I’m a parent, and like many parents, I think my son is pretty smart. He and I play World of Warcraft occasionally, and recently the world added a new playable class for players who have reached at least level 55. Upon launch, it is clear that the Death Knight is “OP” (Over-Powered). My son provides me with the following analysis, which I am paraphrasing. Last time WoW introduced a new class, it was the Rogue. It, too, has long been considered “OP”, especially in Player-versus-Player (PvP) scenarios, where the Rogue can pwn n00bs all day long through stealth, backstabbing, and the dreaded “stun lock”. Gradually, the Rogue has lost some of what once made it over-powered, and although the “DKs” are more powerful than Rogues when they were introduced, they are now dramatically more powerful. Being a conspiracy theorist and cynic like myself, my son concludes that this was not, in fact, an exercise in fixing the game balance that was broken by an OP class being introduced into the game. Instead, he thinks it may be an intentional strategy to get people using the new class. By making the class desirable (over-powered), WoW can populate the world with as many of the new class as it thinks is right, then “Nerf™” the class by adjusting (read: “removing”) the attributes, skills, and powers that make the class so desirable.

Let’s apply this to Google’s new Location services. Privacy concerns aside (since so few consumers actually care about protecting their privacy, much less understand how to protect it; sounds like a later post!), the location services have the potential to be incredibly valuable to Google over the long term. Location-based advertising the the next nut Google needs to crack to continue to expand their reach in online advertising. By providing these service on mobile devices and now right there in GMail, they are planting the seeds that they will most likely reap in the coming years. Look at YouTube. In that case, they provided “all-you-can-eat” consumer-generated content… totally free and with no obligation. Only now, they are providing ecommerce links (to the songs used to make the video), advertising, etc. to try to monetize the asset. Likewise, these location-based services are likely to be the Trojan Horse that gets lots of consumers to use their location totally for free and with no obligation. That is, until they receive an ad for that Pizza Hut they are standing right next to while watching a YouTube video on their iPhone.

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