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Google Owns Your Internets

For years I’ve pointed out that Google consistently acts to disintermediate web publishers. For years I’ve noted how Google, while saying that we are all friends, reliably “improves” Google’s services in ways which force webmasters to eliminate their own interest in the dissemination of what they publish. The “nickels from Google” may add up to tens of thousands of dollars for some publishers, when you aggregate all those hard-earned page views and ad clicks, but the profits are not sufficient to support publishing. They support Google, and they support aggressive innovators (right now). Google has us all in the cross hairs. We are the future profit sources for Google.

One tactic of any PR machine is to engage the enemy in conversation. Debate even. It keeps everyone busy. There is so much to talk about… microformats being one huge current trend supported by Google, which serves to quite effectively disintermediate publishers. “Please wrap your content into neat little tags, so we can easily parse it” asks Google. The nickels will come soon enough.. rewards for compliance. And the scammers innovators will go “all in” on the new opportunities, and we’ll see pictures on DailyBooth of big fat smiles with big fat Google checks, and pictures of Yachts named “Google Me” and Maserati’s and Bentley’s and bling bling bling buy my program and learn how you, too can profit from Google!

If I start debating these things, I’ll be distracted. I won’t be able to also see the forest… to see the impending damage on the horizon. Everyone is amazed at Google’s progress. Meanwhile, the real issues of economic stability and industry infrastructure are secondary to the awe with which technology (led by Google) decimates our work environments. Google’s amazing. Our modern civilization is only hundreds of years old, but in that past if any “company” had ever worked to wipe out industries and destroy people’s livelihoods, they would have faced mobs with pitchforks. People would have been scared, politicians motivated, and war machines activated. Of course they probably would have been overrun and decimated by a beast as powerful as Google, but they would not have been blind to their fate as we seem to be today.

It’s easy to write an article about how amazing or how ominous Google is. It’s hard to figure out just how bad this will get for all of us non-Googlers (i.e. people who don’t work for Google). Of course Google (the machine) would love us to keep busy like that.

Everytime someone from Google speaks, we need to listen carefully. Eric Schmidt’s latest comments reported by TechCrunch include this little gem. He was asked to look 10 years out, and what the future Google looks like. He answers that Google will determine the best, most authoritative site for a given question, read it, and summarize it back to the Google user as “the answer”:

“So I don’t know how to characterize the next 10 years except to say that we’ll get to the point – the long-term goal is to be able to give you one answer, which is exactly the right answer over time…what I’d like to do is to get to the point where we could read his site [the definitive authority on a particular searched query] and then summarize what it says, and answer the question”

I cut out some because the answers were reported almost verbatum, with roundabout thoughts and an example in the middle. Read it for yourself if you like.

Eric Schmidt, the guy who thinks Wikipedia is the greatest gift to mankind ever created by man, has web publishers (and domain owners) in his cross hairs. If Google succeeds, no one needs a domain name and no one needs to create a brand. They just need to submit to Google, and then, perhaps if Google has not completely satisfied the users with “the answer”, provide a way to be contacted or a server IP for a web site for further reading (perhaps through the Google Profile conduit).

Eric Schmidt is a technologist, and geeks (relatively speaking) are poorly schooled in political and social aspects of reality. But is he really clueless? He’s CEO of one of the world’s most powerful companies. . I can’t believe he’s dumb enough to not think through the eventual outcome of his aggressive behavior… that he hasn’t considered that this is not a technological world, but a world of people. That people need to get along and compromise, and that we have been lucky enough to evolve a fragile economy based on our human interactions (not computer transactions) with less than the possible amount of war waging. Some call that “civilization”.

Civilization requires a ton of work, and most of that work is “talking”. History shows us that failure of communications, refusal to talk,  failure of educataion with respect to tolerance and cultural differences, and strong arm approaches that devalue human interaction and force a will upon others, lead to unreasonable behavior (terrorism, war, disobedience, etc). Does Eric Schmidt think the world is ready for one global economy and culture? Does he think the masses are so educated and appreciative of knowledge that they will choose one great website for answers at a cost of say food for their families or stable employment?

Ten years out is 2019. Many of you will be “mid career” by then. Between now and then, are you prepared for a Google that collects, analyzes, and summarizes what you publish, using your work to serve 80% of the world’s Internet users without your involvement? Think about it. Just how much are you giving away by allowing Google to own the Internet?

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20 Responses to “Google Owns Your Internets”

  1. Stefan Juhl Says:

    I was secretly betting on you picking up that Eric Schmidt quote for a blog post ;-)

    Recently I discussed with a friend, how I believe that for most businesses it would have a better, both short and long term, ROI to put resources into achieving multiple rankings within the same known profitable SERPs rather than trying to increase CTR by providing Google with more data through microformats, feeds etc.

    John replies – Thanks Stefan. I really, really dislike TechCrunch for its condescending attitude to its readers,  especially this “wait wait wait and I’ll publish another installment of barely-edited, sloppily produced notes of my time with Eric Schmidt” but I have to credit them with getting the face time. Why it was granted, I’m not sure. That’s probably even more interesting than what was recorded. 

