Google bigotry

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.

  • http://maryhamilton.wordpress.com Mary Hamilton

    I’m not sure if it’s pure jealousy. I get the impression that some primarily-print journalists or those in newsrooms coming late-ish to the web party are annoyed at the way Google’s success has forced them to work in certain ways – if you want to have a high search and news rank, you have to jump through certain hoops.

    I can see how, if you’re trying to innovate but constrained by those limits, that might get annoying, though not why the result is such petulant articles.

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  • http://www.instantcappuccino.blogspot.com Maha Atal

    A couple of things, Jeff. Firstly, these twin waves of Google antitrust and privacy stories were both set of by WIRED, and no one would accused WIRED of being an anti-Internet publication:
    http://www.wired.com/techbiz/it/magazine/17-02/ff_killgoogle
    http://www.wired.com/techbiz/it/magazine/17-08/mf_googlopoly

    Secondly, when these journos refer to a tide of opposition to Google, they are talking about regulatory opposition, which isn’t the same thing as public opinion. Indeed, most of the stories I’ve read, and the one Google story I’ve put my own name on [http://www.newstatesman.com/scitech/2009/08/online-search-google-data], are looking at regulators and officials taking action against Google EVEN AS the company remains popular with the public. You might argue that the law shouldn’t be divorced from public opinion and I would argue that it absolutely should, but let’s at least be clear about the facts.

  • http://guardian.co.uk/profile/bobbiejohnson Bobbie Johnson

    I think you’ve misdiagnosed what’s going on here a little, Jeff – not least, because as Maha points out, much of this interest was kicked off by Wired.

    And while those who *are* bigoted against Google (plenty of them) are able to use these situations to give a veneer of public interest to their personal concerns, the news value of the situation is largely being pushed by antitrust investigations… which are happening in Europe but also in the USA.

    Google is not a monopoly, and somebody could always theoretically step in and destroy it with nothing more than great product. But I think a lot of the worries stem not from Google’s strength in the search market, and more about its ability to affect other markets with products that are seriously disruptive because they are given away free and subsidised through its other activities.

    Nobody is saying there is anything wrong with moving sideways – and, incidentally, I don’t think that it’s what is happening with news – but it has happened in many other areas and hampered innovation as much as helped it. One question that investors will often ask: what do you do if Google starts making a very similar product and giving away for nothing? It’s something they are afraid of, because Google is able to fund experiments to the tune of billions (even if it later pulls out of the market). The threat of Google is as important as its actions.

    (BTW I don’t think quoting brand value and fast growth is much of an argument for anything. Microsoft, Coke, Apple, Nike and others all have touched on one or the other. It doesn’t mean the entire world loves them or that they’ve never done anything wrong)

    Yes, journalists are wilful beasts who often follow their prejudices instead of looking at the way things. But there is political will here, too. That might be generated by a similar prejudice, but they aren’t making it up entirely.

    • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

      Bobbie,
      This comes at a moment of overdose from such contacts from journalists regarding Google. Thanks to WWGD?, I get them constantly and they are too often the same: the story is written before it is reported. I’ve seen this again and again and again long before Wired showed interest in piling on.
      I am also suggesting here that the media attack may be what is leading to the alleged government interest. In Italy, it’s directly brought by newspapers. In the US, any antitrust inquiry has been very limited in scope. In France, well, it’s France.
      I also think your dumping argument re free things is outmoded. See: Chris Anderson.

      • http://www.instantcappuccino.blogspot.com Maha Atal

        Jeff, that’s an interesting thesis–that the media interest is leading to antitrust action–but I don’t think you’ve made that explicit in the post above. So thanks for the clarification.

        If the antitrust action was as limited as you suggest, that thesis might hold water. But there are four separate antitrust suits against Google at the moment–one each from the FTC, DOJ and FCC and one from a small advertiser. There have been two others in the last 2 years, one settled in Google’s favor, one that led to its dropping the Yahoo! deal. Journalists writing about antitrust action against Google are reporting on real events, not UFO sightings.

        You’re trying to develop a binary contrast between internet-friendly consumers and internet-phobic journalists that doesn’t acknowledge the existence of the regulators as a third group. And if your real point is that the journalists are driving the regulators, you have to show some explicit evidence for that–in the six US cases I’ve referenced above, I can’t see how journos are driving the bus.

        • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

          Thanks, Maha,
          But you and Bobbie are making more of a link between government and press than I am. I’m just saying that I get these inquiries all the time – about Google, about the evils and ills of the internet and blogs and twitter and social…. you name it. Google is merely a favorite whipping boy amongst the curmudgeonly class.

        • http://instantcappuccino.blogspot.com Maha Atal

          Jeff,

          Either you’re arguing that journalists are so biased that they’re pinging you w/ requests for stories about lawsuits that don’t exist (which I’d dispute because the suits are real) or the journalists are so biased that they’re writing stories about consumer discontent to drum up future suits (which I’d dispute because I don’t see any evidence of journos driving regulators’ decisions).

