, and in the seven months between then and now they haven't fixed this core feature doesn't bode well for the future health of the product. So maybe I'll dabble with it, but I hate being lured into a world with shiny promises of a gleaming future only to be let down again.

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noah@two-bulls.com
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