OPINION: Why Google must say 'no' to the big publications

Google-search.jpgWhat a wind up! I’m saying that because I’m utterly wound up and it’s going to take me to write this semi-controlled tirade of editorial opinion on the subject of Google indexing to get myself ironed out again.

I know what you’re thinking. No, Google indexing does not sound like a good read nor anything worth getting passionate about, but trust me here. Stick with me a sec and I promise I’ll have your blood boiling by the end of the next para.

So, there was a report in Advertising Age this morning on the ranking of Google search results and how certain members of the old school, established and, essentially, print centred publishers are complaining because the fact that their pages don’t come at the top is unfair. “You should not have a system,” one content executive told AdAge, “where those who are essentially parasites off the true producers of content benefit disproportionately.”

If you’re not angry yet, then you’ve probably never blogged or have just accidentally found this page while surfing for pr0n, in which case simply click here for something more appropriate.

The example given is that someone might search for the word “Gaza” in Google which would return results of stories dated from when the conflict first started, or Wikipedia pages on the area in general. The publishing bigwigs argue that it’s incredibly unhelpful to people looking for information and that they deserve to be up the top as trusted sources who would have chased down the news in the first place.

Now, there’s at least two things wrong with that assumption before I even get started on the issue of why they should have rights to top billing on the internet anyway.

Firstly, that example may be very well for someone searching for current news on the situation in the Middle East but how about, let’s say, the Jade Goody story. Why would you want the Times or BBC’s version of that story when it’s something a specialist celebrity gossip website would probably cover better, even if they didn’t have a reporter at the scene taking down the shorthand of the former Big Brother star’s last breath.

What’s more, exactly how much more would Reuters have gleaned by having a camera crew outside the gates of Ms Goody’s Essex house anyway? So what if they break the word that she’d gone to a better place? Doesn’t make it a good read or of any long term Google-worthy interest beyond that.

Secondly, this all rather assuming that a person searching for “Jade Goody” or “Gaza” in Google is actually looking for a news story. There’s an excellent chance that they’re not, but who cares anyway? Google isn’t a news search, it’s an internet search. It searches the internet for information so that you don’t have to guess URLs.

You’ve got two other major options for the news. You can either go to Sky or CNN or any other news company’s website or you can use Google News. Google News is a news search and on Google News, the big publishers do receive a better ranking, largely because they break the stories and because more people read and link to them. So, exactly what are these people complaining about? When people look for news on the internet, the big publishers have it their way.

What really gets my goat about this whole issue, though, is not from the point of view as a blogger but as a internet user, a member of the public. The internet is the fabulous source of information that it is and generally good place to hang out because it is so utterly democratic. Unlike television or radio, it’s a medium where one man on his laptop has as big a stage as Rupert Murdoch regardless of what kind of money or clout they possess.

Much of the Google’s search algorithm is based on how many links a page has. So, the more popular and better written or designed something is, the higher ranking it has. It doesn’t make any difference who you are. If your content is wonderful then your efforts, your work and your genius will be recognised.

If I want a broadsheet’s representation of the news then I’ll go and buy a newspaper, or I’ll wait to see what Moira Stewart has to say about it later. If I want to be entertained, if I want to read around or if I just want a more human view on events, I’ll take a look at the web.

The really sad part of all of this is that apparently Google is considering changing they way they do things. They’ve held closed door meetings with the big publishers and plan to do so again. If they altered their algorithm and pandered to the cries of the publishers, then the internet would change in the most perverse and profound way in its 20-year existence. If you take away its democracy, you take away its very ethos and the web becomes an evolution of print rather than a new media in its own right.

Why on Earth should Google allow the big publishers the right to take the internet as their own? They have no more claim to it than anyone else and, as some of the slowest off the mark and its least understanding users, I’d argue they actually have less. They never link to other articles when the rest of the community links to everyone else, even if that means ignoring the original source.

Just like the record industry, they need to spend less time whining that their business models are falling apart and more time learning how to use the new world to their advantage. Nobody owes them a living.

By Daniel Sung | March 23rd, 2009





Daniel SungOPINION: Why Google must say 'no' to the big publications
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