You may have recently read TechFlash’s coverage with Tom Rizzo reviewing why San Francisco chose Microsoft over Google Apps. Tom identified a fundamental difference between Microsoft’s and Google’s business models. Microsoft is a technology company that generates revenue by developing and selling products and services that help make people more productive. People are choosing Microsoft because the products work and deliver. In contrast, according to the New York Times, Google earns over 96% of its revenue from online advertising. Advertisers are attracted to Google’s customer base for potential click-through, and eyeballs viewing their ads.
Let’s look at a task which Google users and Microsoft customers both work on, yet may not complete every day: triaging their inboxes. How many emails do you receive a day? Are there fifty, one hundred, maybe over two hundred? Many people have a daily battle with their inboxes. They sort through a sea of incoming email to find urgent ones that they need to respond to right away, and file others for later action or reading. Microsoft and Google take very different approaches when it comes to enabling your productivity. Today, we will use email management to illustrate the differences.
Microsoft’s Approach to Help You Triage Email
Outlook 2010 includes a rules engine that enables users to process messages through a rich set of options. For instance, here’s a rule that I use to filter email coming from a distribution group that I want to defer, to read when I have time. I don’t want these messages to appear in my inbox, and then be pushed to my phone.
I can automatically move the messages coming from this distribution group to a folder and mark the folder as already read. Also, I can automatically delete the messages, since I will only want to read the latest content. Since I know what is important to me, I make the personal choices on what rules I want to apply. Microsoft does not do this for me, and does not have any access to my email.
I use the rules engine almost daily and it saves me quite a bit of time.
Google’s Approach to Managing Email Volume
Google launched Priority Inbox last August. It uses “important signals” to identify messages that you likely care about the most, based on what you read and what you reply to. Google also uses some of these same "important signals" in order to serve targeted ads in Gmail, driving ad impressions, click-throughs and Google revenue. If you think Google built this feature for its customers, guess again. Think about it. In order for Google to identify which messages may be important to you, it checks your email to arrive at "important signals". It then uses them to serve ads within your Gmail account, and its ad revenues increase. Check out the video on this feature from Google:
“With features like Priority Inbox, we are trying to predict which of your messages you likely want to read and respond to first. We thought we could use some of the same signals to help predict which ads are likely to be useful to you…” --Google
By default, an ad importance signal is included as a feature in Gmail and in Google Apps for Business. (See below.)
You know your data is important to your business, but did you know Google’s business also depends on your data? Now, why does this matter to you as the customer? It gets back to the intention. Is the product intended to help customers be productive online, or is the product an opportunity to land more ads? An author raises the question of how much we should trust Google:
Google has acquired far more information, both public and private, and has invented more ways to use it, than anyone in history. Information is power, and in Google's case, Cleland argues, it's the power to influence and control virtually everything the Internet touches. Google's power is largely unchecked, unaccountable -- and grossly underestimated.
Are you becoming Google’s product, in order to drive their advertising revenue? Can you depend on Google as a trusted partner for your business needs? Instead of using these “signals” to guess what should be in your inbox, why doesn’t Google give you the sole ability to read, prioritize and triage your email? Now you know the answer!