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Web 2.0 and The Power of Polarization

David NeedleSAN FRANCISCO -- Reporter's Notebook: So much for fairy tales. "Slow and steady doesn't win the race," said Marissa Mayer, Google's Vice President of Search Products and User Experience, in a presentation at the recent Web 2.0 Summit.

"Users really respond to speed."

Google has long leveraged a streamlined Web page and powerful, massively distributed infrastructure to get results to users as quickly as possible. Mayer said that emphasis isn't going to change.

With broadband adoption at its highest level and growing, access response times are already vastly improved over the old dial-up days when any speed advantage really mattered. Mayer notes there's been speculation that faster networks will ultimately solve any speed problems.

"It's not what we see," she said. Instead, Mayer said the adoption of efficient programming tools like Javascript to improve browsers and richer support for client side applications are key to better performance. Google Labs itself is involved, offering a free program for download called Google Web Accelerator that's designed to help Web pages load faster.

Although the recognition of the need for speed is somewhat in Google's DNA, Mayer admitted the company blew it with its first video offering. Unlike its recently acquired YouTube, which lets you upload and view videos instantly, Google Video kept users waiting as long as 24 to 48 hours to view them. "Some lessons you learn the hard way," she said.

Speed also hastens the learning curve. Mayer noted that speed helps Google advertisers get a quicker response, learn what works and what doesn't and make improvements. "I would say it's the same thing with Wikipedia," she said, noting the quick response to entries "drives people to become users faster."

This all reminds me of an old bit where a comedian made fun of people complaining about a three cent increase in the price of stamps. "Let's recap what you get for 29 cents. You drop off a letter, the post office ships it cross country, processes it, and hand delivers it the recipient in a few days. What a ripoff!"

Google, and of course other search engines, can make a far more remarkable claim. Mayer said the typical search request touches about 300 computers at Google before delivering the results back in about 0.05 seconds for free.

The Power of Polarization

"No Powerpoint, no prompter, no B.S."

That's not what Bob Parsons, the CEO of GoDaddy.com, said at the start of his presentation, but it might as well have been.

The only help the straight-talking former Marine had for his talk was a few notes on index cards. In a gruff talk that had the audience chuckling, Parsons gave some insights into GoDaddy's success and his shortlist of do's and don'ts.

Parsons said people are always suggesting he can make more money by cutting support and doing more automation, but he tuned them out long ago.

"When it comes to solving problems people prefer to deal with other people," said Parsons. Of the company's 1,320 employees, about 900 are in customer support, all based in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area and, he said, among the highest paid in region.

"When I'm ready to stop being the fastest-growing Internet registrar, I'll start cutting support," said Parsons. By the way, he added, the company is profitable, has never carried debt and is entirely self-funded. It's already generated $340 million in cash receipts for the year.

GoDaddy drew a lot of media coverage for some of its racy ads in recent years, one of which Fox refused to broadcast during the Superbowl. Fox later recanted and ran the ad, but what was probably more effective was as all the publicity GoDaddy received over the initial denial. Parsons said he personally insisted the ad include "a well-endowed female brunette with GoDaddy across her chest" because that's where most everyone watching the Superbowl would be looking.

Parsons inspiration? "After the Janet Jackson thing in the 2005 Superbowl, I knew it was time to take action."

He said he had to threaten his ad agency with dropping them before they would agree to create the ad. "That ad is now in college textbooks as one of the most effective TV ads ever," said Parsons. Racy ads are now sometimes referred to as "GoDaddyesque," which Parsons said he was proud to say means "somewhat tasteless and inappropriate."

Parsons decidedly un-politically-correct comments were refreshing in an industry venue full of marketspeak and carefully calibrated product strategies.

"When it comes to promoting, everyone wants you to offend no one," said Parsons. "I think you waste ad dollars. To be effective, you have to be polarizing."

David Needle is bureau chief for internetnews.com in San Francisco.