Beware the Googeyman

Business Week media maven Jon Fine sent me a link to his latest column and said I wouldn’t like the idea presented there. He’s quite right. He proposes a vision of the future that is really just a long-dead dream of the big-media past, back before the internet and before big, bad Google, when the big companies controlled content and thought they controlled the world:

What if 2006 is the year big media players take aim at Google’s kneecaps? No, not with more lawsuits; the Authors Guild, the Association of American Publishers — on behalf, in part, of BusinessWeek’s parent company, The McGraw-Hill Companies — and Agence France-Presse have already sued the search behemoth. Rather, picture this: Walt Disney, News Corp., NBC Universal, and The New York Times, in an odd tableau of unity, join together and say: “We are the founding members of the Content Consortium. Next month we launch our free, searchable Web site, which no outside search engines can access…. From now on we’ll make our stuff available and sell ads around it and the searches for it, but only on our terms. Who else wants to join us? Membership’s free.”

Well, that would be hugely stupid. And though huge companies can be stupid, I don’t think they’d be that self-destructive. For the truth of life today — like it or not, lump it or not — is that Google is everyone’s front page. And, yes, that can make life difficult. Google kills brands; Google commodifies everything. But that’s not Google’s fault. That comes part-and-parcel with this new, distributed world where we control the entry to the content we want and where there is no longer a scarcity of content that lets a few big players control it and us. Wishing this weren’t so won’t make it not so.

So when AFP sues Google to stop it from quoting and linking to its stories, it is cutting off its nose to spite its face. When newspapers put content behind pay and archive walls, they are killing their own Googlejuice and thus their audience — that is, the audience are not now attracting to their print products and their brands. When book publishers try to stop Google from indexing books so they can be found, they are killing the words and thoughts in them and cutting them off from the world.

Meanwhile, the smart guys are hiring search-engine-optimization experts and trying to figure out how to get more people to their stuff thanks to Google. See the post below: Walled gardens are no more. Or, if they do exist, they are lonely places populated only by their few, cranky proprietors.

Fine raises the ghost of the last effort at a content consortium: The newspaper industry’s New Century Network. I had the bad fortune to have witnessed and suffered through that clusterfuck. It was a disaster not just because newspaper people can’t get along, as Fine hints, but also because they tried to solve their problems, not the public’s.

: At the same time, we have the self-annointed usability “expert” Jakob Nielsen (didn’t anybody ever tell him that reading lines of text three feet long isn’t very usable?!?) also goes after Google and search engines, calling them leeches because they create an open marketplace that suck more profit out of transactions as they get bigger and more efficient. His sequence sounds right but not his solutions. What we need is competition. What we need is an open ad marketplace. More on that in time….

: LATER: James Robertson has a blunt response. Mark Evans says Google-trashing is just jealousy.

: Seth Godin understands what Jakob is really saying:

Jakob, on the other hand, inadvertently explains why keyword advertising is such a brilliant invention.

  • Jimmy

    I guess I must be the loser here because I don’t like Google, I rarely use it, and it’s not my start page. Over past year I’ve become an outright Yahoo maniac: start page, email, search, news, etc. I’ve always found Google to be highly over-rated and their services nothing special — at least to me.

  • When the NYT walled off their op-ed section (really Marueen Dowd), not only did I quit directing my browser to their site, but I won’t even click on a link to a NYT op-ed piece from any other source. There are a lot of opinions out there, and more are availalable on-line each day. And as for news, well, the days of the exclusive scoop on something critical are, well, over. They’ve been 1.0’d on my computer!

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  • Cal

    1. Create a high quality content database. No crap. No geocities or spam links.

    2. Provide tag pages with no content that google will spider. “Want to read what 93 newspapers said about [x]?” thus using Google to drive traffic to their content. (for that matter, they could buy ads on Google for every word–and the words they’d be interested in would be cheap.)

    3. Ideally, convince a few major advertisers to advertise exclusively with them. They could still drive traffic via google.

    The key is wiping out Yahoo and Google’s access to news links. You’ve been drinking too much koolaid if you don’t think people would be interested in a high quality search engine that only has content. There’s nothing wrong with doing two searches.

  • Cal… Two is fine. But Jon is suggesting not two but one, not and but or: He’s suggesting that news sites cut off Google’s access. That’s what I say is cutdting off the nose.

