“This is f@cking terrible. Just print it out and we’ll search it by hand.”
3am had rolled by and the client needed answers.
Who the hell was suing them? Why did their startup end up in the crosshairs of a patent troll?
I pored over my computer screen, desperate to find the answers. Racing through legal databases. Stomping through legal statutes. And yet I couldn’t find the answers fast enough.
I needed Google to be better.
Because I knew the information was there. I’d found parts of it in the walls of text they called webpages before. Their Google Patents page was of at least some use. But usually I had to hit the print button after a certain point. Running a search by hand.
Why is this so hard? Why can’t a multi-billion dollar tech company make my life easier…with tech?
“Why is Google the dumbest smart company in the world?”
Google’s a tech company with a problem.
They can’t design products people want to use.
Back in 2008 Paul Graham posted a list of startups he’d like Y Combinator to fund. Buried deep in his Christmas list was a request for someone to do what Google apparently can’t — create a search engine with even the slightest sense of design:
“Google doesn’t have a lot of weaknesses. One of the biggest is that they have no sense of design. They do the next best thing, which is to keep things sparse. But if there were a kind of search that depended a lot on design, a startup might actually be able to beat Google at search. I don’t know if there is, but if you do, we’d love to hear from you.”
I know, I know. You don’t agree.
“Google’s simple. I’ll even Google it for you.”
And yet that’s because you (we) barely scratch the surface of Google’s potential.
Yes, they help manage the knowledge of the world. Simultaneously allowing Grandma to figure out what a “Belieber” is, while showing us Corgi puppies romping around to Rocky’s theme song. (You’re welcome).
But beyond Gmail and Google Docs, can you name any of their advanced search features?
(Don’t beat yourself up, it took us awhile too.)
What they’ve focused on is creating the best technology in the world to sort information.
And they’re damn good at it.
Can we fault them for not focusing much on design then? They do what they do, and they do it well. Leave it to someone else to make something better …and force Google to change.
But that’s what startups like Wikiwand have done in recent years.
They looked at a service everyone loves…in spite of it’s design (cough: Wikipedia)…and gave it a makeover.
Because no one wants to read walls of text.
They want stunning photos, beautiful layouts, and intuitive design. They want to be spoon fed the information that matters. And they want it all at a glance. Because if they don’t get what they need in that microsecond, they’re one to something else.
Don’t believe me?
Here’s the Wikipedia page we’ve all seen at one point or another. One giant wall of text, one small Presidential picture.
Now look at the same page on Wikiwand.
Notice a difference?
I want to read that page. I want to dive into an hour long read on Obama’s family history. I want to finally learn if the birthers are right. (Spoiler Alert: Obama says they are!).
More importantly, someone finally gave us what we want. A beautifully stupid way to get our information. No more eye sores. No more walls of text. A webpage that gives me everything I want to know. Created from the ground up to combine smart design with input from the users themselves.
What’s needed are more startups willing to take on Google.
Not all at once, that would be idiotic. But individuals willing to not take Google’s market position for granted. Those with ideas on how to make even a small portion of it better.
(People just like DuckDuckGo’s Gabriel Weinberg who created a search engine that doesn’t track you — ever.)
These are the ideas that will force Google to compete. Or cede the ground they’ve gained. Either way in the long run, everyone else benefits.
That’s why we created Patent Monk. We hated reading patents on Google. Yes, they were light years ahead of the patent office when they created their online version back in 2006.
But here’s what they looked like back then.
And here’s the same page, today.
Nothing’s changed in almost nine years.
During that same time the Internet has changed. The world has changed. We’ve blown a hole in a comet. Sexting became a household word. Even “Back to the Future” finally caught up with reality. (Or did it?)
Surely Google Patents should change too, right?
We wondered if we were being stupid. Or maybe it was a huge opportunity. We’ll let fate figure that one out in the end. But after a few months of work, we redesigned the patent search.
Here’s the same patent on Patent Monk. With a little informed design from patent nerds themselves.
Notice the Web 2.0 qualities? The simple scroll to section feature? Even the OCRed patent drawings that link to text in the patent? Basic design features that Google ignores. But everyone who reads patents for a living puts at the top of their wish list.
And it didn’t take too much to get here.
Just sitting down with the target market and asking how can we make this be something you want to use? What features do you want? If you had a magic wand, how would you want to search for patents?
Simple stuff. And yet Google’s not doing it.
Instead of working to product market fit, they’re MAKING the market, and hoping everyone else fits in it. Think Google+, Buzz, Wave, Health, iGoogle, Answers, Knol… the list goes on. Notice how only Google+ is still around (for now)? Us too.
Maybe this means Paul Graham is right. Google creates visionary products. But their green thumb extends only as far as the backend code. They’re the PC to the Mac. The nerd to the hipster.
What we need is an Internet that’s designed to be beautiful — along with the mind bending technology. We need a layer of beauty on top of the back end that’s thought out. Created for the people who actually use it. The users who have to stare at computer screens all day because they have to, not because they want to.
Paul Graham and Y Combinator don’t want Google to fail. They just want to blow our minds with a simple twist on it. Pushing the envelope of how we interact with the gobbles of information on the web. Should we really aim for anything less?