I’ve often said on this blog, if the first place you learn the inside story about a new technology-related product is the New York Times, then it’s likely doomed. The reason (for those of you who aren’t among the 12 people who read this blog) is that great technology-related products need time to “iterate” in obscurity. “Iterate” is a nice way of saying what has been proven so many times, it may as well be fact: New stuff sucks and needs time to become something other than what the creators thought it was going to be when they created it.
However, there is an exception to every rule, and today, you can see one: Google has allowed a New York Times fashion writer to break the story of perhaps the most ambitious new product I’ve seen from Google since Google Maps (no kidding): Boutiques.com. And, since it’s apparent to anyone who knows me that I know nothing about fashion, it’s safe to assume I’m talking about the underlying technology of Boutiques.com, and not the content.
Before getting into the product itself, and why I’d compare it to something as uniquely great as Google Maps, let me explain briefly why Google gets a pass on the “New York Times Rule”:
1. it’s not a tech story, it’s a fashion story. (see related point #3)
2. It’s a search product and what you’re seeing is the result of lots of iterations (see: Froogle). Granted, while not new, what you’re seeing today is rather radical iteration of “search” for Google: a different search interface paradigm that’s something other than typing words into a query box. (But, in other words, because it’s a search product, it’s a Lucy Google product and not a Pigpen Google product.)
3, Someone at Google (I’m guessing Marissa Mayer) has made the ultimate sacrifice a marketer will make: relinquishing personal ego (or in this case, corporate ego) and allowing something to be rolled out free from “the way we always do things.” In other words, there is no way engineers in Mountain View, California, no matter how rich and successful they are, will know anything about fashion marketing — so admit it. And to prove how much someone at Google admitted it, at about 7 a.m. today, there was still nothing about the launch of Boutiques.com on Techmeme.com the aggregator of all things the Bay-area-centric tech world considers significant. Had TechCrunch broken this story, I would say it had no hope of being successful as a “fashion product.” (Note, however, that the Google Voice iPhone App dominated that “space.”)
As for the product, itself, here are some quick things to note:
1. It’s not branded Google. Anywhere. There’s not even an “About Us” link to say who’s behind it. (Clicking on “Help” takes you to recognizable Google-territory.)
2. It uses a URL and brand name that challenges the theory of thousands of internet marketing gurus who use “Google” as their poster child for not needing a name that “means something.”
3. While I know nothing about fashion, I do know this: Timing is everything when it comes to fashion. To succeed, the algorithms powering Boutiques.com need to be fine-tuned to pick up the newest, the latest, the trendiest — as well as the cheapest, most classic and best looking. Whatever Google is learning and using on this front is going to be very valuable on several other fronts.
4. Unlike the confusing term “social search” (one of those terms that means so many different things, it means nothing), there are features on Boutiques.com that are what could be called “curated search.” For example, the “Bloggers” tab leads to results that are curated by blogging fashionistas. (Some people might, at least I do, see some comparison between this and a website like The Hype Machine that surfaces music being blogged about.
Bottomline: Consider how far Google’s approach to search has come since the original query box in white space. “Search” on Boutiques.com is about images, not words. Rather than using a “box,” it pushes you to start a search query based on a taxonomy unique to a specific niche. It recognizes that “page rank” is not the algorithm suited for personal choice and whim of the day. I have no idea whether or not this fashion site idea will work — but I think the underlying ideas about search and commerce that are on display here will be around, no matter what happens with this particular site.
And one more thing: This is such a radical departure from Google’s core search, it will be entertaining to see how SEO blackhats try to hack it.
And the last, last thing: Longterm, this technology will likely be more valuable for sourcing parts for manufacturing than finding the latest designer handbags.
Best crack ever about this blog: One of those people on the internet just let me know that, “Someone who knows nothing about technology or fashion shouldn’t write about them.” Boutiques.com, this person informed me, is simply a re-skinning of Like.com, a Google acquisition. Rather than waste time tracking down links from previous posts to debate something not worth debating, I’ll gladly concede: I know nothing about either tech or fashion.