Second Life, Google+ and the Very Rough Road to Successful New (or Sort-Of-New) Endeavors

On Slate.com today, there is a post mortem on Second Life, and a pre-mortem on the “doomed” Google+.  The authors are the Heath Brothers (the Second Life piece: Why Second Life Failed), and Farhad Manjoo (the Google+ take down: Google+ Is Dead).  So, what do we learn?  (By the way, I am a big fan of both the Heath brothers and Farhad Manjoo).

Regarding Second Life, the Heath Brothers say that it is simply a product with no actual job to do.  And for a product to succeed, you need an actual job to do.

What job is it (Second Life) designed to do? Most successful innovations perform a clear duty. When we craved on-the-go access to our music collections, we hired the iPod. When we needed quick and effective searches, we hired Google. And looking ahead, it’s easy to see the job that Square will perform: giving people an easy, inexpensive way to collect money in the offline world.
But what “job” did Second Life perform? It was like a job candidate with a fascinating résumé—fluent in Finnish, with stints in spelunking and trapeze—but no actual labor skills.  

Regarding Google+, Manjoo says that it simply was not, and still is not, “cool” enough (my word).

by failing to offer people a reason to keep coming back to the site every day, Google+ made a bad first impression. And in the social-networking business, a bad first impression spells death.
…a social network needs a critical mass of people to be successful—the more people it attracts, the more people it attracts.
…Google+, by contrast, never managed to translate its initial surge into lasting enthusiasm. And for that reason, it’s surely doomed.

I don’t know a lot about the people behind Second Life, but, regarding Google+, it is safe to say that Google is a true behemoth.  But even Google can not guarantee success against another behemoth, one that people are happy with already (Facebook).

So, what are the lessons?  Here are a few:  a “cool” idea must still serve a purpose by doing a job that people want/need to be able to do.  And, it’s good to remember that to succeed with a new idea is always a tough assignment.  And, if you are truly one-of-a-kind, a less-than-stellar first impression might be survivable, but when you are competing against an established giant, a bad first impression is probably insurmountable.

These two examples fit in the overall history of innovation and “new, new things.”  Netscape gave us our first browser, but did not endure.  MySpace gave us our first “Facebook,” but has disappeared in the rear-view mirror.  Palm Pilot was a wonder, but my iPhone does everything my Palm Pilot did, only better, and without a stylus.  (No stylus! – Steve Jobs insisted).

{By the way, I still have my Palm Pilot.  Do you know what I do with it?  When I am utterly exhausted, too tired to read, but not quite ready to fall asleep, I pull it out and play Solitaire.   I connect with my iPhone, I play Solitaire on my Palm Pilot.  That pretty much says it all…}

The world would be worse off if the Google+ and the Second Life efforts had not been attempted.  We need a lot of new ideas, a lot of new products, a lot of “copycats,” to help us choose the best and lasting products that fill our lives.  Remember, when the automobile was ramping up, there were a lot of car company hopefuls.  Only the best survived.

But, once you “make it,” you’d better keep tweaking and making it even better.  Because, in a garage somewhere, someone is hard at work to put you out of business.

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