Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Where’s the lab love?

Around 3 years ago Google Labs was setting the trend, with many a local publisher mirroring the concept, allowing their internal developers and UI teams to experiment with their own 20% time. It became a sandbox to trial, experiment and showcase new concepts that may require further quantitative feedback without risking their brand if the concept was not quite right just yet. Technology Sand Pit and Labs were one of the first to jump in and setup their own destination pages, but over the last 12 months, there as been very little seen or heard of them. RSS is the best Realestate can offer on their page, the page is down as I type.

The originator, Google Labs, has also slowed up and I find myself very rarely heading to this page. Their most recent Google Friend Connect skipped the queue all together, graduating straight to Beta territory, and it seems as though Google, like Realestate and have lost the love for labs.

It seems innovation, although somewhat slowly, is still happening, realestate have, although this doesn’t seem to have progressed all that much in over a year now, their main competitor Domain now have Just Listed in Beta, looking very web2.0 with it’s large trebuchet search font, supersized buttons and tag cloud-arama. There’s been some brilliant examples of experimentation with UI and functionality o/s recently, including MCNBC’s Spectra, but it appears none of the heavy hitters locally are stepping up to really push the conventional. I believe, labs or no labs, these publishers in particular, resourced and content rich, can do more. We shouldn’t have to rely on startup’s or the filtering through of tried and tested o/s developments to push the local envelope forward.

Online has a fantastic opportunity to test concepts, ideas, products with hundreds of thousands of users at relatively low risk and investment, “try stuff”, and it is through this that future products we interact with can be moulded, refined and produced.


alan said...

The Lab site is back up now but nothing's changed on it since last year. I think the main driver of the Lab was Charlie Brewer, who has moved on to do photo-related stuff for News now.

All the local online media publishers are being asked to do more with less these days, which for the most part means "what can we do to increase the ad revenue we're getting from this website we own?". Things like labs are a second-order answer to that question that they don't feel delivers a clear/immediate return on investment.

I think that's narrow, short-term thinking, but very typical, and I think we'll see more of it affecting the US market in the wake of the recession just beginning to bite there.

I suspect even new Web2 layouts, tag clouds, etc are more about addressing advertiser wishes than product innovation, or we'd see more differences and more unique features. These lookalike Web2 changes are just so the advertising client feels like their money is being spent on a hipper audience. Sigh.

Glenn Rogers said...

Cheers Alan. Followed up with Charlie, who’s now the Picture Editor at News. The News Labs were kickstarted in November 06, with four products listed out on the wiki As he moved on, it has since remained dormant. That’s not to say it won’t be resurrected, but agree, overall I think there’s a larger focus now on commercialisation of the existing publishers assets, less on user-centric technology innovation.