March 21, 2006

Launching Products in the Age of Instant Analysis

In politics, the president-elect has historically been given their first hundred days to set policy without extreme analysis from the press, in what's also referred to as a honeymoon period, where they have the opportunity to name their staff, introduce planned legislation and define the goals of their time in office. In the market, product announcements have followed a shorter cycle, where first impressions and media reviews are eagerly awaited - to see if the product experience approaches the levels promised by the company, or if its feature set is found lacking. But now, in an age where professional media and amateur commentators alike are seeing an increasing demand for instant analysis and feedback, those introducing new products to the market may have their wares filleted before a single customer has gotten their hands on a working device - their product launches dissected for praise or scorn, for the presentation itself, even if those writing and talking haven't given the news a chance to sink in.

Take a look at some of the most recent and most widely discussed product announcements for how this instant news cycle has taken hold.

Yesterday, Google introduced its Google Finance feature in direct competition to Yahoo! Finance, and the entire blogosphere was aflutter with the news. But rather than pass the links along with objectivity, there was a great rush to judgment. Business 2.0 reporter Om Malik, on his site, GigaOM, wrote in a big headline, "Google Finance Disappoints". How long did he use it? A week? A few days, before his dramatic conclusion? No. He writes, "After playing around with it for about 15 minutes, it is obvious that it will be a long time, and I mean long time in Internet years that is, before Google Finance really catches up to Yahoo Finance, which in fact is the gold standard." That's right. 15 minutes. After 15 minutes of intense evaluation, he was ready to declare it a failure, and his rush to judgment was parlayed into an appearance on CNBC today. But his strenuous evaluation didn't stop other sites from expressing quite the opposite response. TechCrunch wrote, "This is a great looking product overall. And they’ve taken things at least a step further than Yahoo Finance in its current form."

People are entitled to their opinion for sure. I've expressed mine occasionally here on this very site. But can instant analysis be as foolproof as say, Consumer Reports?

One amusing result is that instant commentary leads to retractions. Just look how Henry Blodget first starts his review as "Google Finance: Yawn" and ends with "Wow". Quite the 180, and one that comes with actual effort to investigate.

At the end of February, you may recall Apple held a special media event to announce the new iPod HiFi, the Intel Mac Mini and some other smaller announcements. Before a single consumer had access to the items, again, the instant analysis crowd issued a decree of disappointment. CNET's Blogma site summed up the mood of some would-be critics with the headline "Bloggers underwhelmed by Apple announcements". The site's story says "While Jobs had promised some "fun" new products, bloggers, many of whom gave up-to-the-minute accounts of his keynote, were largely underwhelmed by what they heard".

Up to the minute accounts and instant disappointment before a single unit had hit the Apple store. Maybe Apple should just avoid shipping the systems altogether now that they know it was a failure, right?

And earlier this month, as mentioned previously on this site, Microsoft unveiled its Origami ultramobile PC platform at the Intel Developers' Conference, and feedback across the Web was negative. You can see the headlines... "Microsoft's Origami UMPC: What Were They Thinking?", and "Will 2006 be the Year of High-Profile Technology Busts?" It's as if the instant Web news cycle is so excited to be the first to declare the disaster that nobody has taken into consideration the fact the devices haven't even gotten the opportunity to fail in the market.

The technology market is not alone in this instant analysis. It's seen everywhere, from sports to politics to American Idol. But those tasked with creating innovation and selling it to the masses need to learn how to capture that energy available and harness it to their own benefit, before they too are swallowed up in a wave of discontent.

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