          If you’re arguing neither of those things, and simply saying that the journalists writing stories about actual regulatory events after they occur also happen to harbor personal prejudices, isn’t that true of all journalists on all beats?

        • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

          I’m arguing neither: no tie to suits or to government, just arguing that there’s a “rising tide” of “discontent” with Google and no backup. That simple.

        • http://www.instantcappuccino.blogspot.com Maha Atal

          And I’m saying, the “rising tide” referred to ARE the lawsuits–so that’s the factual backup. I’m not sure how, given the existence of the lawsuits, your claim that the journalists’ stories are spurious holds.

        • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

          And I’m saying the full email was about a “rising tide” from the public.

        • http://www.instantcappuccino.blogspot.com Maha Atal

          Fair enough, Jeff, in the case of the French email which obviously I can’t see. But you go on to reference several stories/story requests and at least some of those journalists are surely referring to a “rising tide” of actual regulation.

          Are you saying all the requests for info YOU’VE received have been from people making claims about consumer discontent with Google, or are you saying you believe the bulk of stories have been/are about that? (and if it’s only the requests you personally are getting, why do you think you’re being singled out for those and not being contacted by other more serious journalists with the regulatory stories?)

          In other words, I, like Bobbie, think you’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater here and am looking for you to be a little more specific.

        • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

          You’re the one who keeps talking about regulation. I’m not. Are we done now?

        • http://www.instantcappuccino.blogspot.com Maha Atal

          I’m saying the fact that you DON’T talk about regulation is a problem, not dismissing the points you DO make out of hand, but saying they would be stronger/more believable to me if you incorporated regulation into them, and struggling to work through how you might do that…that is all.

          And yes, we are done.

    • Andy Freeman

      > I get them constantly and they are too often the same: the story is written before it is reported. I’ve seen this again and again and again long before Wired showed interest in piling on.

      Of course, this isn’t specific to Google.

      They say that sports doesn’t build character, it reveals it.

      The internet is revealing journalism’s character.

  • http://thenoisychannel.com/ Daniel Tunkelang

    Jeff, while you’re right that the press tends to hyperventilate in its knee-jerk criticism of Google, your response feels a lot like calling the kettle black.

    You’ve equated “being like Google” to almost everything good in the world, falling back on the irrefutable crutch that Google isn’t always Googley. Meanwhile, Google has invited a lot of criticism by claiming to hold itself to a higher standard than other companies–notably Microsoft. So is it that surprising that people actually do hold Google up to a higher standard, and criticize it when it falls short?

    I’m an avid Google champion, but also a fierce (and, I believe, fair) critic. To borrow a phrase: Our Google, right or wrong. When right to be kept right; when wrong to be put right.

    Yes, I know, you’ve said even here that you’ve never called Google perfect. But you’ve spoken of them in worshipful tones. With all respect, you’re not the most credible judge of its critics.

    • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

      Nor you, I’d say, Daniel, given your record on the topic. But leave that aside.
      Even in this post, people are seeing what they want to see.
      I am merely talking about the inquiries I get from reporters and what it indicates about them. And them I’m speculating about what Google could or should do about that (i.e., nevermind the curmudgeons but have a strategy to become a friend of news in the future).

      • http://thenoisychannel.com/ Daniel Tunkelang

        Fair enough, we all have our biases, and I suppose it’s natural to see ourselves as moderates and those we disagree with as extremists. Perhaps I’m doing that myself. But I think “bigot” is a very loaded word for you to use, especially when you then follow it by stereotyping the French.

        Dismiss me as a biased critic if you like. Same for all of the other commenters elaborating on similar criticisms. Hey, it is your blog.

        Needless to say, Google has been trying hard to position itself as a friend of news–they hardly need that advice! The question is not their positioning but the reality–can they be a friend of news? I think that’s an open question, and there are strong arguments on both sides.

        • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

          Daniel,
          As before, you’re arguing with a shadow.
          I’m arguing that they need to be a better friend of news and do more!

      • http://thenoisychannel.com/ Daniel Tunkelang
  • Peter

    Jeff,

    Aren’t you guilty of the same crime – that is, deciding on your message before you do any research? You chose to defend Google and you’ll press on with this message until the day they (forcibly) put little Google chips in all of our brains and stream their ads directly into them. By then it will be impossible to criticize anything – they’ll simply filter any negative thoughts with an algorithm.

    If you’re interested in the French take on it, research it before lashing out. Find out what Jean-Noël Jeanneye, the former president of la Bibilothèque Nationale thinks and what danger Google’s brings to non-English speaking cultures.

    Oh, I forgot! Who cares what those Europeans think – we’ll just bulldoze through their opposition and reduce their cultures to some inferior accented versions of our own, right? We’ll put the original of Don Quixote (in Spanish) on the second page of book search results for “Don Quixote” (true story!), filling the first with English translations and criticism – this is clearly so much more important!

    And for the glass of Bordeaux – great metaphor!

    • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

      The chip is almost ready.

  • Sebastian

    For consideration: http://www.johnon.com/696/googlestorm.html

    Whether or not you agree, the opinion linked to above is from a successful search marketer who can be considered a longtime expert in that field. Certainly not a dying bleat from a journalist atop an ivory tower of hubris. Jealousy and lack of experience do not play a role, but the opinion sounds familiar doesn’t it?

    • Andy Freeman

      > Whether or not you agree, the opinion linked to above is from a successful search marketer who can be considered a longtime expert in that field.

      It’s unclear why being a search marketer would be considered a positive credential in this context.

      Search marketers work to improve their clients’ search ranking. Many of the techniques for doing so improve the user’s internet experience. Others don’t. The former are when Google gets it right. The latter, well, that’s not what Andrews is complaining about.

      • Sebastian

        The point is that even people who are very familiar with Google and adept at making money through traffic from Google can also come to the same conclusion as “media people are going after Google’s success for no good reason other than their own jealousy.”

      • Andy Freeman

        No one thinks that journalist dislike of google is driven completely by jealousy. Most seem to dislike search engines because they “take” audience and/or ad dollars.

        In that, journalists are exactly like an SEO marketer. The only difference is in how they claim that Google is hurting them.

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  • http://thenoisychannel.com/ Daniel Tunkelang

    Sure, that’s easy for even a curmudgeon like me to agree with! The question is *how* can Google be a better friend of news?

    Looking at “Five Things Google Could Do For Newspapers” ( http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2009/01/five-things-goo/ ) notes that Eric Schmidt’s expresses a “moral imperative” to do something ( http://news.cnet.com/8301-10784_3-9966236-7.html ), but doesn’t actually propose any concrete solutions.

    It’s clear that Google’s long-term revenue from AdSense (which, last I checked, is about a third of its revenue) depends on a healthy content ecosystem–particularly since Google has never been in the business of producing content and does not, to the best of my knowledge, have positive earnings from the properties where it hosts content (YouTube, Blogger, Knol).

    It’s also clear that newspapers play a significant role in the value Google delivers to users. I would stop using Google overnight if it didn’t index content from a critical mass of newspapers (e.g., the membership of the NAA), particularly if some other search engine did. I suspect I’m not alone there–and my tastes in news aren’t even particularly mainstream.

    To me, that says that there’s room for the newspapers and Google to negotiate a more mutually agreeable and sustainable arrangement. If I read this post of yours (http://seekingalpha.com/article/124941-newspapers-too-late-for-collusion) correctly, you’re not opposed to newspapers collectively bargaining with Google–or colluding to put a different spin on it–you simply think it won’t make a difference.

    I at least think they should try. It remains to be seen if newspapers will be allowed to try that–or whether they’ll have the discipline to pull it off even if they are allowed. And Google might preempt such an action by offering them better terms. I certainly think Google would be more motivated to be a better friend to newspapers if the latter took more control of their own destiny instead of just whining. On that, I think we agree, even if we differ on the means.

    • Andy Freeman

      > It’s also clear that newspapers play a significant role in the value Google delivers to users.

      Some supporting evidence would be nice. For example, what fraction of search results include “news” sites? What fraction of Adwords revenue comes from those searches.

      I’ve pointed out several times that it’s fairly easy to build a reasonably good search engine. (Yahoo and IBM, via Lucene and Hadoop, have been open-sourcing much of the relevant technology.) In other words, there are no technical obstacles to building a “news search engine”.

      AP’s existence proves that any anti-trust issues can be overcome.

      If users actually value the content as much as journalists insist, such a search engine would be incredibly popular in both relative and absolute terms. The relative popularity means that it could give better terms to selected news providers, especially in return said sources cutting off access via Google through the appropriate robots.txt entries and referer checking, leaving Google with the low-margin dregs. Absolute popularity means that it would be a significant fraction of Google’s size.

      Yet, no one seems interested in doing that.

      Outsiders don’t do it because they disagree with the folks who insist that Google is unreasonably profiting from news. However, those “insisters” don’t have that excuse. If they’re correct, they could do both well and good (as they’ve defined it) on an incredible scale by simply doing as suggested above.

      Yet, the insisters don’t act on their stated beliefs.

      Maybe they don’t know that it’s easy to take Google’s place wrt news. Maybe they don’t understand the consequences of their argument.

      Or, maybe they don’t actually believe their arguments.

      • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

        I’ll second Andy here questioning how much value newspapers bring to Google search. Google became No. 1 before news headlines were added to universal search. They are nice to have and I, too, am glad they’re there but I”d love to see stats on how many clicks go to news – that is, how relevant news is to most searches. That’s the measure of this.

      • http://thenoisychannel.com/ Daniel Tunkelang

        Andy, I don’t have stats–like Jeff, I’d love to see them! This would be a great opportunity for Google to show some transparency and publish some aggregate stats about general user behavior! In any case, the best I can do is to appeal to your common sense and experience.

