Google has an image problem – not a PR problem (that is, not with the public) but a press problem (with whining old media people). Google is trying hard – too hard, perhaps – not to argue with the guys who still buy ink by the barrel. Google is only causing them to buy fewer barrels. And newspaper people will use their last drops of ink to complain about Google’s success and try to blame it for their own failures rather than changing their own businesses.
What should Google do? I think it needs to become news’ best friend.
This week, I called The New York Times on internet bigotry. Now I’ll call the French media on a subset: Google bigotry.
Last night, I got email from a Le Monde journalist who said, “I’m on the way to write an article about Google facing a rising tide of discontent concerning privacy and monopoly.” She went on to wonder whether these critics would move to Bing and, at the same time, whether Google would become the next Microsoft with a negative image and government pressure (aren’t those two questions inherently contradictory?).
I wanted to know if it was possible for you to respond to my questions?
I threw out my glass of Bordeaux (it had turned) and poured a nice American cabernet and then responded:
There’s one problem: I do not buy the premise of your story. I’ve seen this story again and again, especially from France. I’m not sure what it is the French have against Google, but it’s some form of national insanity, I think. Most French publishers rejected my book, What Would Google Do?, because they said they wanted a diatribe against Google – that, it appears, is the French reflex. Only after I blogged that did my brave publisher come forward and publish it as La méthode Google.
Do some people complain about Google? Yes, it is often the same people who complain about the internet and about change and technology and simply use Google as their target simply because it is so big and so innovative.
Google is the fastest growing company in the history of the world, according to the Times of London. It is the No. 1 brand for three years running, which means that people not only know but admire it.
So who are these people who you say are part of this “rising tide of discontent” about Google? How do you measure it? How big is the tide?
How big was it? What is its impact? I don’t see it. I see journalists doing this story because they want to.
Google is not a monopoly. It is a competitive company and it took advertising dollars for one simple reason: because advertisers found a better deal there – buying performance, not scarcity, with Google sharing their risk – than they ever found in our old media. It is media companies’ fault that they lost their customers after cheating them for too many years.
Privacy? That is an overused word. The issue is not privacy, as I say in my book. It is control. You should also look at the benefits of publicness, which come when we share things about ourselves and find others like us. If you have problems with privacy then you have problems with every member of Facebook and its clones across the world and the entire generation that made social sites huge.
With all respect, it appears to me that you have already drawn your conclusions and written your story – that there is this “rising tide” you see against Google, that is a “monopoly,” that people are leaving for Bing (introduce me to some, would you?), that it now has a “negative image.”
I don’t see it.
Last week, I got an email from an Israeli journalist, which said: “These days we are working on an article about Google, focusing on the company’s failures rather than on its well known successes.”
Another reporter decides what to say before doing the reporting. Oh, it’s hardly uncommon. But I decided not to bother with this. I’ve done it too often: arguing with a reporter’s premise and then not appearing in the story because I dared to disagree.
This week, a Google PR person I met at the Aspen Institute sent me links to a public exchange in editorials in the Seattle Times. It started with an editorial lambasting Google, using Italian newspapers complaints as its peg: “Google is a wonderful thing. It is also a dangerous thing, as it keeps demonstrating in its quietly rapacious way.”
But they got their facts wrong. They said that if a paper didn’t want to be in Google News, it couldn’t be in search. All they had to do was a little research – otherwise known as reporting or fact-checking – to find out that was false. They also suggested that the government should go after Google under the Sherman Antitrust Act. A Google attorney sent a response explaining the law and business to them:
Your Aug. 30 editorial [“Rapacious? Google it,” Opinion] seems to misunderstand both competition law and how Google News works.
Under the antitrust laws, there’s no problem with a company becoming successful, so long as it earns it fair and square. The problem is when companies act illegally to maintain their market position — by foreclosing competition or making it difficult for users to switch. No one has seriously suggested that Google’s success is due to anything other than hard work and constant improvement.
Your editorial also wrongly suggests that news organizations can’t withdraw their content from Google News without also removing it from all Google searches. That’s false. Publishers are in complete control over where and whether their content appears.
News organizations can use a universally honored technical standard called “robots.txt” to block their content from being indexed by Google and other search engines. And if they want to be removed only from Google News, they can just tell us directly, and we’ll remove them.
Still, of more than 25,000 news sources, only a handful have chosen to be removed. Why? Because Google News sends news organizations more than a billion clicks each month, which they can use to win loyal readers and generate more advertising revenue.
The Times wasn’t at all embarrassed about being so wrong and came back against Google again. Just because they wanted to. Just because they felt like it. Just because they need an enemy to blame for their own failing business.
Google is far from perfect. It ain’t God. In my book, I complained about its opaqueness while demanding transparency from the rest of us and about its policies in China. There’s plenty to criticize.
But these media people are going after Google’s success for no good reason other than their own jealousy. It’s not just that they dislike the competition – and they do, for it is a new experience for too many of them. If they were smart, they’d use Google to get more audience and make more money but they don’t know how to (or rather, they’d prefer not to change). No, the problem is that Google represents change and a new world they’ve refused to understand.
What should Google do?
I’m not sure but I’d start by using Google’s platform to enable the new ecosystem of news, the entrepreneurs who will build the future of journalism – and that could include the incumbents, if they have any sense. That framework could include promotion (via GoogleNews and more), revenue (via Google advertising), technology (publishing, content, and measurement tools), consultation and education (on maximizing attention, on using new tools), and R&D (Google Wave for news, the hyperpersonal news stream….).
Google should position itself as the friend of news and then maybe it won’t matter if it is newspapers’ friend; they’ll just come off as the whiners they are.
: LATER: Google News published a video explaining some of what goes into its scraping and ranking and how to improve your chances of getting good links. It’s a first step:
Note that Google News is now trying to understand, through others’ citations, which publications are first or early on a story so it can link more effectively to news at its source.