Mapping Google’s FUD

While first encountered in writing in the 1920s, FUD is said to have been formally defined by Gene Amdahl nearly four decades ago after he left IBM to set up his own company, Amdahl Corp:

FUD is the fear, uncertainty, and doubt that IBM sales people instill in the minds of potential customers who might be considering Amdahl products.

Roger Irwin illustrates how Microsoft grabbed the FUD baton from IBM:

Of course the PC story is perhaps more a tale of big name marketing rather than deliberate FUD mongering, but the PC also brought Microsoft to the forefront as the supplier of the basic-in-ROM cum disk operating system. Microsoft soon picked up the art of FUD from IBM, and throughout the 80′s used FUD as a primary marketing tool, much as IBM had in the previous decade. They ended up out FUD-ding IBM themselves during the OS2 vs Win3.1 years.

A good example of MS FUD, and its potential, was demonstrated when Digital Research launched their DR DOS against MS-DOS5. DR-DOS offered more features and cost less, and was widely acclaimed by all. Then the new MS windows 3.1 release flashed up a trivial error message when run under DR DOS, and all of a sudden everybody was saying DR DOS is great but you can have problems running Windows on it. At the same time Microsoft announced the ‘imminent’ release of MS DOS6 which would be far more feature packed than DR DOS. In reality they had nothing, they had only just started looking at a ‘DOS 6′ in response to the DR launch, and it is also questionable whether the MS product was better. This classic FUD pack occurred together with a dealer package designed to make it financially advantageous to offer MS DOS with windows, and the result is history. Many believe this was the making of the MS monopoly.

A former Microsoft program manager, Joel Spolsky explains how Microsoft made a habit of FUDding competitors:

Think of the history of data access strategies to come out of Microsoft. ODBC, RDO, DAO, ADO, OLEDB, now ADO.NET – All New! Are these technological imperatives? The result of an incompetent design group that needs to reinvent data access every goddamn year? (That’s probably it, actually.) But the end result is just cover fire. The competition has no choice but to spend all their time porting and keeping up, time that they can’t spend writing new features.

Pre-Internet, FUD was easier to pull off for Microsoft:

  • Hold a press conference to pre-announce products not even half-finished or entirely nonexistent except as clip art in a product manager’s PowerPoint deck.
  • Give “exclusive” interviews to friendly tech reporters to generate one-sided stories without any counterpoints.
  • Buy advertising in “friendly” publications and other media read by decision-makers-with-checkbooks to reinforce the central FUD message.
  • Go astroturfing on mail-lists, forums and letters-to-the-editor sections through stealthily paid endorsers.

Of course, a lot has happened since the golden age of IBM and Microsoft FUD, namely the Internet and the fact that nobody really cares what IBM or Microsoft says or does any longer, especially in the consumer markets. Today, neither company is a market maker or has enough technical or business clout to dictate industry direction.

Enter Google

For several years now, I’ve been writing about how Google recognized the incredible opportunity presented to it by the rapid decline of Microsoft’s monopoly and how Google began to use Microsoftian tactics, predominantly featuring FUD, to buttress its market dominance:

In fact, none other than Vic Gundotra, former Microsoft chief evangelist and current Google+ czar, told BusinessWeek how FUD plays a critical role at Google:

In Silicon Valley, that kind of evangelism usually involves firing insults at the competition. While that hasn’t typically been Google’s style, Gundotra hasn’t shied away. As he says, “It’s an art to create a sense of inevitability.” In a keynote speech at a Google event for developers last year, he even took aim at Steve Jobs and “a draconian future where one man, one company, and one device would be our only choice. … That’s a future we don’t want.”

“It’s an art to create a sense of inevitability”

So how would the new FUDster Google attempt to discount a rival’s product announcement three days prior to the event? Why, hold a press conference, pre-announce “potential” products without ship dates and essentially “create a sense of inevitability”:

  • We cover so much of the earth (Hey, we’re bringing Map Maker to South Africa and Egypt today, and did you know you can get Street View in Antarctica? )
  • We have everything the competition may have and, just wait, we’ll have even more (You can download parts of maps to your mobile device for offline use, sometime in the future.)
  • Nobody else can do it as well as we can, because this thing is really hard (We managed to miniaturize all the stuff needed to capture Street View data into a backpack called the Street View Trekker, and did you know plate tectonics can lead to misalignments between different data sets?)
  • It takes a lot of money, people and resources to do this (Street View cars have now driven 5 million miles and collected 20 petabytes worth of image data, and did you know we even use a snowmobile to collect data?)
  • Everybody uses our products, we’re the safe choice (“communities of over 300 million people” will be using this stuff sometime soon.)
  • We’re not evil (Halo Trust uses Google Maps to mark where land mines are around the world, also did you know we once helped a tribe in the Amazon?)

Now, I know the work of mapping related companies Apple bought in the last few years and wrote about it two years ago in Apple, Google and the map wars. But I have no idea whether Apple will in fact offer a map product next week or how good it may be. It looks like Google thinks Apple will and it may be good enough to resort to FUD. That’s good enough for me.

I’ve heard Steve Ballmer laugh heartily at iPhone’s prospects: “There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.” I’ve seen Vic Gundotra tell us “One man. One phone…” is “Not the Future We Want.” I’ve been scared by Android czar Andy Rubin evoking North Korean nightmares under an Apple regime. So excuse me if I can smell FUD even 2,945 miles away as the 3D Google Maps flies, I’m well trained.

17 thoughts on “Mapping Google’s FUD

  1. “I know the work of mapping related companies Apple bought in the last few years”: What do you know about that work? You know that kind of work is difficult?

    Is that one huge noun phrase [(the work of) {mapping (related companies [Apple bought (in the last few years)])}]?