        I hope you agree that most searches for mainstream news-related content turns up news content on Google, either through ranking in general web search or by their explicitly promoting news results as part of their “universal” search approach. Google does, after all, try to surface results relevant to the search. So your question reduces to what fraction of search queries are about news topics.

        That number, which I couldn’t find online but I suspect is out there, is surely substantial. At the very least, I can say that every newspaper I’ve talked to cites organic search referral as its main source of traffic (I hear numbers in the range of 50% to 60%), dominated by Google. That’s why SEO is such a big priority for them–they are resigned to the fact that people search for news on Google.

        As for how much AdWords revenue Google gets from these searches, I think you’re asking the wrong question. The right question is how much AdWords revenue Google would lose if users knew it wouldn’t return useful results for news-related searches–particularly if a competitor like Yahoo or Bing did.

        Users don’t like to use multiple search engines–or multiple tools in general if they can use just one. So Google offering good (or at least good enough) news search is key to maintaining the overall satisfaction and retention of its users. News may well be a loss leader, but that doesn’t reduce the importance to Google of doing it well.

        As for the “no technical obstacles” argument, I think you’re vastly oversimplifying the problem (and I speak as someone with a bit of experience in this space), but I nonetheless agree with you that the biggest obstacles in this space aren’t technical. Rather, it’s that users are satisfied with Google as a good-enough solution. Moreover, people like having a single search box that serves all of their needs. Google is far from perfect, but it’s also a satisficing solution for all basic search needs. A startup can’t displace Google by offering incremental improvement. I’m still hopeful that social search will drive disruptive innovation in this space. But a news search engine cloning–or even incrementally improving on Google–wouldn’t make a dent in the market.

        Your point about the AP and anti-trust is a fair one: it may be possible for newspapers to collude / collectively bargain their way out this. It will be interesting to see if they try.

        Finally, I’m inclined to agree that many of the newspapers don’t understand the consequences of their argument–I said as much in my own blog post: http://thenoisychannel.com/2009/09/05/not-all-google-critics-are-bigots/

      • Andy Freeman

        > I think you’re vastly oversimplifying the problem (and I speak as someone with a bit of experience in this space),

        I worked on Yahoo search…. More to the point, the Yahoo search team is up for grabs now.

        There are several, if not a dozen, funded search startups. Technology is not their risk factor.

        > As for how much AdWords revenue Google gets from these searches, I think you’re asking the wrong question. The right question is how much AdWords revenue Google would lose if users knew it wouldn’t return useful results for news-related searches–particularly if a competitor like Yahoo or Bing did.

        Not at all. My question goes to the revenue of a news search engine. Your question goes to the value of news to Google. If the former is large, a news search engine would be lucrative, regardless of the size of the latter.

        Think Craigslist. Craigslist is economically viable because classified reveunes are “big enough”, regardless of the effect that losing classifieds had on newspapers.

        > But a news search engine cloning–or even incrementally improving on Google–wouldn’t make a dent in the market.

        The goal isn’t to make a “dent in the market” – it is to capture search revenue associated with news, revenue that we’re told is immense.

        We’re assuming an exclusive, so folks either do without or they go to the news search site instead of Google for news searches. Half of immense is still worth capturing.

        > At the very least, I can say that every newspaper I’ve talked to cites organic search referral as its main source of traffic

        So what? The fact that search traffic is essential to a news site does not imply that news search traffic is lucrative for a search engine.

        > Finally, I’m inclined to agree that many of the newspapers don’t understand the consequences of their argument

        My conclusion doesn’t depend on whether newspapers understand the consequences of their argument. If news search made sense, why hasn’t anyone funded one or tried to build one?

        Surely you’re not claiming that newspapers actively discourage search companies that want to give newspapers more revenue.

    • Sebastian

      Change the question a bit: How much value do you think a site like Engadget brings to Google and Yahoo News search?

      Newspaper websites aren’t the only sources in the news search engines. Sites like Engadget, Gizmodo, CNET, Popular Mechanics, People are all in there. Take a news event like e3. Since Engadget/Gizmodo provide arguably the best coverage of that event, you can bet Google/Yahoo see value in having them in the news search or universal search results.

      If you’re wondering why I threw Yahoo into this, they’re still the reported market share leader in News search by a significant margin.

      • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

        I think you’re asking the question the wrong way: How much value does Google bring to Engadget? Without Google’s search, Engadget would be nowhere. Ditto any media site. Why the hell do they hire SEO experts? Search and links are the new newsstand (but they’re free to the publishers).

      • Sebastian

        No, now you’re flittering about and moving on to your ‘safe words’. My point above is that sites of all sorts, not just newspapers, bring significant value to News search because they cover real time better than a search engine’s main index. Look no further than the Iran Elections and MJ’s death to see how useless Google’s main search index was versus News Search, Twitter, TMZ, newspaper sites, etc. Google is currently testing an index update (called ‘Caffeine’) that’s rumored to address this Achilles’ heel to some extent.

