Eric Enge interviews Seth Godin on June 8, 2007

Published: June 20, 2007

Seth Godin

Seth Godin is a bestselling author, entrepreneur and agent of change.

Godin is author of seven books that have been bestsellers around the world and changed the way people think about marketing, change and work. The titles of these books are: Permission Marketing, Unleashing the Ideavirus, The Big Red Fez, Survival is Not Enough, Purple Cow, Free Prize Inside, and All Marketers are Liars, Small is the New Big, and his latest book, The Dip.

Seth is a renowned speaker as well. He was recently chosen as one of 21 Speakers for the Next Century by Successful Meetings and is consistently rated among the very best speakers by the audiences he addresses.

Seth was founder and CEO of Yoyodyne, the industry¤s leading interactive direct marketing company, which Yahoo! acquired in late 1998.

He holds an MBA from Stanford, and was called "the Ultimate Entrepreneur for the Information Age" by Business Week.

Godin is founder and original squid at Squidoo in his spare time.

Interview Transcript

Eric Enge: One of the things that I observed is that Squidoo has an Alexa Rank of 450. That's great progress obviously and says a lot about the traffic level of the site. What is it that is making Squidoo so popular?

Seth Godin: Well, this may sound weird, but we designed it to be popular. And, that's a mistake that a lot of marketers make. You know the fact is Squidoo is now more popular than ConsumerReports.org, and more popular than the WallStreetJournal.com. And, the reason is because we are cheating. We are cheating, because instead of one or ten or twenty well paid people trying to guess what the world wants; we have seventy-five thousand people, each writing about stuff they care about; each promoting what they build. For example, we get mentioned on Technorati every minute or two. We get mentioned on blogs all the time, because we designed it that way. We built a platform that makes it easy for people to spread ideas, and part of the reason that we did it was to prove a point, which is that the new form of marketing today uses this approach. It is creating a way to allow your best customers, your happiest users to talk to each other, as opposed to yelling at them.

Eric Enge: What is it specifically that you have done to make it viral?

Seth Godin: We tried to get out of the way of people's ability to share. We tried to make it so that it's very easy to set up, and it's very easy to promote. We try to make it, so that somebody who maybe doesn't have the energy to build a blog will find the time to build a Squidoo Lens one time or two times or edit it once a month. And, be proud enough of it that they want to spread the word. We have also organized it around charity; the main reason I started this site, was because I discovered that the vast majority of people in this country give zero percent of their income to charity that isn't their church, and even though we are a generous nation; that's sad.

I thought if we could build an easy and painless way for people to give a nickel or a dime to charity without even knowing it on an ongoing basis, we could change that. And, as a result, for example there is more than a thousand of the hundred and seventy thousand pages on Squidoo that have been built by members of the ASPCA. And, they have pages about their dogs or their cats. And, all the money earned from those pages by the people who built them, goes to the ASPCA directly.

Well, the reason that they found out about this is because the ASPCA told them. The ASPCA has about a hundred thousand people on their mailing list, and they hammer them regularly to raise money. But, the thing is, you can't raise any more money from these hundred thousand people. These hundred thousand people have donated all they can donate, but if you go to them instead of saying donate, say go, spend ten minutes and build one of these pages about your pet, many of them will. And, those then turn into platforms for one thousand supporters of the ASPCA to further spread the news. So, since they have an altruistic reason to do so, they are more likely do promotions that they wouldn't do if it was to earn $5 from Amazon or something.

Eric Enge: Right. Is there is a revenue sharing scheme?

Seth Godin: Yes. The way Squidoo works is that every page earns money from eBay Auctions, Amazon affiliate links, Orbit's links and Google Ads. And, what we do is, we turn around to give half that money to people who built the page. And, the default is, that we actually donate it to a charity they choose. If they want to, you can manually change it, and we will give the money directly to you.

Eric Enge: Right. So, you have made it easy, because you have set up the payment mechanics to actually make the payment to the charity that they have picked out.

Seth Godin: Right. Now, it's important to note something, which is that any technically skilled person with a lot of time could build a page like a Squidoo page without us. Squidoo offers two significant benefits. The first one is that we did it for you, so you don't have any of the hassle. The second one, which I think is bigger, is something that we call the proximity effect.

