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Infrastructure // PC & Servers
09:36 AM

Breaking Up Isn't Hard To Do

Yesterday, Google announced that it has a small team of engineers working in Chicago to make it easier for users to quit its various services. This is a novel and smart approach to building its brand.

Yesterday, Google announced that it has a small team of engineers working in Chicago to make it easier for users to quit its various services. This is a novel and smart approach to building its brand.It also runs contrary to the conventional wisdom [sic] that guides many customer relationships with technology, where the whole idea is to make it impossible, or at least really costly and/or difficult, for them to leave. Formats can lock you in, as in having your entire media collection impressed on CDs or DVDs, or your smartest slide presentations rendered in Powerpoint. Systems can be barriers, too, like my own relationship with iTunes: once bought or imported, I'm stuck, because I have absolutely no idea how to separate my stuff from the service. Subscriptions, along with the sundry downloads, updates, and auto-renewals, are an attempt to put the relationship on autopilot, which is a reasonable thing to do, even as it renders choice unconscious and thus quitting unlikely.

Combined with human failings regarding habit, complexity, and judging the time required to accomplish much of anything, the very concept of quitting a relationship based on (or with) a technology is a primary driver of continued patronage...whether wanted or not. We marketers call these attributes "disincentives to abandonment." Less charitable references would include "locks and chains" and "customer servitude."

So does offering an easy way out mean that more people will want to stay in?

It can't hurt, though I'm not sure the average user will understand. Usually, people don't think about exit strategies when they get into relationships with technology, any more than they do when they buy most other types of products. So maybe Google is offering an answer to a question before it's asked? I'd bet they know this, and are working on how to make the benefit a more visible, proactive part of their services pitch.

Of course, the whole thing could be a marketing gesture, as there's no mention of exiting with all the data Google may have collected or extrapolated about you. That's where the real monetary value resides (beyond any functional or sentimental worth of your own stuff to you). I make no claims to any expertise on what that data might look like, or how personalized it might be rendered, but there must be some way to give users visibility into whatever it is, and then actionable authority to modify or delete it upon request? How about simply offering the usage records to users, and let them decide what they want done with them?

I still think it's a good move for Google. What do you think?

Jonathan Salem Baskin writes the Dim Bulb blog and is the author of Branding Only Works On Cattle.

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