        As for your statement above, you really should know by now that it’s not at all a certainty that a media site would be nowhere without Google. While search can be a big traffic stream for many media sites, there are many that would still prosper without a big % of search traffic (many Gawker sites come to mind). One size doesn’t fit all, and many sites get traffic from Google that doesn’t monetize nearly as well as traffic from other sources (such as social media, social news, Twitter). SEO is just one piece of the puzzle for media sites.

        As for value Google brings to Engadget? My guess: Some.

    • http://thenoisychannel.com/ Daniel Tunkelang

      Andy, then you too understand that putting together a state-of-the art news search engine isn’t trivial. But, like I said, I don’t think the technical obstacles are the bottleneck. I think our positions are close enough on this one.

      Our bigger point of disagreement is on the value of news to Google. You take a reductionist attitude, acting as if news is worth just as much outside the full search bundle as inside it. But isn’t it the case that news has often serves as a loss leader for media companies which make up for it in more lucrative verticals (like classifieds)? Not that Google is a media company in the traditional sense, but I’d say it’s doing the same–and that’s why Google has invested significantly in news search despite having little hope of making that segment profitable as a stand-alone unit.

      That said, I do think the newspaper industry would have leverage if it cut off Google (and yes, from the other search engines too) en masse, whether in order to set up a stand-alone news search engine or to create a bidding war for access. The AP notwithstanding, it’s not clear they are allowed to do this today–or that they’d have the cojones to pull it off even if they are allowed.

      • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

        Cutting off Google would be like cutting off those damned newsstands that dare to be part of my distribution chain and make a penny a copy. Insane. Suicidal. Needless. It comes from some sense of ego and entitlement, not economics. On the internet, links are good. Without links, you die. The value comes at the end of the link and the click. The value along the way is like that newsstand. There’s a reason you don’t see a newsstand on Fifth Avenue.

    • Andy Freeman

      > Our bigger point of disagreement is on the value of news to Google.

      As I wrote above, I think that the value of news to Google is irrelevant in this discussion.

      > You take a reductionist attitude, acting as if news is worth just as much outside the full search bundle as inside it.

      Considering that I said that news search outside Google would have fewer searchers, the basis for that statement is unclear.

      I’ll be clear. I think that news outside a full search bundle is worth less. However, that doesn’t imply that a news search engine isn’t viable, especially if it gets exclusives. The viability of a news search engine depends only on how much traffic it can get and how valuable that traffic is.

      News organizations insist that they have exclusive access to valuable content. If that’s true, a news search engine that has exclusive access would be incredibly lucrative. That money could be used to pay for exclusive access, giving newspapers what they want.

      The fact that news organizations aren’t encouraging or developing such a biz tells us that they’re pretty sure that their content is not all that valuable.

      > The AP notwithstanding, it’s not clear they are allowed to do this today

      “allowed” by whom?

      • http://thenoisychannel.com/ Daniel Tunkelang

        My understanding is that such collusion would run afoul of anti-trust law, unless newspapers were granted a specific exemption. Perhaps I’m misinformed on this issue.

        Anyway, I see your point now: I thought you were equating what news search was worth to Google to what it would be worth to someone else, and we agree that it’s probably worth less to someone else.

        As for why news organizations aren’t encouraging or developing a separate news search engine with exclusive access to their content, I think it’s a combination of fear of being sued for anti-competitive behavior (because they would have to act collectively to make this strategy work) and cowardice–even though they know they’re in a death spiral, they don’t want to let go of their current revenue model to try a new one. The latter problem, assuming I am diagnosing it correctly, doesn’t earn any sympathy from me.

      • Andy Freeman

        > My understanding is that such collusion would run afoul of anti-trust law

        I don’t know about your understanding, but I see similar exclusives everywhere. I also see AP.

        On a more tactical note, who is going to bring the anti-trust action? Google? The DOJ on Google’s behalf?

        As far as “collective action”, if they don’t own/run the news search engine, that’s a tough argument to make. They use common suppliers today and one could easily make a biz argument for every one of them taking the same action.

        Collusion requires that they actually agree. It’s not collusion to all take a better deal.

        > we agree that it’s probably worth less to someone else.

        My point is that the question is irrelevant.

        However, it’s not clear that news is worth less to someone else, or rather, that a news search engine will get less revenue than Google currently gets on comparable searches.

        The price of a given keyword on a pay-per-click basis. that is, Adwords, depends on the audience and the context. Even if you assume the same audience (and I’d argue that many of the folks who don’t follow the news sources are worth less than folks who do), the newspaper folks argue that their results are more valuable context than the riff-raff Google also serves for such queries.

        If that’s true, Google may not be able to afford the same deal that the news search engine can make the newspapers because advertisers will be willing to pay the news search engine more than Google for news relevant keywords. Google could split the adwords market and make it possible for advertisers to bind on “news pages only”, but that’s a giant can of worms.

