Mike Arrington thinks that Google engaged in “a little stealth black ops mission” and blunted the full impact of the Ballmer Bing announcement yesterday by announcing Wave. Whether Wave represents a huge new development in digital communications remains to be seen, but almost every major news outlet had to cover it and divide its attention between Bing and Wave. Indeed, many journalists and bloggers were physically divided between the AllThingsD conference near San Diego and Google’s developer event I/O in San Francisco.
Arrington also cites the lack of access to Bing/Kumo as a PR mistake. But that’s less a function of a PR miscalculation in my understanding than the fact that Ballmer had agreed to appear at the D event and knew that he was going to be probed about Kumo; so Microsoft decided to effectively pre-announce the engine before its public release next week at SMX Advanced. As a practical matter, however, Arrington may be correct: more stories and deeper coverage would have been driven if everybody was able to do what I did and compare Kumo/Bing to Google side by side.
At the press event following the Wave keynote the panel was asked who Google saw as its competition for the product (impliedly Outlook and others). Vic Gundotra, Google Engineering VP, feel back on the position that Google developed the product without any thought to the existing or potential competition. After the close of the session, I was talking to a reporter about Google’s awareness of competitors and its thinking about its competitive positioning. I said I agreed that Google often develops products without thinking about competitors directly.
But I also agree with Arrington that on the PR front Google is more directly engaged in competitive maneuvers. In the same way that before the ill-fated Cuil launch, Google coincidentally announced that its search index had massively increased, undermining one of Cuil’s central PR points and claims against the search incumbent, Google was certainly aware that Bing was going to be announced this week. While the timing of the Google I/O event itself was not scheduled to undermine Bing I’m sure, the Wave announcement was likely calculated to steal some thunder — which it appears to have done.
Arrington discusses in his post the fact that the developer audience cheered throughout the Wave demo yesterday. I was kind of amazed by that myself. There was enthusiastic applause multiple times throughout, much like a political speech is often broken up by cheers or applause. And the decision to give away the HTC Magic/G2 phone to attendees was both a shrewd and practical move that has already paid dividends in Android coverage.
Next week will see the public launch of Bing and a wave of “hands on” stories will be written. As the marketing campaign for Bing rolls out more stories will be written about the campaign itself and whether it’s having an impact and so on. Microsoft will get a good deal more PR and news coverage accordingly. Beyond the so-called search wars there are the “meta-level” PR strategies and wars that mirror the underlying products they’re exposing.
From that standpoint, if the PR goal of Wave was to diminish the focus on the Bing announcement Google appears to have succeeded.