  2. grimword Says:

    hi johnon, i have to say, that i was thinking about same thing today, while a was uninstaling G-Chrome

    i think, that the biggest question isn’t about opinion on google (everybody now know a answer – he is bad, very bad), but about how to stop that ba.stard (noone know the answer)

  3. iGoMogul Says:

    I think you make a very good point here. Google’s inherent desire is not to direct people around the internet, but be the internet. Of course, with proper competition between search engines and more input from the public, this would not happen. The problem is that most people aren’t aware of the politics of the internet. Instead, casual browsers simply look for the quickest, most easy-to-spot result and click on it. Google has proven that they are the best at catering to the majority of people’s search engine needs, at least for now.

    Should laws be passed protecting domain owners’ rights and restricting what can be done on the internet? Personally, I would be hesitant to enact more laws concerning the internet. The best answer, as you put it, seems to be honest, open communication and earnest attempts at compromise.

  4. Jaan Kanellis Says:

    Google goal(s) have always been to keep visitors on Google properties longer, long enough to make money. This is so clear now with the extraction of content of indexed sites into the SERPs. Great post yet again John A!

  5. Mike Says:

    Dude, you’re scaring me.

  6. JointWinWin Says:

    Earlier today I read an article on Web 3.0 – the semantic web.

    Whilst great in theory, the reality may be somewhat different if a single major player is responsible for the underlying algorithms. This can far too easily be manipulated to give “the one” answer similar to your argument above.

    Perspective must always be available for healthy debate and growth to take place.

    Even now, the one answer rule has been whittled down to 10 answers maximum in the majority of cases with end users – how many people out there actually scroll down to a second page of results???

    If it’s not on page 1 of Google, it just doesn’t exist for the majority of Internet users.

    Ease of use, no brain-strain and “it’s good enough” are the opiate of the new information frontier.

    Alas the frontier boundaries have been very much established – we’re already in a bubble called the Googlesphere of influence.

    We can only hope their chime of “Do only good” rings true in the future. A single answer is obviously at odds with that mantra.

    With all that said, history shows us one thing – all empires fall.

    Google, should they turn into a more menacing entity in the future will have a limited lifespan but from the behemoth they have already become, that lifespan is likely to be considerable…

  7. TC Says:

    If that happens (one answer summarized by google), what happens when webmasters block google from indexing their websites? If there’s nothing in it for us, why would anyone give google access to our sites?

    John replies: good question. What happens? I vote we find out sooner rather than later, just as I prefer to hear bad news before good news.

  8. Sean Golliher Says:

    John is on a roll this week. I really like your last two posts :) I know a lot of people “feel” this way about Google but can not quite summarize this they way you have done here. The other huge advantage Google has over other companies in US history is the ability to launch new products AT WILL under the Google brand. They already have the eyes. Which is what, in the past, companies had to invest a lot of money in to get off the ground. They can do it almost overnight. Millions of people using a new product in beta mode overnight. Now they are going after the movie rental buinsess via YouTube and also the mortgage business. It appears any business that CAN operate on the web could be at risk.

    The only part of this I think I disagree on, our would add to, is your comment:
    “Please wrap your content into neat little tags, so we can easily parse it” asks Google.

    To the people that are working hard on the linkeddata movement, structured data is intended to be a way to even the playing field so others can write applications and even better search engines for 10 of thousands of dollars rather then the billions it would take to compete now. What Google is doing with RDF is really a superficial way of using it. Of course this movement has a lot to prove but the fundamental philosophy behind it would take control away from Google. Of course they can “play too” but others will also have access and can compete. So this is one of the reasons I support it and try to follow it. Google is sending a lot of researchers to semantic based conferences to make sure they stay on top of it. After all they want to organize (own?) the worlds information. They don’t own the linked open data cloud. It has a long way to go but it is accelerating for sure. in my opinion, if we only think of Google we will forget about the other companies doing great things to compete in this space.

    Sean

    John  replies: thanks Sean for your insights… I appreciate that you’ve gone to the semantic meetings and  are keeping up. However, I may have less faith in the “academic” side staying out of harms way. As we saw with nofollow, some fairly independent folks quickly adopt Google’s requested “standards” (Automattic WordPress, Typepad) when there were perceived benefits or profits…we’ll never know for sure why, but they jumped in and their acceptance short cut any chance we might have had to level the playing field. Even the greatest long term benefits won’t materialize if, in the short term, someone like Google moves to monetize and corrupt the foundation.

  9. JD Arney Says:

    Would love to know what Netflix is thinking of Google right now. It will be interesting to see if Google faces increased resistance as they take on established companies outside of their core service of search. They obviously aren’t on a lot of companies radar as a potential competitor right now (did Netflix see YouTube as a threat until now?), but I think that will change more and more.

    I will say the internet is pretty good at going 0-60 when it comes to backlash, if it comes to that. Why isn’t there a search engine from the open source community?

