Links on
I don't think so...

Henry Blodget suggests that Google "try links" on its home page. Obviously, such advice shows Henry's bias towards making the Street numbers before most anything else. In the same posting, we get a quote from Sergey Brin as saying, “What we are concerned about is that if we continue to develop so many new individual products … you will have to essentially search for our products before you can even use them.”

Instead of suggesting links on, I am strongly of the opinion that should stay as "clean" as possible, thus reinforcing its brand identity of being uncluttered. On the other hand, from a usability + business model perspective, yes, Google needs to make it extremely easy for people to aggregate/personalize their Google experience (i.e. have a starting page from where one can access all the various Google services. To go a step more in this direction, why not even have Google suggest some layouts based on the user's activity? So, Google should bring somehow front and center the ability for its users to customize their Google experience, in addition to being able to advertise for new services.

From the other point raised in Henry's posting, one should see how clever Brin is when he says that "you will have to essentially search for our products before you can even use them." Being myself involved in several web-publishing projects, I can highly appreciate the (content-, in my case, applications- in Google's) ideas visitors indirectly lead you to by their searches.

Multi-sided platforms

From another interview at HBS Working Knowledge, we learn from Andrei Hagiu, assistant professor in the Strategy unit at Harvard Business School, about success factors for software platforms:

The quintessential key to success of software platforms has always been their ability to build large, well-functioning ecosystems of third-party producers who build on top of the software platform. Without them, no one would have any need for the platforms. The relevant management skills are:

Knowing the community and being able to identify and attract the third-party producers who can build the most valuable innovations.
Knowing how to manage the ecosystem: Deciding the right balance between quantity and quality; knowing when to compete and when to collaborate with partners; being able to manage the conflicts of interest inherent to such compete-collaborate relationships; knowing how to monetize the value created by the ecosystem (which member of the ecosystem is needed most—developers or end users—and how the pricing scheme must be designed to get both sides on board).
Knowing how to architect the physical design and scope of the platforms: what to do in-house vs. what to rely on others to do; which features to offer and which to forego. Knowing how to spot competitive threats early, both within the industry, but most important and difficult, in adjacent industries, where other platforms might be poised to strike (e.g., smart phones moving into the PDA industry); and conversely, spotting expansion opportunities in adjacent industries (e.g., NTT DoCoMo expanding into payment systems).

Not being sure of the practicality of the above quotation, given its descriptive rather than prescriptive nature, we'll have to read Hagiu's co-authored and recently published Invisible Engines: How Software Platforms Drive Innovation and Transform Industries. The value of Hagiu's approach seems to come from carefully considering the tradeoffs at several junction points along the pathway to building a platform.

Until reading the book, here's one more Hagiu-insight on platforms: a multi-sided platform trumps even a best in class product--a multi-sided platform being a platform supporting a multi-sided business. Hagiu restricts this observation to multi-sided markets, which in this case may well account for network effects. The next theoretical quest(ion) becomes: When (read after how many supported sides) does a platform enter diminishing returns?

Channels vs. Superior Product

From an interesting interview with Pai-Ling Yin, assistant professor in the Strategy unit at Harvard Business School, we learn about the relative importance of distribution channels vs. technology progress in the larger context of technology diffusion. Simply put, distribution channels are twice as important as "technological superiority". Here's an excerpt:

The classical debate in economics has been whether the market always produces the "best" outcome. Best can be defined in different ways. In one stream of the debate, "best" has been defined as "technologically superior" (again, a term that can be defined differently). So, does the market always lead the "technologically superior" outcome, or can economic actors take actions to influence the market outcome so that a "technologically inferior" outcome arises?

We conclude that while both technological progress (measured by releases of newer and better versions of browsers: version 1, version 1.1, version 2, etc.) and strategic actions (distribution browsers with PC purchases) increase the rate of diffusion of browsers into the population, the strategic actions (distribution or restrictions on distribution in the case of Netscape) are twice as important as technical progress.

Read on by following this link and also learn about the importance of first- vs. second-mover advantage. It looks like there is little hope for non-IE browsers (e.g. FireFox), yet I do not want to take such conclusion for granted.