Usually, technology companies make significant releases of first versions of their technologies or major upgrades at large technology conferences that they closely control. Apple announced and for the first time publicly demoed the iPhone at Mac World in 2007. Microsoft announced and released early access to Windows Azure at the Professional Developers Conference in the fall of 2008. Similarly, Microsoft will make several technology releases at the Mix conference this week. This is usually done in a setting where all eyes are on the company. Everything is very carefully prepared and the demos, the interviews, the sound bites, and the method of distribution of early access is carefully crafted and rehearsed. Press is in abundance at these conferences and hungry for the headline that is sure to come. This practice stems from how information was distributed in the past. Both the regular media and the industry press would be at the event in force ready for the news story perfectly crafted by the technology company. The big launch of Technology XYZ, done properly, would guarantee a good story in that night’s TV news program, big coverage in the next day’s paper, and in the weekly and monthly magazines that would follow. The marketing experts at the technology companies are usually headed by MBA types with business backgrounds. Their training and experience tells them that the more positive media coverage they get the more successful they have become.
However, the question to ask is if this is the best way to get the news out to the developers, the people who will actually build with these technologies going forward. Google clearly thinks not. Like in many other areas, Google has been doing things differently. Google did not announce App Engine at Google I/O last year. Instead they chose to announce it about a month before the big conference, at a small invite only event called Google Campfire One. By the time developers arrived at Google I/O a month later, they had already played with the product and could ask the more advanced questions. While this approach does not provide the media splash that the traditional approach delivers, it is inherently better for the developers and for the platform. It gives the community several weeks to play with the bits, understand them, and come to the conference with informed questions and feedback. The presentations can now range from beginner level to advanced topics, and the end product of the conference is customer developers that can better use the platform and build fantastic products on top of it. In the end, it is not how much media splash a technology gets that defines its success or failure. Sadly it is not even the quality of the technology itself. It is the quality, and usefulness of what developers build on it. Unfortunately, in traditional technology companies, the metrics of marketing success and failure have been the number of articles published and more recently the number of related blog posts and tweets. Not how quickly we can get the community of developers to install, learn, and build on the new platform.
I strongly suspect that Google will do the same this year. Watch out for Camp Fire Two in the next few weeks where Google will make their announcements and releases. And learn, learn, learn before coming to Google I/O where you can take your knowledge to the next level. Why would Google change a working formula that no other technology company has even groked?
There is another reason other companies have not groked this approach. Traditionally technology companies like Microsoft sell software and traditionally their customers have been enterprises that would wait and wait and wait before adopting the software and allowing it to be installed and used in their data centers. That period of time from announcement to deployment has been long enough that it has made the traditional marketing method superior. We are surely moving away from this world. In the world of cloud computing and services, there is no deployment. We live in the world of instant gratification. And in this new world, Google’s approach is the winner’s approach. There is also one other difference that needs mention. App Engine is not particularly targeted to the enterprise. The business decision maker that chooses the Google solution is much closer to the developer than the person who decides between SQL Server and Oracle. The enterprise business decision maker is more likely to be at the big conference, and hear about the release at the keynote, and then create an action item for his engineers to play with and evaluate the new technology. Therefore, the traditional method still may have advantages.
Having said the above, every platform company should still look closely at what Google is doing and take it one step further. Put as much as possible of your marketing dollar in training your customers, and enabling outside developers to build their knowledge and expertise of the new platform quickly so they can build great products on it. Then and only then will your platform be truly successful, go viral and become the envy of the industry.