  • http://www.guardian.co.uk/profile/bobbiejohnson Bobbie Johnson

    Jeff
    I didn’t say there weren’t journalistic prejudices in the questions you’re getting; merely that you’re in danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater by assuming (as it seems here) that *anyone* asking these questions is coming from a point of prejudice. There are plenty of curmudgeons, and you don’t have to engage with them. But that doesn’t mean that it’s wrong for anybody to ask questions about Google’s power, influence or possible discontent.

    I’ve read Free, which is precisely why I made the argument I did about cross-subsidies. Sometimes they work, and for many of us they NEED to work. But that doesn’t mean it’s always right, or fair, or good. If this business model is used across the board, it simply concentrates more power into the hands of the powerful and kills innovation and growth (hardly Googly). Those who can afford to subsidise products in new markets because they have found the goose that lays the golden egg prevent other competitors in those markets from doing business. Does that constitute a monopolistic behaviour? It’s certainly a different kind of behaviour than we have seen before, and a philosophical question worth asking since it could have striking and severe long-term implications.

    None of this is to say that the curmudgeons – whether they are journalists, members of the public, luddites or legislators – are thinking about any of these issues when they have a kneejerk reaction. But it strikes me as just as unproductive and blind to label anybody who is interested in these concerns as a bigot.

    • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

      Wanting to regulate against free is a very dangerous slope in the internet age: potentially protectionist and elitist. Newspapers argue that craigslist is destroying them. Craig argues (and I agree) that he found a way to leave money in the hands of transactors instead of monopolistic middlemen. Was free in this case good or bad for society if blessed newspapers suffer? If Google offered those classifieds, would it be dumping or a benefit to society?

      And I”m not labeling anyone who complains about Google. I”m labeling the >journalists< who come to me with their stories written before they have reported them. They’re violating one of the key lessons we teach in journalism. They’re doing it out of unenlightened self-interest.

  • Renaud

    We French are schizophrenic. We protest against Mc Donald’s, but their business in our country is pretty good. We don’t really trust Google, but their market share is even higher than in the US.
    It’s just a French sport: we like complaining ;-)

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  • http://www.mercurynews.com Chris O’Brien

    Jeff,

    I would agree that much of the recent news industry bashing of google is nonsense. It’s destructive and short sighted.

    But being based out in Silicon Valley, I think it’s important to note that Google has critics that extend well beyond journalists. And the idea that journalists are somehow influencing anti-trust policy is giving us way to much credit. That is more likely being driven by powerful lobbyists of competitors, such as Microsoft.

    I think it’s also only fair to point out that out here, you’ll find plenty of anti-Google sentiment among entrepreneurs and engineers who have nothing to do with the media. There are a number of areas where Google rightfully deserves criticism, most recently for their handling of Google Books (where they’re building a pay wall that many newspapers may come to envy). The company has an increasingly poor product development reputation (outside of search); it’s failed on the social networking front; it has a terrible M&A track record.

    I can’t speak to the folks who have contacted you or the stories they published. But you’d find plenty of non-journalists out in the valley who would echo those feelings.

  • Rob Levine

    >>>It is media companies’ fault that they lost their customers after cheating them for too many years.

    What customers do you mean (readers or advertisers)? And how did they cheat them?

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  • Eric Gauvin

    Sure. Media influences public perception and vise versa, and everybody has some bias or personal point of view.

    But that was also a huge factor in the public’s rapid infatuation with google in the first place, don’t you think?

    I don’t think we should ask, “What would google do?” We should ask, “What would people do?” A “rising tide” made google #1. Whatever it was that made everyone flock to google in the first place is a complex mix of factors, but I suspect it has a lot to do with public perception.

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  • Eric Gauvin

    So you must have given the Le Monde reporter an interview, right? That would certainly be a great way for you to reach people with your ideas–or did you just want to vent?

    • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

      It’s in the post: I sent the email I quoted in full above.

      • Eric Gauvin

        You mean this part?

        “There’s one problem: I do not buy the premise of your story…. …I don’t see it.”

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  • http://www.guardian.co.uk/profile/bobbiejohnson Bobbie Johnson

    If that’s what the email said, that’s what it said (you can see it, we can’t). I do think the way you characterised it sounded different, though. “I’m on the way to write an article about Google facing a rising tide of discontent concerning privacy and monopoly” doesn’t sound to me like it’s specifically about discontent among ordinary members of the public: it sounds much more like a regulatory issue (which is why I picked up on it).

    In terms of whether regulating free is a dangerous thing or not, I’ve thought about it a lot, but I haven’t yet come to a real conclusion either way. Cross subsidies have been around for a very long time, but we’re in a new phase of the game here. Where we end up is pretty much anyone’s guess.

    I don’t think all regulation is bad. But neither do I think it’s good: I don’t like protectionism or the building of walls. I don’t really trust governments to make the right decision, but I don’t trust markets either.