The way the proximity effect works is, if you go to buy a book, you go to Barnes & Noble. Barnes & Noble sells more books than super markets do, even though all the books compete with each other. So, if you are an author and you have a choice between selling your book at Barnes & Noble, or selling your book at the super market, you are better off having it at Barnes & Noble, because the competition actually sells more books. Not just in aggregate, but for most of the individual titles. So, the fact that your Squidoo Lens page is next to hundreds of thousands of other ones, helps you get traffic. Because, when someone is looking at someone else's Jimmy Hendricks page, your Jimmy Hendricks page is only one click away, so they are more likely to go over and check it out.

Eric Enge: Right. I mean effectively its distribution to use an old fashioned term for it, because you have got the traffic and people are going to go to Squidoo to see what's hotter, and what's there in a particular topic area. So, it's easier for people to find you on Squidoo, versus trying to become a voice alone in the world and getting recognized somewhere on your own.

Seth Godin: Exactly.

Eric Enge: Do you have any data on the viral behavior of Squidoo?

Seth Godin: We know that the long tail, Zipf's law, is a fact here as much as it is anywhere else, that in any given month, almost every single one of our pages gets visited. Some of the pages get visited twenty times to thirty times. And, some of the pages get visited eleven thousand times. And so, there is no typical answer to the viral questions except to say that there are different kinds of people building different kinds of pages. The kind of person, who builds a page on Zippers and never promotes it, might get twenty visits or thirty visits a month.

The person who built the page on Laptop Bags on the other hand, if you type Laptop Bags into Google, it's the number one match. She has become the superstar, the expert, the clearing house on Laptop Bags. She is more influential than any magazine, any TV show, any person on the planet, when it comes to buying fancy expensive Laptop Bags. And, we have got notes from Laptop Bag Company saying that they are getting thirty-five percent of their revenue from her page. So, what we see is, that there is a chance here, an opportunity, if you have a blog and if you have a network to get the word out, which then puts you high up on Google.

And, once you are high up on Google, you start seeing people who you never knew about before coming to see your page. A percentage of those people, tiny percent, go ahead and build their own page after they see yours, and that's how we grow. This week we are averaging about a thousand new pages a day and that's up from a hundred new pages a day, a year ago.

Eric Enge: That's great growth. When did Squidoo launch?

Seth Godin: It launched in March '06.

Eric Enge: Right. So, one of the intriguing things about when you are trying to get something to go viral is how you manage to get the process started. I'd really be interested to hear your description about how that went for Squidoo, and what you did.

Seth Godin: We had really, really well planned schemes for how to launch it. And, every one of them failed. We started by using our network to get well known people like Jane Goodall and Martha Stewart to build pages. Those pages have not accumulated particularly large amounts of traffic. We had very high level meetings with serious publications and media companies, big sites where we could say to them look, if you can get every single person who watches this show or reads this magazine, to build a page about it, think the impact to your traffic and revenue. Those all failed.

I mentioned it a couple of times on my blog, and while that got, I'd say few hundred people, it didn't lead to the Tsunami of successful launch. What happened was that friends of friends of friends heard about it, and they had been itching to do something like this. Some of these popped up and were popular. For a long time our most popular page was about My Space. I don't even know what a My Space overlay is, but apparently this guy built the page that taught you how to do a My Space overlay with DIV. And, it instantly generated huge amounts of traffic.

Another page that took off was around this web game called Line Rider, and it was the page to look at to see great examples how Line Rider worked and how to use it. Line Rider took off and this page took off and it was getting a huge amount of traffic everyday for months. That led to people building new ones. We predicted none of this. What we were right about is that, if we built the platform, people would use it in ways we didn't know. And, the market is way smarter than we are, and they figured it out, for what we were wrong about is that we wasted an enormous amount of time and effort and money in trying to go to the obvious partners and they all failed.

Eric Enge: Right. So, perhaps Jane Goodall or Martha Stewart didn't feel the passion for promoting their page, because they didn't need a Squidoo page to be known?

Seth Godin: I still think they do, because they are not as know as they could be. But, you are right; organizationally there are people who have higher priorities, who would rather try to get on Oprah than to go down this path.

