Anti-Google Sentiment Rises

Michael Vizard

It's unclear how much of the rise in articles across the Web that question the potential threat of a cyber-world dominated by Google is being orchestrated by media companies that fear Google. But while just about everybody can agree that more competition on the Web is always a good thing, it seems that as of the moment the concrete evidence needed to back up some of the claims is a little scant.

The latest claim of Google malfeasance comes in the form of a claim made in the editorial pages of the New York Times by Adam Raff, a co-founder of a company called Foundem, which makes vertical search technology that is applied to a site that does price comparisons. In his editorial, Raff cites the need for search neutrality rule similar to the Net Neutrality rule that is being advocated as way to guarantee that no group of companies can dominate access to Web content. A search neutrality rule theoretically would make it illegal for search engine companies to apply "editorial policies" that affect the rankings of any given Web site in its search results.

There are a number of problems with executing this type of rule, given all the useless sites that have become adept at gaming pure search results. But Raff's argument for the need for this rule is based on the claim that Google editorial policies effectively makes his site invisible whenever somebody uses the Google search engine. A lot of people that make rival search engine technologies have made similar claims over the years, and while they all firmly believe that Google is up to something nefarious, nobody seems to have any hard evidence. Nor is there a list of former Google employees willing to back these claims up. It could just as easily be claimed that for one reason or another, these sites are optimized based on search engine technology other than the one Google uses, so naturally they would not do as well in terms of Google search results.

This doesn't mean we should dismiss Raff's claims. It just means we need more evidence. What is interesting is that these types of claims have been made for years. It's only just now that as traditional media companies begin to see Google as a threat to their business models that these claims are "coincidentally" being aired. There's no direct relationship between these events. It could be that editors are finally being made aware of the potential threat. But it's interesting that nobody at these media companies complained when advertising dollars were pouring in. Now that advertising revenues are down, suddenly free content on the Web is a threat. So now we're seeing calls for more paid content on the Web, which is roughly equivalent to throwing a toll over one-third of the lanes on a highway. All that does is push more traffic into the toll-free lanes. We're also seeing efforts to promote "magazine" presentations of content using digital editions of publications that media companies hope will become popular on tablet PCs. That too is based on some assumptions of how people consume content and is not likely to pan out, either. And none of these claims seem to acknowledge just how much traffic Google throws the way of these media sites that they probably would never of had in the first place.

The one thing that we can count on is, starting with Ken Auletta's new book, "Googled: The End of the World as We Knew It" published by Penguin Press, is that Google is well on its way to becoming the new Microsoft in terms of industry bashing. Hopefully, this increased scrutiny of Google will lead to some actual evidence and then better things for all. Just remember that a lot of people providing the platforms through which this much overdue scrutiny is being provided have their own Google axes to grind.

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