In Conversation With Ben Edelman #WATSummit

Interview with Ben Edelman at the WAT Summit 2012.

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During the WAT Summit 2012, ((Complete coverage of WAT Summit 2012)) I had the opportunity of not only listening to the great minds in digital and social media but also got a chance to grab a quick chat. Ben Edelman gave an amazing key note on day one of the summit which is covered here. Later in the day I requested him for a small interview which he accepted humbly.

We grabbed chairs in a small library at the Hilton Hotel, Mumbai which was prefect setup for an interview. I was ready with my set of questions and Ben was happy to answer them.

1. Ben, how about introducing yourself and some of the interesting work you are doing at your end.

I teach at Harvard Business School, I teach a course for MBA students who plan to run dotcoms in the future thinking about challenges,  how to charge, how much to subsidize, how much to give away, how to compete with competitors, how to get traffic to website, etc. My research and writing is mostly about the legal and regulatory questions associated to the online market places, competition questions such as what to do when the market is dominated by one vendor, copyright, legal matters and all sort of things.

[pullquote id=”lhipull” class=”center_pull”]I am also working on an article about tying on how Google is tying people.[/pullquote]

For example, if you want to buy some thing then you will also need to buy a secondary service from Google otherwise you can’t have the first. A practice that Google is following to make its newer and lesser popular services take off.

I am also working on consumer protection matters, ongoing questions about Groupon and similar sites, which have consumer protection question such as the expiration of the vouchers, tax on the vouchers, etc. A very complicated model in a highly regulated space so there is some amount of work these sites need to work on.

2. You have often criticized how Google is using unethical ways of work with search. So do you want to add your thoughts and also how do you see Google’s move in making search social?

Google has used similar strategy repeatedly and if we go back discussing the same topic five years ago we would have talked about Google Maps. In the name of hotels, Google always shows it’s big colored maps at the top of its search. It has never done an equal quest to Mapquest or Yahoo Maps or any of the other services. So the same applies for Google News, Google Shopping, Google Weather, etc. it does the same too. Finally with Google’s social search people are trying to realize that Google has always tried to give it’s own service a priority whether you like it or not.

[pullquote id=”lhipull” class=”center_pull”]When Google launched Maps well it was a good product to get the extra mileage but Google Plus  Search is certainly not a good product. It doesn’t deserve that position.[/pullquote]

Twitter has the right to complain and in the long run we should not let Google take such valuable resources for itself.

3. Do you think Google is trying very hard with Google Plus? How do you see this?

Yes they are trying hard. Google Plus has some features somewhat attractive. However today all of us are on Facebook so it becomes next to impossible for Google Plus to drive them to their network. So what Google is doing is that it is trying to turn the model by using their extreme powers of search and undermining the Facebook powers as a social network. Google has a strong dominance in search and even stronger than Facebook on social. On other hand, the move by bringing Google Plus Search in the middle they are not doing anything good for themselves.

4. Facebook ads don’t go well with you too. In your presentation you have shown that how miserably targeted are the Facebook ads. So what are your thoughts on it?

The question of ads on Facebook is deeply challenging. No one goes to Facebook to see ads and no one goes to make purchases. There is a limit to commercial interest and users are there to talk to their buddies. So it is difficult to reconcile what users want to do and it is becoming a tough job for advertisers. So you can manifest ads that no one clicks, ads are becoming bigger and bigger with also being flashier too, now they are being inserted in timeline. So all of them come from the underline tension that fans are not interested in ads and Facebook is pushing ads.

[pullquote id=”lhipull” class=”center_pull”]I had to say that I wished Facebook had been little humble. They have got a great site, they have plenty of money and they don’t need more money so why be so greedy.[/pullquote]

Facebook is a great site and have done a great job but Mark is in a risk of running it in the greed of making more money. The smarter play should be preserve long term value and have more goodwill from users by being less forceful on the advertising. Let the site be what the users want to be which probably means less of advertising.

5.  Right now Social Media is cluttered and full of spam. So where are we getting from here. Will we have more curated information or sentiments driven social networks?

I am not sure if Social Media will be more curated but it is little bit hard to say because there are these giants who can do whatever they want. If Facebook wants to put their timeline with ads in social media then they will do it. No one can stop them by doing right now. Decisions are made by product managers today of these large companies who will do they want.

Certainly reflection of sentiments on social networks sounds like a natural feature and it looks inevitable.  However, then it will be too early to say how it will shape up and what roles again ads will play here.

6. You are a key note speaker at WAT Summit 2012, so what are your thoughts on India seeing the Dawn of the Digital Age.

I am here in India because there is so much to be done in India.  Great concerns in India about controversial content also bad behavior from Google in the recent past. We saw last week Google’s employee stealing content from African dotcom. Some other Google people putting bogus data into competitors mapping services. So Google is trying to damage other services in order to drive their own services.

Along with that India is an important market, a market with plenty going on and also lingering question on to what extent this market will develop and to what extent Google will develop it’s 99% market share like they have in European markets. Or will a strong local competitor arise for Google. [pullquote id=”lhipull” class=”center_pull”]Imagine how fabulous would it be if Indians use the local search and the advertising money being kept in the Indian economy rather than being sent to the Google’s California office.[/pullquote]

I think it is possible if the right company comes with the right business and goes for it. So twenty years from now I hope India is not dependent on a Californian company to procure information.

Thanks Ben for sharing some great insights with us! I would be really happy to see if we have a home grown product that can compete with the likes of Google. Yes it is a tough ask but then challenges are tough, isn’t it?