Guardian - product focus needed
Before S Jobs died, Larry Page went to see him, and was given advice on how to improve Google: Focus.
Before Larry Page took over as CEO from Schmidt, and allowed the former to take up the role as Humanity’s humanities lecturer, Google was releasing loads and loads of weird products: Google Fiber, which gave a town in the US free Wi-Fi; the clusterfuck Google Local / Google local services / Google review centre; Google Buzz. Also crazy, disconnected features.
Page got back in control, now we have much more unified, visionary business. I think that discipline is working, Google phones have leapfrogged iOS, google+ has better and clearer features vs. bloated facebook; YouTube is a money making juggernaut, blah blah. Maps makes sense, local makes sense now with Google Now, everything is towards a common goal: data, analytics, tracking, at the point of want services.
I think the Guardian could do with some of that strategic product focus. Let’s start by listing out what they’re doing well:
1) US focus: top stories, top journalists, a strategy that makes total sense in a market where their traditional competitors (torygraph, times) would struggle to differentiate or be relevant
2) Digital vs. newspaper: putting the paper price up makes sense, website is great. TOP TIP did you know that you can use Google Goggles to share a story you’ve read in the paper? Take a photo of any of the text of the article, share to Google Goggles (have this auto happening if you have an Android) and it’ll give you the URL that you can then share on twitter, Club Penguin etc.
3) ‘owning the stack’ in the M25 – I smugly get weekend papers delivered straight from guardian, there when you get up, easy to setup online, great focus for their paper business (roll this out to all metropoles)
4) Comment is free – perfectly executed free soapbox money maker with huge reach, and well run IMO if annoying and contrary blah blah but product still good
5) Morning email bulletin – my main source of guardian reading, relevant, timely, personal (if not personalised (not yet)), the closest thing to a feel of a daily paper since a daily paper
Now to focus on things that must stop, must stop being live tested. They fit none of the strategy that is clearly can be seen above: “readers are not mugs; give them relevant products in a timely manner” (that should be the new grauniad MO)
1. Guardian coffee shop: opened to ridicule, a masochistic link-bait retail environment that didn’t help the company understand anything about their readership, didn’t help focus their product
2. Outlines of cities – what? Why? This could actually fit part of 3.below
3. The Guide Daily
-Paul McInnes live blogging a day, with the loose ‘pop culture’ wrapper of content. 1) Paul McInnes doesn’t sound or write like the guide, the Saturday pull-out which used to be quite vital and is now ok 2) the lolbants writing is reminiscent of point 4. Below, and feels like a general unnecessary dumbing down of pop culture: pop culture isn’t funny because it’s pop culture, it’s either good or bad depending on what it is. There doesn’t need to be a post-modern self-aware layer on all content:
“Well, that was exciting.
It’s OK, I’ve calmed down and resumed my usual, ice-cool, cultural-know-all stance.
(I haven’t calmed down at all. I want to talk about Prince all day.)”
Very dated, this post-blogging way of writing (see this blog c. 2011). Time to start leading with knowledge guardian, time to start focusing on quality writing, there are lots of people who can write about pop culture without adding “I’m mad, me” at the end cf. Digital Spy.
Also, it makes no sense as a rolling news page, even without all the terrible layers of “as the actress said to the bishop”: the daily guide should be part of a morning email, setting the agenda. More like Ben Brogan’s amazing morning briefing email from the Telegraph. Why would anyone visit this site during the day? What am I getting from it, at the time I want it? It’s actually a twitter account isn’t it? That’s how the Daily Guide would work. Stop fucking around and think about “readers are not mugs; give them relevant products in a timely manner”.
4. Music – where has guardian music gone? Music, like football, has been devoured by popular culture, so no one realises that reading a music review can be as exciting and escaping as listening to said music. Take control of the music section: work out what people want (music reviews, live reviews, interviews, new music trends, music op-eds) and remove ALL other distractions. FOCUS
5. On the cheap pull-outs, specifically the weekly Guardian Food, and the monthly “Do Something Different – nakedly on the cheap pull-outs, with no value. I think it’s called Do Something Different, it’s got “exercise with only your pen” and sudokus in. Both pull-outs reek of “we are cost-cutting”, both attempt maximum reach with minimal investment. We should applaud attempted cost-cutting, but I don’t see how Food fits with monthly Observer Food (other than the two editorial teams are still bonkersly separate). Doesn’t make sense to me as the reader. I am interested in cooking, but not in this limply curated-lite waif, with cheap, free sections by readers “would YOU like to be a printed writer? Why not write FOR FREE in our new weekly mag”. Guardian: can it, use the money to make the Observer Food Monthly like it used to be.
The other one, the exercise brain puzzle monthly: I struggle to see any value in this grossly cheap, patronising pull-out. “If we make it 90% free content, curated from the net, and 10% “celebrity goes on a climbing wall” BS it’ll be exactly what our readers want. NO NO NO NO