  10. Karl Says:

    Thank you for this great article. It really scares me that Google may own the Internet in the future. Anyone with a desire to make one answer, the correct answer, to complex questions scares me. However, I figure many webmasters may block their sites for Google and not get indexed if this is the direction that the mighty Google will go.

  11. Edie Says:

    I do not know what to think about Google now… Well you scared me but I hope that regulators will do something with big G.

  12. Tela Says:

    Great post! There are two key points from this article that anyone familiar with search will be aware of:

    1. The internet (and population) is pluralistic; there is no ONE best answer to most questions but several. There may be longer, digressive definitions like Wikipedia or short ones. Google would have to provide the average of the best content, which is not a good thing for diversity of thought, or for clear and concise writing. Google will fail and encounter significant blowback as they become less relevant. Think the MySpace population migrating to Facebook.
    2. Google has never “cared” about their partners. At their highest levels they have been willing to cut loose large partners in their traffic networks (hundreds of millions of unique per day) as their endemic traffic grows. There’s no reason that they won’t extend this strategy to syndication partners.

    This is no different than Facebook, who also want to be a walled garden of internet content serving its needs. Google will just have the advantage in terms of market share and diversity of methods of getting users into their network (their obvious strategy for the last few years). I think at some point there will be a sea change and users will sense that their choice is being taken away and will leave in drives. Shall we call call Google the next AOL writ large?

  13. bobthebuilder Says:

    Google is the biggest scraper and one of the biggest infringers on the net, they are also the biggest affiliate, but they’re really only starting at the moment, microformats is the road to this glory.

    An answer can be justified from more than one perspective, so Eric Schmidt’s comments look particularly limited.

  14. James Says:

    “Well you scared me but I hope that regulators will do something with big G.” – Edie, I think the problem is the regulators don’t fully understand Google, so the usual anti-monopoly responses don’t quite work. It is a worry when any company has this much power… they are bound to serve their own interests,

  15. Nebraska Says:

    >>That people need to get along and compromise

  16. factpile Says:

    As a quasi-publisher of content, I can see both sides. I hate the fact that Google takes my content and makes it easily available for others to use. On the other hand, I do get about 20% of all site traffic from google images.

    But, at the end of the day, I chose to sell links on the site, and Google rewarded me with a PR of 0, despite the original content and daily visitors I have coming.

    F Google.

  17. Ryan Says:

    I noticed Google Health scraped the National Institute of Health’s content for all medical conditions and is serving it up #1 for every keyword. Try searching “hemorrhoids”. Not only do they give you the Google Health copy, but they also provide the original in the definition link. Not sure how that serves the end user.

  18. Noah Says:

    Scary post…wouldn’t surprise me that people would accept this type of thing based on how much people are already willing to accept from Google. Even so, it seems like essentially cutting webmasters out of the equation entirely would be something that people would eventually rebel against. Perhaps they’d rebel to the point of many, many people no longer allowing Google to even access their sites, and their results would become worse, not better. Then everyone will just move on to Bing, or whatever the latest fad search engine is for their needs…

  19. online marketing advisors Says:

    Hi John, nice article. I must admit that this scares the hell out of me, although I don’t think that google will ever succeed at making this a reality, the simple fact that this is what they have in mind is just crazy. I really don’t see how this plan would be helpful to anyone. Sounds to me like google wants to take away the people’s right chose for themselves when it comes to searching. Bad idea, and will most likely be google’s down fall if they in fact do put this into play.

  20. Pete Says:

    John,

    Just found your blog but will be following it from now on… Very useful article – should be discussing these questions.

    I run a web design outfit in the UK & over here we have a monopolies commission. I’ve never understood how they haven’t investigated Google, a company that can be easily demonstrated has penalized websites for selling links unless it’s through Google, if that’s not against consumer interest what is?

    On the positive note of tackling the problem – it seems the real need is to re-invent search engines. In a sense SEO is the nemesis here as no search provider is ever going to want to be manipulated yet there needs to be a consensus somehow on the best result to display. Perhaps then the question is how should we display results?

    Quick & Simple Example:
    From a retail point of view wouldn’t it be better to display just images from e-commerce sites so searchers are presented with pages of images they can flick through to find something they “like” first then visit the site?

    We’ve just been to my nieces wedding so somebody shopping for wedding invitations wouldn’t they rather use a search engine like an organized catalogue. Isn’t that what everybody’s wife enjoys anyhow, window shopping? It would then be in everybody’s interest to randomize those images to give constantly fresh results wouldn’t it? But then at the moment as you’ve all said here – it’s only about the interest of a few.

    Of course that’s just retail, what about if somebody is researching cancer? In like manner a quick precis form of result works but on the face of it seems close to what Google has in mind. Whatever the “new web” is going to look like I think as regrettable as it may be some government intervention will be necessary in each nation. If I’ve learnt one thing it’s this – the biggest commodity in life is people i.e. a great many have a price & are for sale. That lamentable condition is the downfall of the majority of human enterprise no matter how noble its roots.