I didn't think the world needed another Internet browser when Google introduced Chrome. After all, we already had Explorer, Firefox, and Safari, and a good many users probably couldn't name the browser their computer or smart phone used anyway. You just don't buy browsers the way you purchase, say, laundry detergent or chocolate candy (actually, you don't buy them outright at all). But there seems to room in the market for all of them, though perhaps because the financial models that support them are also a far cry from the ledgers that measure whether tangibly real products really succeed or fail.
And then there's Opera.
Opera Software was founded in Norway in 1995 as an outgrowth of a research project at Telenor, the country's largest telecom. It looks like the other browsers (funny how they're all but interchangeable) and has gone through many generations, just like them. Its tagline is "Smarter Browsing," with supporting claims that it runs faster than the competition, is safer, and can be customized. Its UI isn't as pretty as the others.
In other words, zzzzzzz. I'm thinking if the world barely needs four browsers, it almost certainly doesn't need five. And I'm probably forgetting a few more.
If Opera wanted to truly differentiate itself from the pack, what could it do? I say it would have get a lot bolder than it is now -- its website looks slick and generic, which matches its humdrum marketing language -- and put some stakes in the ground by coming up with true reasons to exist. Here are three thought-starter ideas that go beyond a new slogan:
- Guarantee anonymous trolling. Most consumers haven't awakened to the fact that their online behavior is being closely scrutinized by marketers. I happen to believe that a good percentage of them will figure it out and be really pissed, or at least be amenable to someone making the case why they should care. Why couldn't Opera make itself The Truly Anonymous Browser (and go nuts accusing the others of working for Big Brother)?
- Flip the search monetization model. Right now, browsers claim to be about empowering consumers, but they make their money empowering marketers (by teeing-up ads). What if user behavioral data belonged exclusively to users, so instead of selling access to advertisers Opera gave users the ability to collect and sell their interests to folks who wanted to sell things to them? Again, this could be a huge competitive thwack against the other browsers.
- Sell itself to Facebook and become the social search browser. Doesn't there need to be some central place where all those glib "likes" end up getting correlated and applied to purchase decisions? I know you can sort of do that already on Facebook but maybe Opera could make it official and deliver some new form of Internet browser that was based solely on conscious selections by humans, not the calculations of algorithms or marketers. Imagine being able to select your interest group and basing your Internet experience on their likes and dislikes?
I have no idea how any of these ideas could make any money, and maybe tha's why Opera has chosen to go down the path of least resistance (and least marketing creativity, which also dooms it to the least likely chances of long-term success). Like I said, the world doesn't need another browser. It needs a different and better one.
What do you think?
(Image credit: Opera)