Some time ago Google shifted from helping and enabling, to hindering, interrupting, and exploiting. The shift was quick, on a real-world time scale, but slow in search marketer hindsight. One could *almost* track the activity by plotting a timeline of Matt Cutts’ public personality changes. Matt’s public profile went from helpful, specific, and sincere to somewhat apologetic-but-still-trying-hard-to-help to a sort of frustrated-hopeful, before going into the basically-misleading mode we griped about for years, before he checked himself out on “sabattical” where he’s been for years now.
There is also that “the rise of Larry Page” thing, the “who the hell is in charge over there” thing, and the “wow is there anyone here who didn’t used to work for Microsoft?” thing.
But perhaps most telling of all, were 1. the switch to manipulating webmasters (via the no-accountability Google Help Forums and the “trust me I’m honest” John Mueller persona), and 2. the shutting down of Google Reader.
I think the rise of the Google Ventures conflict of Interest and BigMoney lobbying are separate issues, driven by need and ancillary opportunism. You can’t have control and not pay the policy-makers, and you can’t bank THAT much cash and not invest in what you know.
They Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Reader
Google Reader (and the associated tech Google had bought up to control, such as SuperFeeder and related) was technology that web consumers used to stay connected to specifically sourced content. It was an outstanding curation tool, which of course bypasses search. I don’t think it was so much a threat to search, though… it’s pretty clear it wasn’t very widely used in Internet demographic terms. But it represented an alternative to search, and it enabled influencers to operate independent of Google Search.
The shift from helpful to hindering involves specific strategic steps calculated to stop helping and start hindering… such as shutting down curation tools and closing down tech that had been advancing the web towards better curated connections between sources (authers) and consumers (the market).
Of course there doesn’t need to be a deliberate decision to shut something like that down. Like a “donut hole lie”, where you effectively lie by leaving OUT some important part of a story, a Google manager can simply incentivize everything except a specific project, in order to kill it.
Didn’t Matter to Me at the Time
I didn’t use Google Reader. I didn’t really use any feed reader… but I have always struggled with curation, bookmarking, and keeping connected to specific sources I prefer and trust. And of course I utilized feed reader technologies in my SEO work, as much as it was helpful for advanced, technical SEO, or for enhancing reach.
But now, years after Reader was shut down and the complaining dwindled, I have had enough time to watch the alternatives not replace Google Reader.
I’ve been able to see Internet Infosumers lose focus, become less productive, demand less quality from Google Search, and change their habits to lower quality, less productive use of the web. I’m seeing them more accepting of crap answers, half-baked information pages, and unverifiable or unsupported marketing claims. Less demand for Trust Badges that used to help testify to veracity. More acceptance of the idea that “trusting what some web page said is ok, because the responsibility lies with them not me”, among the general population (in America).
Meanwhile, as in the days of Google Reader and the RSS feedreaders before it), the “smart people” have moved off the mainstream web for a larger portion of their research, to find the trustworthy content and authority. The used to use Readers to help them manage (while also using search), and now they use OtherThings to help them manage, supplementing search.
So Where is the Damage?
The mainstream is now more ignorant, less able to get informed, and more susceptible to untrustworthy or non-worthy-of-authority published content than ever before, after consulting Google Search, which has become for many “the Internet”.
Web businesses are now profiting by contributing to the very “cesspool” that earlier Google warned about… before it shifted from helper to exploiter. Google apparently decide to get into the cesspool monitization business instead f the Amazing World Wide Web of Organized Information. Of course good business practices and supply chain management would then dictate efforts to encourage more and bigger cesspools.
Was Eric Schmidt the Nice Guy?
Perhaps the most amazing aspect of this for me, is that it actually seems like Eric Schmidt, the guy we all knew in our hearts was capable of the nastiest explotation in the world should he desire to execute in that fashion… in a Carl Rove-like way, or perhaps a Koch Brothers or Charles Manson way, may actually have done a fine job controlling his natural insticts and “being nice” to all of us while running Google.
Can you imagine?
Of Course Not
We have to wait for the final Chapters to know what is really happening behind the scenes, but it’s pretty obvious that power brokers don’t need or want an organized, democratic World Wide Web. They need a cesspool they can manipulate, and at the peak of Helpful Google, Google Search represented the perfect choke point for content curation at scale.
And content curation at scale, by and for the power brokers, is exactly what Eric Schmidt gave them.