Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Scrabble vs. Scrabulous = W-A-R

Having a strong and valuable brand is great, but sometimes you are forced to defend the castle of your brand and your intellectual property, and it can get pretty ugly. The unusual brand story of the day is the latest chapter in the Scrabble vs. Scrabulous saga.

Scrabble has a long and detailed history. It is truly one of the great games of all time and, although many challengers have tried to introduce other word games to compete with it, none has come close to toppling this giant. The game has tournaments, passionate devotees and has even been the inspiration for the book Word Freak by author Stefan Fatsis.

It was undoubtedly this passion and addiction to the game that led XXXXX and XX to develop Scrabulous, an online game made popular as a Facebook app that is (in my opinion) a pretty blatant derivation of Scrabble. With Scrabulous pulling attention away from the official Scrabble game and brand, and Hasbro finally launching an official Scrabble game on Facebook, its no surprise that Hasbro sued the makers of Scrabulous and finally, as of yesterday, succeeded in having the game removed from Facebook and the North American Scrabulous site shut down.

So... definitive victory for Scrabble, right? Well, apparently they are still a letter short of V-I-C-T-O-R-Y. It seems that the ravenous fans of scrabulous (or possibly someone even closer to the upstart brand) did not take too kindly to the shuttering of the game, and someone hacked the official online version of Scrabble, knocking it offline for the past 24 hours.

I'm sure the online version will come back online. I'm also sure that, while there may be a few additional skirmishes, this war is mostly over with Hasbro as the winner (at least domestically). So as the generals at Hasbro reflect on this war over a glass of brandy by the fireplace, the brand-related question that I'm still pondering is this:

Was it better for the Scrabble brand for Hasbro to wait until their version of Facebook Scrabble was ready before taking down Scrabulous, or would it have been better to "nip it in the bud" when the game first appeared?

Any thoughts?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Cuil vs. Google

A picture is worth a thousand words.... and these two pictures are worth 120 billion web pages:

Cuil vs Google 1

Cuil vs Google 2

Note: Ironically, as of the posting of these images, Google was able to present 372,000 relevant results for the unquoted search terms a search engine better than google, essentially proving that while many people write about creating a better search, nobody seems to succeed.

Cuil Steps Up to the Plate and Strikes Out

People love to take aim at leading brands, and almost nobody has a bigger target on their back than Google. Launching a competing search engine these days almost guarantees news coverage, but often doesn't deserve it. The challenger-du-jour today is Cuil, which claimed to launch with three times the number of indexed pages as Google.

I checked out Cuil and was thoroughly unimpressed. It took me less than thirty seconds to come up with three big strikes for Cuil:

Strike 1: Name - I have no idea how to pronounce this name. Is it "Quill", "Kweel", "Quell", "Coil"? I fully realize that it is almost the Holy Grail to have a four letter domain name, but from a branding standpoint, if you have a brand that people don't know how to pronounce, it's very hard to spread by word of mouth. Add to that the fact that no matter how you say it in casual conversation, nobody would be able to guess how to spell it, and this seems like a bad branding move for Cuil.

Plus, on top of that, while Google's name (which is arguably a more intuitive spelling than the actual word it is based on) has symbolism in reference to what it does, the best I can find for Cuil is an acronym "CUIL" standing for "Common Usage Item List". Ironically, this acronym is anything but commonly used.

Strike 2: Interface - Some other reviewers and myself will have to agree to disagree on this topic. Cuil's approach of presenting multiple columns of paragraphs which are not cleanly aligned is unintuitive and hard to visually navigate. I cannot tell if the second most relevant result is supposed to be the top result in the second column or the second result in the left column. The need for a user to scan Cuil results BOTH left-to-right and top-to-bottom makes it much harder to process and know one's place when moving through multiple pages of results.

Strike 3: Results - The third strike for Cuil, and the most devastating, is its seemingly anemic ability to find results. This is the meat-and-potatoes for a search engine and it does not perform well at all. While a search for "Singularity" did turn up results (and a listing for Singularity Design), a search for "Singularity Design" turned up nothing (no, I didn't use the quotation marks in my search either). Likewise, there were no results for "award-winning design firm", "wide plank flooring" or "weather 19103".

This is a fatal flaw for a search engine in my book. I don't care how many pages a search engine indexes if it cannot process a large number of my searches. Everyone is learning that the trick to getting the right answer is to ask the right question, and Cuil doesn't seem to be able to grasp those questions.

Search term: "successful competitor to Google in search"

No results found.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

2008 Rice in Crisis - Every Grain Counts

OK, bear with me.... this may seem off-topic, and it may seem like I'm just venting, but you're only half right. I'm a fan of Indian food and a very analytical gourmet, and something has been decidedly off about my recent experiences with Indian cuisine. It wasn't the spices or the meat that took these meals down a notch, it was the rice. While the increases in the cost of oil and corn have stolen most of the headlines, the price of basmati rice has surged 200%. This price increase (or possibly the other supply-demand factors fueling it) seem to have forced Indian restaurants to shift to regular old white rice.

Two questions are probably in your mind right now: "Why is this bad?" and "What does this have to do with branding?" It makes sense that you'd ask that.

This is bad because basmati rice has a firm texture and distinctive flavor that is one of the hallmarks of authentic Indian cuisine. It's not just an accompaniment or delivery mechanism for the rest of the food. It's an integral part of the meal and the flavor.

This is relevant to branding because it helps to illustrate that every aspect of the way a consumer experiences your brand plays a vital role in their overall perception and level of satisfaction with it. When I experience bland, mushy rice at my favorite Indian restaurant, I find myself second-guessing my attachment to their brand. I know that its tempting to make adjustments and substitutions when external conditions increase price pressures, but if I stop coming to the restaurant, that could be an especially costly grain of rice.