Before understanding to a greater depth some of Google's products, I had been a champion of the no-advertising rule. The blank page ideology and the initial aversion to ads were so admirable back in the days of Las Vegas-like pages. Blake Ross, co-creator of Firefox and a Stanford undergrad (currently stopping out), brought to attention on Dec. 25th Google's release of "tips" (and more from Red Herring). His stance is with that original purist belief that great products will naturally arise to the top.
I agree with that statement. At the same time, I also sympathize with what generally worries Googlers: Google has so many great products that it has become hard to make the public notice and potentially use them. Would a lay person with some lack of ease in using technology dig deep enough to understand how to use AND, OR, and NOT for Google search? Probably not. Would that feature help him/her learn a bit more on how to be more at ease with searching? Probably. The big-picture issue is that Google is too much of a good thing. Sure, we would love to see every Google product grow organically. But because there's so much, it's difficult to (ironically) organize all those great products in a fashion that makes them easy to discover (the drill-down to find how to use certain search features is quite intimidating). After talking to Bret Taylor, the product manager for Google Maps, I learned that not many people know that Google Maps ranks a query for "pizza in NYC" by most popular first. (That was how I "discovered" Lombardi Pizza). Had it not been a Google NYC Open House where an engineer showed us this cool feature, I probably wouldn't have known. And that's the problem! It takes good leaps (and a certain amount of Google obsession) to discover the usefulness implicit in their products.
I think the idea of having Google Tips is good, but Tips is not targeted correctly (they pulled it out on Jan 3rd due to the outcry that arose from Ross' post). Targeting products for specific users is not about advertising but assisting. My last quarter at school, one of the teams for my d.school class had the idea for Disneyland on "helping kids discover cool aspects of the theme park". Through various theme park visits and user studies, they discovered the "super kid" who commands his/her family, and hence, the day in the park, where money is spent, which rides to go to, etc, etc. As a result, this team devised numerous kid-friendly maps, signs, and various other ideas to make attractions more accessible for those who are less than four feet tall. Coming back to Google, I think a great way to go about is to help the person already familiar with basic Google search and products to discover other great products and features. A potential solution would be to better the accounts page. (Alphabetical listing and "try something new" below the fold?... come on now..). Based on how much Google knows about our usage patterns, it should be able to predict what kind of products we'd be more inclined to use. A person using Docs and Spreadsheets would probably be more inclined to use the Labs' new Notebook. And the obsessive news.google.com-er would probably like Alerts. Mashups and convergence are great.. Marissa Mayer called them the "Los Diego" and "San Angeles" metaphor... put great products together. You make old products more useful, new products more accessible. I like that :) and I had a "wow, this is so cool!" moment when I saw this on my reader page yesterday.
I think it was a Businessweek article a while back that had the notion of how Google products go: you throw the idea on the wall and see if it sticks. This certainly goes to an extreme about how Google releases and tests products for success. But I've become a firm believer that you have to also be a bit more prudent with how to make that product more accessible for an audience with a need to use it.