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Google's Category Confusion

In my last entry, I wrote about Donald Norman's contention that Google is more "complex" than Yahoo, and that users like complexity. While I mostly disagree with Norman, I think his arguments raise some interesting questions about categories and some challenges for Google.

The crux of the issues is whether Google is a web search engine or a portal. Yahoo is a portal. Its primary business is as a central starting point to provide access to various content and services. As such, its front page is "busy" and contains many links in addition to a search engine.

As a search engine, Google is the market leader and a powerful brand. But Google is not the market leader as a portal.

Portals and search engines are different categories of products. Google as a brand can't be as successful straddling both categories as it can by focusing its brand on one category. To be most successful in search, it needs to keep the clean, search-oriented look of its front page. To be most successful as a portal, it would have to clutter its front page with links and addtional services.

Google does offer various services that don't fall squarely into the search category. Gmail, though it provides excellent search capabilities, is an e-mail client. Google Calendar is an impressive on-line application, but it's more of an organization tool than a search tool.

Some of these services are diluting Google's brand. They by no means cause people to view Google negatively, but they do have an effect on the extent to which people equate "Google" with "search".

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