posted by Kroc Camen on Fri 18th Sep 2009 18:51 UTC
IconYou all know that I don't particularly like Opera. I find the product to be lacking polish, over-complicated and without the marketing pizazz that has made Firefox a household name. That's just my personal opinion, and that opinion has garnered many complaints of unjustness. To that end, to present a fairer discussion I would like to put a simple question to the community: "What should Opera do?".

The Opera Problem

Opera wants to increase its marketshare in America:

In the US, the latest figures by Net Applications showed Opera is 5th in the market with a 2% share behind Microsoft, Apple, Google and Firefox.

But Opera claimed in other parts of the globe it is the most popular browser of choice with growth last year of 67%.

"The reality is that in the U.S. we have some work to do," Opera boss Jon von Tetzchner told BBC News.

Which really makes me wonder what it is, culturally speaking, that is holding back Opera in the American market (and in similar cultures like the UK too)?

There are a number of personal complaints I have against the product and how it is presented as a whole, but these complaints can hardly be claimed as representative of the whole market.

Generally speaking, when a browser holds a majority, it is very hard to unseat unless it's doing things very badly, or that the new arrival is doing things so much better. Opera has been around since 1994, and--in my ignorance--I would guess that Opera's large adoption in eastern Europe comes down to the possibility that these countries experienced less of a dominating corporate-based IT infrastructure during the 90's and that home users of PCs saw that IE was no good and adopted Opera to facilitate their own personal use of the web.

The situation in America during the 90's was vastly different though. Many people's experiences of computers, and the web was through corporate desktops that they had no control over. Due to IE being easier to manage in a networked environment, a culture of IE-based infrastructure sprang up, including the dreaded Intranets and IE-only websites.

It was Firefox (and more-so the grass-roots movement to unseat the stagnant IE and the severe damage to the web that it had caused) that changed that IE-dominant mindshare. If Opera had had the right marketing at the right time, they could be where Firefox is now. Mozilla's stance on an open-web, rather than just a browser-alone rang much further in my opinion, and people would have been less open to changing from one browser from one vendor to just another browser from another vendor without some kind of cultural movement behind it.

Now that the browser market is all the more vibrant and diverse than ever before, Opera has still been unable to gain any kind of meaningful traction. Any gain they had made in America was wiped out by both Safari and Google Chrome (both from American companies) which have already overtaken Opera in such a short time that it's terribly embarrassing given Opera's long history of innovation.

The Issues

Whilst I'll be asking you to contribute to this list and necessitate some answers, here are a few points I picked up on where I think Opera are not doing the right things to attract the American customer.

Opera is not a compelling brand
I just don't think the Opera brand rings well with the Anglo-American market. Opera should be the company, the browser should be something else. You need a brand that people don't feel like idiots for talking about. Mozilla are currently struggling with this in China, where pickup is very slow and 'homegrown' applications are outpacing IE, despite being nothing but IE-wrappers.
You need a movement, not just a browser
Mozilla have been backing their browser by their manifesto to make the web open and participatory. Call it what you want, but it wins them brownie points with everybody who supports the cause, particularly web-developers who have been sick to death of IE for years. Opera needs to pick a movement to back--I would favour data-portability and openness (an increasingly contentious issue). Opera have not been doing too well in this regard either: the browser is closed-source and Opera Unite, their claim to democratise your data is a centralised system dependent on Opera servers where users have to conform to Terms of Service. Being closed-source is fine, I don't care about that, I couldn't read the code anyway--but implementing yet another walled garden is not the way to go.
The product lacks polish
I've said it before, but looks matter. And UI is far, far more than just how it looks--it's how it feels, and it feels clunky and technical. It lacks the elegance of Chrome, and the warmness of Firefox. Hiring a new designer did little more than more-of-the-same. It simply looks awful on OS X, and always has. Mozilla improved the look and feel of Firefox on Mac and instantly the product was better received by users. It really does matter more than anybody who values function over form wants to admit. Opera needs nothing less than a complete UI re-think.

These are my own ideas, but I would really like to hear from Opera users in countries where Opera usage is very high to find out more about the factors that make that so.

So, I put it to you; in order to break into the American market, what should Opera do?

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