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Google’s Legacy – the Internet Cesspool

Google makes a market in freely copying and redistributing other publisher’s products. They do not make a deal with the publisher, and they don’t disclose the details of their activities. They don’t respect copyright in the traditional, accepted form, but rather argued for (and apparently won) a special consideration that treats search “snippets” differently than any other excerpt published by anyone else. They have since extended that “permission” over the years. It can be argued that Google has been given a “free pass” by governments, since it is innovating and governments are unsure of the total cost of resisting Google at this time.

Google assumes that publishers will accept referred search traffic from Google as remuneration for the copying and redistribution.

A publisher who does not want to “be in Google” cannot opt out of Google’s program, despite some claims that technical machinations like noindex and robots exclusions are available as options. Each of the published methods to manage your Google appearance has loopholes which Google freely and admittedly exploits whenever the marketplace signals that your content is important. If you mark your content as “off limits” to Google, for example, but others link to it, Google will still show it in the Google index and allow it to be clicked through. Ask any experienced SEO expert how to properly and reliably prevent Google from showing one of your pages to Google’s customers, and you will either be told not to publish it at all, or you will get a convoluted, conditional response that will most likely be very costly to implement at best. The only true way to remove yourself is to block the entire public world from seeing your content, or to engage in spy/counterspy maneuvers with Google’s bots. Why is Google able to get away with that?

Google also, simultaneously, makes a market in advertising on the Internet. Despite the obvious conflict of interest that creates, Google dominates as a profitable company solely because it plays both sides. Virtually all of Google’s revenues come from the advertising side, which is enabled by the scrape, search and display side.  But the conflict is troublesome even for Google. Advocating for what used to be illegal copying and republishing of copyrighted content without permission, while incentivizing publishers who put Google’s ads on such scraped or illegally copied content, Google has created a commercial force that even Google can’t control. Google’s CEO has referred to the post-Google Internet as a “cesspool”, full of junk content. It has become clear during the past year that our public cesspool of junk content is largely funded by Google’s ads.

Google is the hungry snake that has started eating it’s own tail. It can’t stop eating or it will die of malnourishment. But as it eats and eats, the head knows that one day, there will be no more snake to eat.

It sure seems that 2010 will be the year of reckoning for Google. A week doesn’t pass without at least one venture capitalist or entrepreneur showing me a new web strategy designed to exploit Google’s reliance on the cesspool of junk content. Systems are in place to auto-generate massive amounts of junk content with little to no overhead cost nor publishing burden. Dozens to hundreds of “companies” will launch such projects in January alone. Some are capable of achieving a massive scale. All are driven by visions of the millions of dollars in cash their junk sausage grinders will spit out, courtesy of Google’s ads. How can this continue? How can even Google survive such a gold rush?

A few questions the investors in these projects should be asking of the so-called entrepreneurs planning to cash in on the post-Google cesspool we call the Internet:

  • If the revenues are expected to come from Google’s advertising, then wouldn’t it be wise to document some sort of business relationship with Google before betting the farm? Obviously Mahalo and Demand Media have formal business relationships with Google to ensure the success of their projects as they scale. Shouldn’t you have similar assurances before stepping in to compete in the cesspool?
  • Why has Google worked so hard to prevent the development of cottage industries around Google’s index and search engine, if not to protect its search engine as a stand-alone entity? Won’t such junk content projects similarly threaten Google’s search engine integrity, and thus face a similar resistance from Google?
  • What is Google’s hold-back policy for all of these Google Guideline-breaking content plays? It’s one thing to expect Google to continue to allow junk content, but the Google guidelines still prohibit it. Would it not be wise from a risk management point of view, to know if Google can withhold payment for 90 days or whatever, or shut the account and keep the earned revenue without any notice?
  • What is the downside risk to building a platform based solely on publishing low-value content monetized with low-value ads? Will the domain get blacklisted in Google one day? Will the company behind the domain be black listed? Will the CEO behind the strategy be blacklisted? Will the venture capital firm, angel investors, or named investors and advisors be blacklisted by Google for future projects?
  • How much do other owned businesses rely on the integrity of Google’s search engine and search traffic for revenues? In other words, is poisoning the well with an exploitative fast-money web venture a good idea for the long term?
  • What is Google’s personality? How has it traditionally reacted, as an organization, to attempts to exploit its business model on a massive scale? perhaps it would be wise to consider the nature of the shark in the water before jumping in for a swim?