Eric Enge: Right. They don't necessarily understand this path by not being as web savvy as some of the other people out there.

Seth Godin: A lot of media companies don't like this path. I was talking to a Senior Executive of a very well-funded dotcom from the old days. That went public, and they were a top thirty website for a long time. And, he said, I hate Google. I said what do you mean you hate Google? He said in the old days, if people wanted information about what we cover, they would type our URL into the browser; they'd come to our homepage, and then I would be in charge. Say with Google, every Joe Blow is on equal footing with me on any given topic, and if I don't have the best article on topic Y, they don't see me. And, they don't go to my homepage any more, and all that stuff I spend a lot of money to build, is worthless. I thought that was a brilliant insight, and then he said something incredibly stupid. He said: "I am not going to work with any of these Web 2.0 companies, because I want them to fail".

Eric Enge: You refer to the old way of thinking and marketing as the TV Industrial Complex. When I was at Search Marketing Expo earlier this week, one of the things we talked a lot about is how old fashioned companies that are used to the TV Industrial Complex mindset won't engage in social media, because they can't control it. The insight they seem to be missing is that the dialogue about their products and their company and related products or whatever, is taking place, whether they participate or not. So it really behooves them to get their ass in gear and participate, because that way even if they are dealing with harsh criticisms, they can at least address the issues and be a part of the conversation.

Seth Godin: That's exactly the point. In fact they can flood the zone. This is what Scott Adams has done. Scott Adams, who created Dilbert, has a blog that is just hysterically funny and provocative, and has nothing to do with Dilbert. Scott's blog posts regularly show up on the top fifty on Digg, and he regularly gets huge amounts of comments, 40, 100, or 500 comments on one post. He has this huge reader base, because Scott started famous, and most people on the web didn't, and by starting famous, and then empowering his audience to talk, every where you look, he shows up, making him even more famous. In contrast, three years from now, the people who have Legacy Magazines aren't going to be famous anymore, because for years they have been telling people don't talk about us.

Eric Enge: Right. I did a Web Marketing Seminar for a magazine association about three months ago, and I was still dealing with people in the audience, who haven't made the decision to take their content online, and they will be gone at some point.

What ultimately was the purple cow for Squidoo?

Seth Godin: Okay. It's really important to distinguish something that most people don't get, which is purple cow doesn't mean super uber-cool amazing hip details magazine iPod. All purple cow means is, it is that someone chose to talk about it. And so, if you build a Lens on Squidoo, you have reasons to talk about it. You may go tell ten friends, or email your friends, or post to a blog or whatever, because that's why you built it, so you could have people look at it. By the very nature of the site, your Lens is something you want to talk about, and show off.

Eric Enge: The Lens is your creation based on your passion.

Seth Godin: Right. So, what is the difference between Wikipedia and Squidoo. Well, Wikipedia is anonymous group work. There is one article about each topic, whereas Squidoo is ego driven idea work, with multiple pages on each topic. We then rank them and we sort them, and we encourage people to steal ideas from each other and to keep making them better.

Because it's about you, you are more likely to talk about it. Very few people tell other people about the Wikipedia article they contribute to.

Eric Enge: Because there is no sense of ownership. So, what is it that makes a great Lens?

Seth Godin: There are lots of things, because we built a platform that can do many things. The purpose of Squidoo is to get people to leave. We did not build a website where the goal is that you stay for as long as possible. The goal with a Lens is to say here is the big picture, here is the sense of meaning, here is what you need to know before you take action, and here is the link you should click on to go do something else.

If I am an eBay seller and I sell antique spoons, I should build a Lens about how to collect antique spoons. I should point to the books on antique spoon collecting, and I should have a pricelist of the most important antique spoons I ever sold. And then, I should have a list of my auctions on eBay. If someone reads that and understands that I get the big picture, they are more likely to bid on my eBay auction, then if someone just sees one of my auctions on eBay.

So, the best Squidoo Lens is one that says here is the big picture, here are the six records to buy, the three auctions to enter, the two blogs to read, to understand what this is about, thank you very much.

Eric Enge: Right. So, you have integrated connectivity to Amazon and eBay in your infrastructure to make that easier for the Lens creator.

