Back in the day, after I developed the original ACCBoards.Com (which later became a part of and was merged into what is now the Scout network of sports sites), saw my traffic shoot through the roof, partnered up with a TV network and a major cable company, and started getting some serious checks in the mail, I decided that I was an expert in all things communal. And that I should expand my empire accordingly.
I started with SECForums.Com, an SEC sports site. It never took off, and I don’t own that domain any longer. Then I developed AVBoards.Com, for audio-video enthusiasts. It started off strong, based almost solely on traffic diverted from ACCBoards.Com, then died almost as quickly. I let that domain lapse last month.
Others followed, and while a few of them survived, none of them were a fraction as successful as ACCBoards.Com. Why? Because I didn’t have the passion, the industry connections or- most importantly- the timing that I had with ACCBoards.Com.
I was neither good nor lucky, and to be successful on the web, you have to be both.
Pretty quickly my little web empire became diluted, scattered and lost in a sea of existing, entrenched alternatives. I stopped doing one thing well and started doing a lot of things poorly.
There was a lesson there, and it’s one I learned, albeit at some significant opportunity costs.
In light of all that, I was a little dismayed this week when I read that Facebook was launching a full-fledged email client, and it was soul-crushing to learn that Google is going to add Twitter-like social network features to Gmail.
A little dismayed over the Facebook thing, because I am a light user of Facebook, so nothing that happens over there is going to materially affect my life.
Completely bummed out by the Google thing, because I use Gmail every day, and whatever happens there definitely affects my life.
Here’s the thing. . .
Facebook, you can’t invent Gmail because Gmail already exists. Do what you do. Let Gmail do what it does.
Google, you can’t invent Twitter because Twitter already exists. Not to mention that there are a thousand better ways your development time and money could be spent. Like improving the spotty integration of Google Apps, so they actually look and feel like a suite of apps, and not a bunch of unrelated products crammed ineffectively together.
Either make Google Apps a robust, business-ready tool, or make it an awesome toy. Don’t create some crappy combination of both.
Google and Facebook, more than their peers, have a good track record of staying on course, even if that course isn’t readily apparent to the rest of us. I’d like to believe there is a brilliant master plan in play here.
But I don’t. I think it’s just a case of mass me-too-ism.