    I think what I’m more concerned about in terms of Google’s situation at the moment is the power of a company to prevent competition in a number of tangential fields (ie areas of business which it may choose to enter at some unspecified point in the future) simply by existing. If that hampers new ideas or destroys new, interesting business models before they get a chance, I don’t think it can be good in the long run.

    What you do about it, though, remains unclear to me.

    • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

      I don’t think we’ve seen Google operate that way. And I want to protect our free culture online. I especially don’t want to kill it to protect the incumbents who’ve had 15 years to figure this internet thing out and have fucked it up. They deserve no protection. We do. From them and the regulators. Remember: If you try to regulate Google, you also regulate Craig and in the process you make the playing field uneven on behalf of the entrenched interests, which is no way to encourage and enable innovation.

      • http://www.guardian.co.uk/profile/bobbiejohnson Bobbie Johnson

        I agree entirely. I’m not really thinking about protecting incumbents, but in protecting the opportunities of future innovators.

        I don’t think Google has *intentionally* operated in that way – it’s just throwing spaghetti at the wall – I’ve already seen it having an affect on some investors + entrepreneurs, in conversations I’ve had with them about the ideas they might pursue. These are not people who have fucked up the gift they were given, but they still worry about the possibility (unless, of course, their plan is to get acquired, which is an area that Google has a patchy track record in). It’s not just refuseniks who Google can have an impact on, though I realise these are the ones you’re largely focused on.

        Like I said, I don’t have answers. But I do want to explore the questions so somebody smarter than me can find them.

  • http://love2tweet.com James McGregor

    It is important for Governments to keep an eye on really large companies, however there is a difference between monitoring and obstruction. As soon as they start getting in the way, they are hindering growth which impacts our future.
    http://love2tweet.com/wp/?p=217

  • http://netsansdetour.blogspot.com/ Thierry Lhôte

    Ok, once again Jeff Jarvis is making is BIG point against France.
    With an always elegant confusion between what some people think of Google in France and the country as a whole.
    http://netsansdetour.blogspot.com/2009/09/please-jeff-jarvis-like-get-some.html

  • http://www.ankurwarikoo.com Ankur Warikoo

    Interesting dialogue between you and Maha there, Jeff. BTW…I completely stand by your analysis of the situation. Its a combination (and unfortunately a fatal one for media people) of jealousy, bias and attempts at scandalization. We see it everywhere…that the media has thrived always at scandals…it has leapfrogged unknown publications into the big league and has on the other hand overthrown powerful individuals who messed with it.

    google has suddenly become the anti-christ for such media organizations. It has adopted the contrarian view. Build scale by creating unlimited ad space, bring in accountability and measurability!

    the ones who write to you about the growing dis-comfort about google…are the same ones who find it fashionable to call the best selling movie the crappiest in the year! they have built themselves because they wrote what the society didnt expect…and thus loved…(but honestly never card about)

    IGNORE!

  • http://www.ecommerce404.fr Ecommerce 404

    “I’m not sure what it is the French have against Google, but it’s some form of national insanity, I think.”

    Frenchs don’t have any problem with Google… only people from the press & book industry. More than 80% of Frenchs use Google to search on the Internet, more than people in the USA isn’t it ?

  • Rob Levine

    Jeff,

    I’m still curious about this:

    >>>It is media companies’ fault that they lost their customers after cheating them for too many years.

    Could I ask you to explain?

    • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

      They were monopolies that overcharged. And online has made a lie of the print myth that every reader sees every ad. Online, the advertiser pays only for the ads that are seen. Online, that can be measured. Online, demographics can be assured and that, too, can be measured. On Google, advertisers don’t pay for ads that are seen but ads that are clicked: performance. Online, there is not a monopoly and prices are set by the market rather than the monopolist.

      • Rob Levine

        I agree that online advertising offers significant advantages – especially once click-fraud can be addressed more effectively. But I’m surprised to hear you describe this as “cheating” – which implies fraud or deception – since nothing you describe seems to rise to that level.

        I know we disagree on many things. But I don’t think the magazine I work for is cheating in any way, and I certainly don’t think you were cheating when you worked in print.

        • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

          Overcharging is cheating the customer of value. My cable company cheats me by requiring that I buy channels I do not want and it can do that because it operates in a duopoly.

        • Rob Levine

          According to most dictionaries, cheating involves fraud or deception. You may not like your cable company, but I don’t think it engages in fraud – and I don’t think print media, as a whole, does either. When you worked for Time and Advance, were they cheating? I can’t imagine that you thought they were.

        • http://abriefhistory.org/ Bradley J. Fikes

          Cheating is too strong a word. The print media took full advantage of its de facto monopoly to charge as much as it could. The monopoly prices made the media oligarchs vulnerable to new technology that enabled competition. Their short-term success at raking in high profits caused their downfall in the long term.

          The oligarchs may be functionally incapable of unlearning their monopoly habits. Just look at the laughable alternatives they offer to craigslist.

          Hope for journalism lies in the new media organizations that are emerging, not in the dying oligarchy.