Seth Godin: Yes. If you wanted to add a list of the six best selling Thai cook books on Amazon to your Lens, and have it updated every day, you can add the Amazon module to your Lens, and then type Thai cook books and say go. And then, Squidoo will do everything else for you.

Eric Enge: Right. Amazon makes it easier with their API, but it is still hard for the average person to do.

Seth Godin: Yes. And, if you are a blogger, trying to do that in your blog isn't going to help, because it is going to push down as add posts and two weeks from now, it won't be on the page anymore.

Doing it on your sidebar in your blog is possible, but most people don't, because it is hard. Our eBay auction works the same way. We have made it easy by adding tools to let you do this on the fly. So, if you build a Lens about the Cannes Film Festival next year, in addition to including the five hotels that you recommend, you are going to have one button that says click here to book a ticket from New York to Paris on the right dates, and it will take care of it for you.

Eric Enge: Very cool. What is it that makes a Lens popular?

Seth Godin: What is it that makes a blog popular? If I look at the list of top twenty blogs, thirty blogs, forty blogs, there is no rhyme or reason. And, it's interesting, because magazines evolved the same way. We see magazines about fishing and hunting that do really well, but there are no magazines about bowling. I have no idea, why is that? Because, of the way the network works. The same thing is true with blogs and Lenses. We find that certain historical events can have popular Lenses, there could be one on the Cuban missile crisis, or the Holocaust, but other historical events have none, or they have them, but no one looks at them. It's not about the content, as much as it is about the network. When a network of people coalesce around an idea, by definition it becomes popular. A couple of years ago Gregorian Chants CDs were best sellers, but never before or never again. But, for a period of time, they were on the Billboard Charts, why? Because, the network of people who wanted something offbeat coalesced in a moment. So, we don't know why, but they did and someone got lucky and it worked. The difference is that it costs a lot of money to take a shot in the music business and it costs nothing to create a Lens, so some people have a hundred of them playing a portfolio approach, waiting for one to be in the right place at the right time.

Eric Enge: Right. So, the network effect and having the right timing are the two things that need to happen for a Lens to become really popular.

Seth Godin: Right. If someone built a Paris Hiltons Prison Diary as a Lens, it would be popular for a couple of weeks, and then it will go away. But, that's really cutting it close to the edge; I think that understanding bigger trends, understanding for example the most popular blog, I think right now is called Post Secret. And, the guy who started it came over a very simple idea, which is mail me a postcard telling me a secret, and I'd put it on my blog. And, everyday he posts a new postcard; that's the whole blog; that's it. It has a huge traffic base, why? He understood that the position of anonymity and ubiquity that the web was introducing could allow an individual to get something off their chest, and could allow other among us to see something at the same time.

After the fact, it is easy to look at that, and we all will see its really smart, but the skill and the art comes in doing it before you realize it's obvious.

Eric Enge: Right. How about the Lens ranking system, how does that work?

Seth Godin: Well, Lens rank is a carefully guarded secret, and we tell everyone how it works. The reason we tell everyone how it works, is because we rank the Lens based on what we want people to do. People who crack our system by doing what makes the algorithm work will end up with better Lenses. What we do is we rank inbound traffic, Click-Through rates, meaning how many people who came to the page actually left the page in a good way, because no one Clicks Through on a Lens if it's lousy. We also rank ratings by other users, and we rank its popularity in terms of links from the outside world. We are constantly tweaking it to make sure it's not out of balance. But, when all these things occur, what we end up with is a page that lots of people in the outside world said was good. That lots of people came to, and that lots of people left in an appropriate way. And, if all those things are true, well then of course it deserves to rank higher and so it does.

Eric Enge: Right. So, what kind of traffic does someone get if they become a popular Lens and get on to the homepage of Squidoo and is that a system that people really work hard and compete to get to?

Seth Godin: Yes. I would say there are five thousand people who spend a lot of time trying to make their rank go way up. We have our list of the top one hundred, and then by category, which is way more relevant. I think we have eighteen categories and one hundred in each of those. So, if I have a business Lens and I am outscored by a gardening Lens, well I shouldn't sweat it. But, if I have the number one business Lens among business Lenses, then I am doing something right.

As we grow, we are seeing that the bestseller affect kicks in and that being on the top of that list has a dramatic increase on your traffic, it can double or triple your traffic with no problem.

