ADOTAS – Groupon CEO Andrew Mason is oft-hailed in the tech press as a “funny guy,” though I’ve never found his wittiness to break above George W. Bush-style self-effacing (and comparing your company to boy band *NSYNC is just… odd), but I may have to give his act another chance following his commentary about Groupon would-be rival Google Offers. Yesterday at the D9 conference, he quipped that he heard Offers’ Buzz integration was really good.
That’s a sharp comment on a few levels. Just like Google’s seemingly half-assed attempt to turn Gmail into social network, one can’t help feeling Google Offers is a day late and a buck short. In fact, Buzz really seems like a failed fourth-quarter comeback now that former CEO Eric Schmidt admitted at the same conference that Google underestimated the juggernaut potential of Facebook.
Considering its aborted $6 billion acquisition of Groupon as the daily dealmaker was approaching ramming speed, it’s arguable that Google did not make the same mistake with Groupon. But it reminds me of how David Bowie and Madonna forded the direction of pop music for much of their careers, but in recent years their albums seem to be grasping for the lastest trends.
This isn’t necessarily bad — Bowie’s “Earthling” is a hot celebration of the late 90s mainstream electronic scene. And hey, Google was slow to embrace the display advertising space, but in the first quarter of this year the company overtook longtime display champion Yahoo! in display revenue.
But Groupon is not Yahoo!, and Offers is no Groupon-killer. By the way, I’m so tired of hearing things are going to be so-and-so killers — remember how the Motorola Zoom and the Samsung Galaxy were going to be iPad killers? It’s a lazy term and almost as bad as disrupt, but that word reeks more of PR butter. What’s wrong with “rival” or “competitor”? Because nothing is getting killed; the space is just getting congested.
The launch of Google Offers follows Facebook re-imagining its Deals service to be a group-buying outlet. Yes, everyone wants in the hot, hot, hot group-buying space, but it’s reaching maximum capacity (if it hasn’t already). Groupon and Living Social are already the lions in the space, and it’s not clear that two more can elbow their way in — especially with rookie offerings.
Then you have Group Commerce and Tippr enabling group-buying at the local publisher level through white-label platforms, which would seem to be a far better proposition for smaller and local businesses in terms of targeting. The local business is definitely where the money is… and Groupon already seems to be ahead of everyone.
Enter Groupon Now, time-limited and location-based deals rolling out in major U.S. metropolitan areas. Groupon has made or is cementing partnerships with location-based mobile social networks like Loopt and Foursquare. In addition, Groupon recently acquired Pelago, maker of location-based mobile social network and recommendation service Whrrl, which suggests Groupon is preparing its own mobile app with targeted check-in deals.
Google Offers has the interesting twist that it will be integrated into mobile commerce platform Google Wallet. While Google Wallet is definitely where mobile commerce technology is heading, it’s way too limited for starters — basically you can only use the Google Nexus S on Sprint with a Mastercard.
Let’s see… I have one of those three, and I’m not going to buy a new mobile device and switch wireless carriers for the convenience of using Google Wallet at 300,000 locations such as fast food restaurants I never go to anyway (the falafel vendor at 37th & Broadway has got my back, and he only takes cash). Also, Google might be pressured into integrating more dealmakers to add retailers to the system.
In the group-buying space, something tells me that Mason and Groupon will get the last laugh. Especially when I head to Google Offers to be informed there’s nothing to buy right now in Portland, Ore. Fantastic.
Of course, we also should comment on the other Google “launch” — +1, Google’s answer to the Facebook Like and hopefully the savior of its search engine as search turns social. Announced months ago, +1 is finally appearing on websites worldwide.
Google Offers appeared a few weeks back as a website with a signup form and nothing else. Notice a trend here? Google is attempting to rule the tech news cycle — now that +1 and Offers have “launched,” Google gets even more coverage for products that seem a bit half-baked. The company is playing the tech press like a fiddle, and I’ll argue smaller, more interesting companies are being ignored.