        • Rob Levine

          >>>Cheating is too strong a word. The print media took full advantage of its de facto monopoly to charge as much as it could.

          In other words they used their scale to their advantage – JUST AS GOOGLE DOES. This double standard sounds to me like . . .Old Media Bigotry.

        • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

          They don’t use an auction to set rates.

          (Rob: I’m very busy right now so I’m not going to find myself in a 20-part volley on this.)

        • http://apwatch.blogspot.com/ Bradley J. Fikes

          In other words they used their scale to their advantage – JUST AS GOOGLE DOES.

          No. that is your misunderstanding. Try to read more carefully this time:

          Media oligarchs thought their de facto monopoly was permanent, because of the high cost of entry. The Internet made their assumptions obsolete, because the cost of entry is nil. The oligarchs can’t adapt to competition. So they are failing.

          You can keep on cursing Google in all caps like a crank, or adapt to the new environment.

        • Eric Gauvin

          >>Try to read more carefully this time.

          Actually the problem is the opposite: Jeff Jarvis doesn’t really like it when people read buzzmachine carefully and ask too many questions. At this point, the adapt-or-die argument sounds like very oversimplified and arrogant.

        • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

          No, Eric, I don’t like it when trolls hit the same nail over and over and over again. It gives me a headache. I have too many causes for headaches these days. I’ll hit my nail once more: Stop with the insults or be gone.

        • http://wyman.us Bob Wyman

          Jeff, don’t fee the trolls…

        • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

          heh. freudian slip. i’d like to fee them. that’s the one paid-content model that makes sense to me!

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  • Rob Levine

    >>>Cheating is too strong a word. The print media took full advantage of its de facto monopoly to charge as much as it could.

    In other words they used their scale to their advantage – JUST AS GOOGLE DOES. This double standard sounds to me like . . .Old Media Bigotry.

  • http://blog.ecairn.com dominic

    Thanks for the article.

    You said: Google is trying to understand …which publications are first or early on a story. By the time it does it, the news will be already tweeted and re-tweeted no?

    My point, if Google was a threat for the paper part of newspaper (this battle is over, please move on) , Twitter and alike are a threat for the news part.

    Maybe an opportunity for “old players” to come back into the game.

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  • http://www.WithoutWarningCoach.com Rodney Johnson

    If you’re #2 or #3, you can be the darling.
    If you’re #1,
    well let’s just say, “It’s tough being #1.”

  • http://apwatch.blogspot.com/ Bradley J. Fikes

    “At this point, the adapt-or-die argument sounds like very oversimplified and arrogant.”

    So, we should just ignore what’s going on? What’s your advice?

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  • http://abriefhistory.org/ Bradley J. Fikes

    I’d settle for the trolls concerned critics making a coherent argument against Google that doesn’t involve their own self-interest. I’d be even happier if they provided a realistic alternative.

  • http://www.web21th.com Dominique Rabeuf

    From France. France hate software. All governments made massive destruction of software since end of 1980. Computing industry was sponsored by public funds for nuclear purposes. Remember the one franc offered for Thomson, the good choices made by first minister. French politics hate neutral attitudes. Computer science and Networking are neutral. Now they want to manage Internet. They are inventing a new theory of information, Shannon was wrong. They are writing new language, Chomsky is wrong. Ideology supersedes everything, Gödel is wrong. They can deliver energy from taxes, Boltzmann is wrong. Only the French republic is right, Frenchmen and Frenchwomen have no rights. Freedom is for government use only.

  • http://www.interaktivierung.net/ wingthom

    Jeff, thank you that you still take care about old media people. It’s so romantic. But I think even you can’t help them, they are like the chicken in Ice Age who fight about the last food – that’s not funny for them. And most of the Audience even ignore their “fight”…

    I just read a German study that for 95 % of all searches there is no content from a traditional publisher on Google Page #1 – Wikipedia alone is more than 2 times bigger than all German publishers together in those SERPs. People search a lot more and different topics than publishers think of.

    If traditional publishers go away others will fill the small slots – very special sites, blogs, forums, new publishing houses.

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  • Fridomfry

    Another example of “Le Monde”‘s militant & insidious methods. Thanks for exposing them again – although they’ll never change, only disappear. Thirty-two years ago, already, a French journalist who worked with “Le Monde” suddenly had enough of this journal’s support for every left-wing dictatorship on the planet, and wrote a flaming book, “Le Monde tel qu’il est” (“Le Monde” as it is). Since then, the spirit has not changed much, but the sales dropped continuously…

  • http://www.genc-odasi.com/ Genç Odas?

    Sure. Media influences public perception and vise versa, and everybody has some bias or personal point of view.

    But that was also a huge factor in the public’s rapid infatuation with google in the first place, don’t you think?

  • http://www.genc-odasi.com/ Genç Odas?

    Sure. Media influences public perception and vise versa, and everybody has some bias or personal point of view.

    But that was also a huge factor in the public’s rapid infatuation with google in the first place, don’t you think?