Eric Enge: Right. What about spammers?

Seth Godin: Spammers are a pox. They have been a pox ever since I wrote a book about them in 1996. And, I don't get why people act in such a selfish way. So, we worked really hard on this. The first thing we do that has made the biggest impact is you can't be anonymous on Squidoo. We need to know your email address, and we confirm your email address. We could have five times the number of Lenses if we made it so you didn't have to identify yourself where you start. So, that keeps a whole bunch of people out. And then, when we discover that someone is gaming the system, we put our community to work to solve the problem.

We had a big spamming problem about a month and half ago, and people were abusing the algorithm. They were doing all sorts of link exchanges and stuff to build pages that we just weren't proud of. We made it clear to people from the beginning, if we are not proud of what's happening that we would change it. And so, we went to our users and we said here are some tools, a few of them are allowed to use it, and we rotate who gets them. We said when you find a page that you think is inappropriate, click this button. And, within a week, none of the spammers were on any of our hot lists.

Eric Enge: Right. So, you engaged trusted users, to act as moderators due on forums to police the situation.

Seth Godin: That is right. So the message got out that you are not going to be able to climb the rankings by cheating and we've restored the quality that we were assuring people.

Eric Enge: Right. I think that is an interesting solution because one of the challenges Google faces, is how do they get human input in a scalable way and this is a very hard challenge for them. But this notion of investing trusted users can work for a Squidoo because it is a smaller scale problem to manage.

Seth Godin: Exactly. Google has 10,000 employees and we have 4 employees.

Eric Enge: How would you contrast Squidoo with other services? I know they are very different, but compare Squidoo to services such as del.icio.us, Stumble Upon, and other services where people are identifying good content and collecting them in one fashion, or another.

Seth Godin: Well, Stumble Upon is brilliant. I wish I had thought of Stumble Upon. Stumble Upon introduces a whole new idea, which is the idea of community-guided surfing. Imagine a shopping channel, where I can surf from one interesting website on auctions to another with a level of a permission involved, which is you give permission to the community to put the next page in front of you and that is really fascinating, dynamic, and it is extraordinarily powerful. But it has nothing to do with what we are doing.

It is a great way for thirteen-year-olds to waste time before they do their homework, it is a great way for people who work to not do their work and I would imagine that there are some societal useful innovations that Stumble Upon will come up with, but in the meantime, it is a great diversion. del.icio.us is also brilliant but in a very subtle way, and the challenge that I think the del.icio.us guys are facing is how to make it ubiquitous.

I view del.icio.us as a process, I view Squidoo as a place, and so they are fundamentally different things. One is a verb and one is a noun. The next one would be social news sites like Digg and Reddit, and they are also really fascinating. The challenge that they have is being on the front page of Digg and Reddit is useful, but being on the 20th page is worthless.

Eric Enge: It's all about homeruns.

Seth Godin: Exactly, and in order to have more impact, they actually have more than one home, more than one hot list. What we did on Squidoo is, we did a rip off of them and any one who wants to on their Squidoo Lens can build their own Digg like feature, which we call Flexi-dex, so you can say, here is my twenty favorite Miles Davis albums, let us rank them. You can say here are fifty business blogs, let's rank them; and so you get the same kind of effect but instead of one page, there is thousands and thousands of these hot lists and the challenge is how do you make one of the critical mass, because once it does, I think it will really scale.

Eric Enge: What makes Squidoo the best of breed for these kinds of sites in the social media category?

Seth Godin: My new book The Dip is about being the best in the world, and what I talk about there is world does not mean the whole world on the web, you do not have to be the best on the whole web. You just have to be the best on someone's web for them right now. And so, I think what Squidoo offers, is for the person who wants an identity but does not want to make the commitment that blogging takes. This is their chance. If someone has a blog, this is a chance to build a sign post for that blog, to show they are the best so that people rank them highly.

If somebody is Ford Motor Company with one hundred thousand or one million employees and you want to market the Ford Mustang, why not go to all the people at Ford who worked on the Ford Mustang and have them build their own page about the Mustang and their version of marketing that product. I think there are lots of little worlds where Squidoo is an obvious good choice, for example, the non-profit world. If I ran a non-profit today, it's hard for me to imagine a better way for me to spend my time than to get my one hundred, or one thousand, or ten thousand biggest supporters to go build pages that donate money to me.

