Google adjusts Chrome launch efforts after leak

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA: Google altered the strategy for the debut of Chrome, its first browser, following a pre-launch leak to journalists.

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA: Google altered the strategy for the debut of Chrome, its first browser, after its unveiling was mistakenly leaked to journalists several days before the scheduled launch.

The open source browser was due to launch late last week, but when the company accidentally sent its comic explaining Chrome to a group of mostly European journalists, Google was forced to move the launch date up by “days,” according to Gabriel Stricker, director of global communications and public affairs at Google.

The comic book, penned by artist Scott McCloud, quickly leaked to the Internet on Labor Day and Google put up a blog explaining the situation. The company launched Chrome the next day, September 2. Several press inquires have questioned whether the leak was a mistake or a PR stunt, Stricker said, though Google denied this.

“Our intention was to unveil Chrome with [the launch of] Chrome,” Stricker said. “[At Google], we don't preannounce and our intention was to have the product speak for itself. But it so happened that many people were introduced to Chrome via the comic book and that ended up having a lot of collateral benefits.”

The comic book itself has generated interest as a communications tool. Stricker said the Chrome team decided to use a comic as a way to explain the open source concept to the mass public, to add a personable dimension to the product, and to spur curiosity.

“On one hand [the comic book] literally paints a picture,” he noted. “You can actually see features of Google Chrome painted inside. [Additionally,] it created a platform where we could translate the team's passion to the outside world. It didn't just show the individuals [involved on the project], but also their enthusiasm.”

To drive usage, the company has posted a download on its homepage and has been writing about the new browser on its blog. For example, the team wrote a post on its Mac blog informing users that they are working on a version of Chrome for Mac and Linux users, but they don't have a specific launch date slated.

Stricker said Google's plans for media outreach mostly involved responding to “thousands” of inbound queries. He added that Google planned to respond to all requests and the company does not give priority to certain types of media or bloggers.

Stricker declined to provide data on the number of Chrome downloads, but said Google has been “very pleased” with user response. He said the success of the debut will be measured by open source engagement and user satisfaction.

“For us, it's definitely going to be about quality and whether or not we are driving innovation on the Web and adding value for users,” he added.

Chrome's strongest competitors are Mozilla's open source browser Firefox and Microsoft's Internet Explorer. To stand out among other browsers, Google is emphasizing that Chrome follows the company's tried recipe of simplistic design with innovative technology.

“[Chrome] has similarities with Firefox [because both use open source],” Stricker said. “And in all their public comments, the Google Chrome team has been very insistent that open source has really been building on all the efforts that Mozilla has made to date.”

When asked about Microsoft's response to Chrome, Dean Hachamovitch, GM of Internet Explorer, said via e-mail, “Microsoft understands that Web browsing is crucially important for hundreds of millions of people, which is why we invest in Internet Explorer so heavily.”

Outcast, the agency representing Firefox, said its client declined to comment. However, Mozilla CEO John Lilly said in his personal blog that he welcomes the competition and is not worried about Chrome's impact on Firefox.

Prominent tech blogger Robert Scoble told PRWeek that Chrome's launch didn't incite Silicon Valley backlash because most people didn't know about the browser until its launch, keeping it from being overhyped. Even so, he said Google faces a challenge in luring users.

“Most people don't like switching browsers, even though Chrome will probably be faster for most people,” he said.

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