I sense desperation in the hearts of many involved in these ventures. I don’t mean the “we need revenues” desperation of a venture, but a true failure in the creativity and innovation department. A crisis of confidence in entrepreneuring. Maybe that’s an age thing.. is it time for a return to under-30 passionate CEO’s?

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9 Responses to “Google’s Legacy – the Internet Cesspool”

  1. Geordie Says:

    Beware the lessons of GeoSign: http://www.canadait.com/cfm/index.cfm?It=106&Id=26146&Se=0

    “What is Google’s personality? How has it traditionally reacted, as an organization, to attempts to exploit its business model on a massive scale? perhaps it would be wise to consider the nature of the shark in the water before jumping in for a swim?”

    This is the salient question. The stupidest business move of 2009 goes to Demand Media for opening the mechanics of their system to Wired Mag and the rest of the world.

    Jeremy Shoemaker has an excellent point when he says “Don’t Make Google Look Stupid”. If you brag about “exploiting” their system they will eat you alive.

    http://www.shoemoney.com/2007/10/06/dont-make-google-look-stupid-period/

    Mahalo and eHow.com both have a simple ‘fix’ in Google’s eyes…only one domain name removed from the index shuts the whole dream business down. I surmise that Google will never let an eHow run their plausible deniability into the ground…no one publisher is worth it to them. ever.

  2. Hugo Says:

    It’s still early in the game, John.

    I actually think that as AI improves, some (or maybe just one) of these entrepreneurs will figure out a way to build automated content that’s actually have decent, thereby preserving Google’s current business model and methodology.

    But you know what they say, if you’re going to make an omelet, you have to break a couple of Mahalos.

    In the meantime, I don’t see anything wrong with the McDonaldization of web content, because it will make quality, niche content all the more valuable to those that know how to leverage and monetize it properly.

    Solid post, though. Keep them coming.

  3. John Humphrey Says:

    I agree the Adsense-based business model has created a race to the bottom.
    Google has set the bar very low.
    But both Demand and Mahalo are doing very ‘well’.
    Meaning people must be finding some value in their content.
    Personally I opt out of the ad paradigm by using Adblock Plus.
    It works surprisingly well.

  4. Bernie Says:

    Have read your very good article and Aaron’s one on Mahalo. Yup, this is it. Don’t be evil… what a joke! Everything is getting scraped now and Google has done such a wonderful job in advocating the cleanliness and natural aspect of its SERP users are just clicking and clicking…

    Might sound dull but hope may lie in Social Search results (at least when it’s not polluted by Ellen’s attempts of gaming them [see here: http://gawker.com/5396492/ellen-exploits-twitters-lists-for-fun-and-profit); but then you have to be signed in (something Matt Cutts evangelised a lot recently) and here we go for over-personalisation, ad targeting and web history monetisation.

  5. Phil Hershkowitz Says:

    Excellent commentary as usual John. There is a natural, perhaps inevitable, business cycle going on here. Sergey and Larry really were (are) too young, too engineering focused, too immature to deal with it with grace and balance. The snake already has no head.

  6. ede Says:

    too engineering focused, too immature to deal with it with grace and balance. The snake already has no head.

  7. nike ctr360 maestri Says:

    The stupidest business move of 2009 goes to Demand Media for opening the mechanics of their system to Wired Mag and the rest of the world.

  8. alpinestars boots Says:

    Google assumes that publishers will accept referred search traffic from Google as remuneration for the copying and redistribution.

  9. alpinestars jackets Says:

    In the meantime, I don’t see anything wrong with the McDonaldization of web content, because it will make quality, niche content all the more valuable to those that know how to leverage and monetize it properly.