For example, John Edwards could have a community within Squidoo where you have 100, or 1000, or 10,000 people all articulating their take on their candidate and pointing to fundraising and videos and blogs and everything else, again flooding the zones, spreading the word. So, we are not trying to be the best in everyone's world, because there are plenty of people who do not need what we do. But I think that will help the people build the pages, and I think it helps the search engines because they can deliver better results, and I think it helps the surfer because they find the meaning that they want, so you go to the right page at the right time.

Eric Enge: Can you share some information about the Squidoo audience?

Seth Godin: I wrote in 1998 that demographics do not matter, but that psychographics matter. So, I do not know the demographics. I do know we have holocaust survivors and twelve-year-olds. I know we have people in Latvia, and Mexico, in the United States and none of that information has helped me in any way. So we do not keep track because I do not know what I'd do with it, anyway.

Eric Enge: So what about psychographics?

Seth Godin: Well, the psychographics are we have very few A-list bloggers. We have very few B-list bloggers. We have very few people who work for giant PR firms. We have mostly people who are seeking a community that they can feel a part of without devoting their whole life to it. We have mostly people who have something to say, who believe in something, or are passionate about something and wish that more people would ask them about it. That is the psychographics of what we have.

Eric Enge: For the final few questions, let's shift gears into some industry topics. One of the things that has struck me about what is going on in this web world of ours, is the consumer being in more control because of their having so many choices, and how much easier to get detailed information about those choices. Do you see this accelerating as we move into the future?

Seth Godin: I think consumers are in control of certain small elements of what is going on, the biggest one being they have more choices. There are more channels to watch, they can skip any commercial they want, and there are more long tail products for them to choose from. I think that we are not even close to consumers controlling the stories that are being told, that the stories are still getting churned out by the big organizations and many times those stories do not resonate and thus do not spread, but often they do resonate, they do spread, they, from Apple computers, from politicians, from people trying to change the discussion about a wide range of topics.

I think the big shift that is happening right this minute is, more and more stories are coming from the grassroots, for example the global warming story, the story that we have to shift things, and change things, and take, and embrace them. You know the symbol of it is, Al Gore and his movie, but the real force behind it had no corporation behind it, and no ad budget behind it. It came from a million people all speaking up at the same time.

Eric Enge: Right, because nothing was being done.

Seth Godin: Exactly and again it is very important to separate story from fact, because people do not care about facts, they care about stories and that is why Paris Hilton is on our televisions everyday. Because many people find her story compelling even though the facts are fairly banal.

Eric Enge: When you spoke to Google in 2006, one of the things you told them to focus on was the viral nature of their biggest hits, like search and Gmail. How have they done in terms of continuing to try to bring viral things out?

Seth Godin: It is important to understand that there is not one Google, but there are several big moving parts inside Google. The biggest one is the invention of AdWords, which was brilliant and worth billions of dollars. That funds a lot of what they do. Number two, the opportunity to tell a story about search walking into the vacuum that was left when Yahoo and Microsoft and others stopped talking about search was brilliant and worth billions of dollars.

On that platform, the three guys who are in Google have been brave enough and creative enough to say let's stack twenty things or thirty things or forty things because we can afford it, this is our moment. And over time some of them are spreading like Gmail, and some of them aren't. And I'll stand by my statement, which is if we look at every success the company has had, every single one has been a success, not because of the technology, but because various people felt compelled to spread the word far and wide about their experience. And so, when Google keeps score of what they ought to do next, my suggestion to the very smart people there is do more like that, do more stuff that built into it, is the engine of it's spreading. Google should have done Twitter, because Twitter is a classic Google kind of application. And shame on them for being distracted by building another server farm when they could have built Twitter in three days.

Eric Enge: It is interesting because you see Yahoo!, who acquired Flickr and del.icio.us, and they built Yahoo! Answers, which are really interesting services. Yahoo! Answers is a very interesting success story that has this viral aspect to it.