    Or did you simply not include a crucial hyphen?

  2. Google kept Street View and Turn By Turn away
    from Maps.app as a negotiating weapon.
    and now is using it as freedom and choice that Apple should give to its user.
    What is funny is that all the android fans in forums
    in unison had the same message which is that
    Apple should use Google maps because of Street Views,
    Turn by Turn is the best. Same people who bad mouth Apple every day.

    For Apple to be successful in maps, all Apple has to do is allow third party to use the new maps API in their website undercutting Google’s price rise.
    bring in TurnByTurn and realtime traffic info (INRIX) accessible via Siri.
    built-in iAd would kill groupon.

  3. It’s worth noting that offline maps have been effectively been in a public beta on Android for almost a year. Not exactly “in the future” for that feature.

    • Well, that’s up to Apple now isn’t it?

      There’s no guarantee will be Google will even be allowed to offer a Google Maps application. If they are allowed to do so, Apple will have final say on what features are and aren’t included (ask any ebook vendor about that).

      My point is that offline Google Maps isn’t typical FUD vaporware. It is a product we know Google can deliver. Given that they’ve announced (and demonstrated) their intentions, whether they will deliver it or not is (mostly) out of their hands.

    • A Google press conference isn’t/shouldn’t be about what Google CAN (theoretically) deliver, but about what it WILL deliver and when. Holding a presser 3 days prior to its rival’s event, while Google hasn’t even delivered the product on its own platform and doesn’t even know if it can deliver it on Apple’s, as you claim, would be classified as pure FUD in my book.

    • Perhaps you have evidence otherwise, but it sure looks like Google held ‘em back as a negotiating ploy to get Apple to feature the Google name more prominently, or perhaps to get more money.

      Simple commercial transaction, with Apple trying to control the quality of its offering, in addition to the features. Every firm should, and most do, work like that.

      The FUD is that Google realizes that the jig is up on its current negotiating stance, and while it may be able to offer an map app on iOS with minimal restrictions, as MapQuest and others already do, it will NOT be the default map engine. So they announce a raft of “we can do this real soon now!” stuff, trying to somehow blunt the impact of whatever Apple will announce next week.

      It’s an incredibly bone-headed move. First, as Kontra points out, it makes you look churlish, even disingenuous for having held back a feature. Second, and in the same way that it highlights how sloppy Google is about defining its products and themes, it will be washed over with whatever comes out.

      I’m of the belief that in some ways, the new Apple maps will be LESS CAPABLE than the current Google map. (StreetView, perhaps.) But that Apple will do enough to move it at least close to the “magical and revolutionary” category in other ways. Deeper integration with other parts of the OS, perhaps, to advise you that traffic is threatening your 3PM appointment. 3D manipulation that’ll blow your socks off. Of course I have no inside info, but that’s the nature of real “disruptive technology.”

      Apple often holds product capabilities back for years until it can get critical mass on a feature that is a standout, so people who want that feature know where to go. Whereas Google contents itself with “we can do that!” features that tell prospective customers very little about how well it will work, losing all the specialness.

    • Kontra,

      By the way the App Store is constructed no developer actually knows for certain what they can and can’t deliver. They know what they can do on a technical level, but that’s not enough. Consider the recent Dropbox brouhaha or the situation with Rogue Amoeba. For obvious reasons, this is doubly or triply true of Google.

      Should they all just pack up and go home? Or at least the ones developing in areas of interest to Apple? As an Android user, I’d love to see that. I suspect iOS users might feel differently, though.

      In my opinion, Google has developed a habit of pre-announcements about their iOS apps because the other way (submitting and waiting for Apple’s stonewalling and/or rejection) wasn’t working so well for them (see Google Voice, for instance). I’m not saying pre-announcements are the perfect answer, but if you think you’ve got a better one, you need to answer how your approach deals with the “Apple decided to sit on it for weeks or reject it ‘just because’ problem.”. I don’t think that’s an easy problem to solve.

    • Why do you think I (or anybody else, for that matter) have to solve Google’s problem? Unlike other devs, Google actually has its own app universe. Apple doesn’t owe Google a dime. If they don’t like it, they can develop for Android, Windows, BlackBerry, Tizen, etc.

    • You’re the one claiming Google shouldn’t be doing the pre-announcements and talking about things they might not deliver and that those are all about FUD. I’m saying they have reasonable, non-FUD reasons for doing so. This is a pattern we’ve seen with more than one app. At this point is seems like it is almost standard practice for Google to do some sort of pre-announcement (e.g. coming soon, submitted, demo, etc.) for new iOS apps and major updates (including for apps where I’d be hard-pressed to believe FUD is a factor, like Google+).

      I don’t think you need to solve Google’s problems. I think they’ve done a decent job of that themselves. However, if you’re going to claim that Google’s solutions are about FUD when they have clear alternative reasons for their current approach, I think you need to do more than assert that.

  4. What’s with the jingoism? Are you a paid up shill?

    The emotional content of your writing – like you were talking about a sports team or something – is really off-putting. These are just companies vying for market share. Neither is morally superior to the other. Apple is a bigger risk to consumer freedom; but Google has more data, so it’s creepier. But one is just about as bad as the other. It doesn’t fit you well to write in such a warped and slanted fashion.

    • Interesting. Kontra provides a cohesive argument with documented examples at each step of the way.

      You provide your opinion with no supporting evidence.

      Hmmm! I wonder who makes makes more sense?

    • Nobody is saying that one company is better or not. What kontra is saying is that Google is using FUD witch is true.

      There was no real product in day 6th announcement, I expected something from them, but nothing why? Because obviously they are worried about Apple map product.

      Remember the Microsoft Courier? vaporware, something that only exists as a infography video, Google is using the same technique today, witch is unfortunate.

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