No alarms and no surprises, please.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Google Frightens Me.

We may eventually be longing for the days of Microsoft's ruthless marketing and licensing practices. Google is starting to freak me out a bit. Because they are so darn good at helping us find things on the web they have become an enormous influence on what we see. This, of course, is completely fair as they've earned that. However, as they continue to expand in every direction, we become more dependent upon them. What if they lose their apparent taste for benevolence?

I came across this tidbit the other day, when had to answer their stockholders regarding why their site traffic all of a sudden dropped 28%. Here's what they said.

Answers Corporation (NASDAQ: ANSW) announced today that, due to a search engine algorithmic adjustment by Google, has seen a drop in search engine traffic starting last week. As a result, overall traffic is currently down approximately 28% from levels immediately prior to the change.

"We are working diligently to analyze and address the recent algorithm change," said Bob Rosenschein, CEO. "We will update investors on the financial impact of this development during our upcoming Q2 earnings conference call on August 13."

Let's think about that for a second. Here's a relatively small $5 million company who, in the blink of an eye, lost more than a quarter of it's traffic and had it's stock pushed down to a two year low. Wow. That's pretty incredible, isn't it?

So if you're a company that relies heavily on internet traffic finding it's way to your site, you are at the mercy of some spoiled geeks at the Googleplex? Maybe.

Or, is it this really the business model that Google has been planning all along? They built the best search engine and rightly everyone started to use it. Google is a fucking official verb now. They have a huge portion of the mind share related to searching. It's an institutional part of the internet experience. To test that, just imagine if Google ceased to exist. Sure, there are other engines, but Google has almost half of all searches. If they wanted to steer the results in a particular direction for a fee, why couldn't they? If they wanted to steer the results away from a particular place in the absence of a fee (what could have hypothetically happened to, why couldn't they? Would anyone notice? How often do you run a search in Google, and then again in another engine? Ever done that? Would you know if you were getting slanted results? In many ways, this is potentially more insidious than Microsoft's aggressive OS licensing. Trying to control a desktop that will be obsolete in 4 years is one thing. Controlling a living, breathing behemoth like the internet is another. They don't control the content, they just control finding the content for a large section of the population like me.

Now realize that Google's method is also to continuously expand it's reach into every where that puts faces in front of monitors. Not just that, they've already branched out into 411-Phone information. They're driving around taking pictures of our cats. They're building giant data centers to store the pictures of our cats. The more they expand, the creepier they become.