Seth Godin: Exactly. And there are some really smart people at Yahoo!, but the challenge that Yahoo! has is that they did not invent Ad Words and they do not have the search story and so their platform is a different platform. And the challenge they have with their platform is that is is designed to be a user's home - I can spend three hours a day on Yahoo!, and it knows all my data. How do you take that platform and scale it? And that is why Facebook would have been such a key edition to what Yahoo has.

Eric Enge: Right. Lastly, we have our friends up in Redmond at Microsoft that have been struggling to get a foothold in the search market. But then you take a step back and realize just how much money, and how much patience, and how much income they have that if I were Yahoo! and Google, I would remain very afraid of the folks at Microsoft.

Seth Godin: Microsoft's key working pieces are A, the operating system that everyone uses and B, the applications that everyone uses because they worked with the operating system and everyone else was using them. Those two things account for 95% of Microsoft's income. Everyone uses Word because everyone else uses Word, not because it is the best word processor. So how do you repeat those things in a place where you do not own the operating system and people use tools because everyone else is using them, however you do not own any of those tools.

Microsoft Word is vulnerable, Excel is vulnerable, and the operating system is going to go away, so what do you do? What you do not do is spend $150M to bring out Zune, and $250M to fight a battle that Google already won. I think what you do is, you spend that $400M to invent a whole host of tools that people use because everyone else is using them. An example is 37 Signals. I think that every single product that has been made by Thirty Seven Signals should have been made by Microsoft.

Eric Enge: Right. Since it is too late to win the search game, invent a new game.

Seth Godin: Yeah, but I am not saying search is done. We are going to see totally different search two years from now. Search should know what is on my hard disc, and search should know what is in my email. When I do a search on Reading, it should know I am into trains. Search should be aware of who my friends are and what they are searching for. Search is going to be dramatically different. But it is not clear that those leap frogs are going to come as a result of a consorted, focused, big scale effort. Because I do not think that is the way the web advances.

Eric Enge: With their universal search and personalization initiatives, Google is trying to head in that kind of direction.

Seth Godin: Oh sure they are! But, I think they are doing it with a group of brilliant people trying to figure it out, as opposed to one person deciding what the answer is and then having one hundred people build it.

Eric Enge: Okay. So which is the better way to go?

Seth Godin: I think that heritage comes from the IBM Mainframe world, right? In the IBM mainframe world, the mythical man month, and all the other stuff, it all happened because you could not possibly come up with an innovation in the Mainframe world with one person. One person could system architect it and it took thousands to build it.

But Twitter is the work of one person. All these things that keep changing the way people interact are not built by squadrons of people. I have not seen anything going on online where the rocket scientists working in large packs invented something that the rest of us said we need to have. Instead I think there was an insight, you know make me a prototype of Google maps, show me it is working, show me that it feels right, then I need lots and lots of people who make sure it works. But I think the market has to get involved earlier.

Eric Enge: It is an interesting point. In some sense the argument you are making is that when the right person has that insightful moments and that conviction in their gut, that it is not necessarily always so easy to defend the idea in a committee, but inspiration nonetheless is the thing that drives the process.

Seth Godin: Exactly. And is so, in fact, you know I have blogged last week about the whole Olympic logo SNAFU in the UK; and it got a lot of play because the Logo is a disaster. The reason the Logo is a disaster is because they have spent so much money on it, and that if they had not spent so much money, there would have been fewer people in the room, and if there were fewer people in the room, they would have had the guts to make something better. But the very act of spending the money, made it lousy.

Eric Enge: There is something to be said for not having the bright white lights on everything. Great. That's it for today. I think it has been quite interesting. Thanks!

Seth Godin: I think this was terrific. Thank you!

Have comments or want to discuss? You can comment on the Seth Godin interview here.

Other Recent Interviews

  1. Google's Mark Lucovsky - June 10, 2007
  2. Efficient Frontier's Anil Kamath - June 4
  3. Feedburner's Rick Klau - May 28, 2007
  4. Yahoo's Tomi Poutanen - May 14, 2007
  5. Google's Adam Lasnik - Apr. 30, 2007

About the Author

Eric Enge is the Founder and President of Stone Temple Consulting (STC). STC offers Internet marketing optimization services, including SEO, Social Media and PPC optimization, and its web site can be found at: http://www.stonetemple.com.

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