  • Ian

    I don’t think this article is a genuine suggestion. It is just an attempt to leverage your audience — which loves cobtroversy — to increase page views to his column and the paper.

  • Jack

    > didn’t anybody ever tell him that reading lines of
    > text three feet long isn’t very usable?!?

    Didn’t anyone ever tell you that if you make the browser window narrower, the text will flow to fit, so you can make it as wide as you like?!?!?

    Use-it text will thus work on almost any type of terminal or device, as befits the Web — quite unlike your own old fashioned fixed-width, dead tree newspaper-style layout, Jeff ;-)

  • Jack,
    Well, and I’ll tell you back that having to change the window size just to read one site would hardly be called great usability from a usability expert. HTML lets you constrain the text into readable columns.

  • The most effective solution would involve a creative collaboration. It would possible to have it both ways. Content open to Google and any/all SE plus a user-defined content collection point. In the same manner that Google permits you to build your own start page a group of content providers could pool their content and allow users to pick and pull content. For the past year we have been working on such an approach termed Local 2.0; the limiting steps are ego driven – the local newspaper says ok until they learn all local print (i.e., weeklys and free print) are invited to the party, local tv says ok until they discover print is involved – no exclusives. We were inspired, in some ways, by what Jeff’s group at Advance started but left far too short. OregonLive and the other Advance products are ok but they could be great once they invited any and all to participate and then giving control of the content presentation to the user. The testosterone laden bravado of old school media misses the point…folks are already doing their own mash ups, they need to wake up and enable this process rather than fight it.

  • Jeff:

    As I’d mentioned to you–and as I hope comes through in the column–I’m not at all sold that the Content Consortium approach is a good one. But I do think we will see various ways that content producers will push back against the search engines. The one proposed by the AP’s Tom Curley in the column is one. Cal’s above is another. There are a bunch of hybrid approaches possible that don’t involve putting all your stuff behind a barbed-wire barrier; I suspect we’re barely scratching the surface on them thus far.


  • The killer app is not in creating a huge mountain of content and allowing users to “pick and pull” from it. The killer app is in helping people figure out which content is worth picking and pulling, given that they have only 24 hours in a day to consume all of our glorious media options.

    All of this discussion is so “centric” to the publishers and content creators. Hmmm, this would work great for our business, let’s foist this on consumers. Or, I’m grooving on the open web — everyone else must want it that way. Just because we all spend our days like geeks surfing 1,000 sources, doesn’t mean everyone else does.

    Al Ries got it right in his Ad Age piece. Google won because they focused on what consumers needed — a good way to search, rather than making the mistake of AltaVista and jamming in everything they could think of without regard for whether people wanted it from their search provider.

    Whoever finds a way to help consumers figure out what they want — and what’s worth their time — will be the next Google.

  • I use Google obsessively and think it works well, but my instinct tells me that we should have competing search engines that are of at least similar quality/success. Not exactly sure how that would be accomplished…

    Stoopidity Archive

  • Cal

    “He’s suggesting that news sites cut off Google’s access.”

    Well, yes. And Yahoo’s. Why not? I think they should. If the various major Times, Posts, Tribunes et al could all agree that their news goes in a central site, then that becomes the defacto News site and Yahoo and Google can cry in their beer.

  • Hey big media…

    We no longer live in the 1950s. You are not in control. You cannot control the news. There are thousands of information/entertainment sources and more are being created everyday.

    If I cannot find your content in Google/Yahoo/MSN/and everyother search service you do not like, I will find lots from your competition. When I get the information/entertainment I need from your competition, why would I think of coming back to you?

    Case in point, has almost zero Dallas Cowboys coverage. Why? Because Belo wants me to pay to access No thanks, I can get me Cowboys news elsewhere!

  • There are plenty of sources for news outside MSM. Amusingly, in Canada when our semi national newspapers went behind sub-walls the blogosphere began using the CBC and CTV websites for the news.

    What will threaten Google is not an absence of content; rather it will be the development of “better than adsense” ways of charging for content.

    I’m working on it.

  • ken

    “Google kills brands; Google commodifies everything. But that’s not Google’s fault. ”

    Hmmm. Replace the word Google with Wal-Mart. And see if the same people rush to defend the honor of the company in question. Just a thought experiment.

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  • Cutting off content from Google or any other major search site would be absolute suicide. As big as major content providers think they are, they’re not as big as they think.

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