(More thinking out loud….)
I recently spoke to a reputable person who is a senior exec in a major structured database company ( I promised not to name this person or the company/industry.) I can’t go into specifics, but the company owns a very large repository of valuable industry listings, and has an web-based interface that allows folks to search those listings. Think Autobytel, or even Craigslist, but this is a vertical player in a very information intensive business. The data this company owns is locked behind a registration wall, search engines can not get to it through normal crawling techniques. It’s part of the paid or “dark” web: not freely available. The company has spent a lot of time and money creating specialized search interfaces that are useful to its target market.
Anyway, a few months ago or so Google approached this person and asked if the company would want to work with Google. In essence, Google asked the company to upload its entire database into Google, which would then be mashed up, perhaps, with Google Maps and Local, and given a structured search front end and a structured database backend. When GoogleBase story broke, the person put two and two together. This is what Google wanted to do – upload the company’s data into GoogleBase, this person told me. But at the time of their discussion, Google made no mention of that product.
When Google comes calling asking for your entire database, one might reasonably wonder what the company which owns that database might get in return. In this case, and in other cases I’ve heard about, the answer was “give us your data and you’ll get lots of traffic in return.” No discussion of syndication models, or shared revenues.
How does this differ from Oodle? Well, Oodle either asks for permission (as in the case of Monster, etc.) or crawls the publicly available web (as in the case of Craigslist, until they asked Oodle to stop. As to why, Jim Buckmaster, CEO of Craigslist, comments here, and Craig Donato, CEO of Oodle, posts his thoughts here.) But Google came into this company with no business model to compel the target company to share its database other than “we’ll send you traffic,” and precious few details on how Google was going to use the data should the company make it available.
The company representative decided against working with Google given such terms (or lack thereof), and I have to say I certainly understand why. This is not a freeweb company that plays in the tit-for-tat world of web search. This is a domain specific company that has built a sophisticated vertical search engine which is difficult to replicate. Would the company be willing to work with Google if Google offered a syndication deal, or a split in revenues, I asked? “Yes, we’d at least have kept talking,” the executive said. “But they wanted full control of how they might use our data, without even telling us what the model was,” or even what the product might look like. The Google line, the exec said, was pretty much “We’re Google, we know what’s best for your data, give it to us, stand back, and watch as we make your stuff work better than you can” (my paraphase here).
This approach to business development does not feel very compelling – it’s a “free web” approach to a “paid web” model. And that mismatch creates a tone that, off the record, is similar to the one publishers described to me with regard to Google Print/Library. I think the main issue here is lack of details and transparency – Google wants your data, but doesn’t want limitations on what it might do with that data in the future. I think this stance, more than any other, is what might stymie the progress of a service like GoogleBase, at least in terms of cracking the major vertical industries which might otherwise make the project extremely valuable. As I’ve said before, I think Google could build a killer meta engine over many vertical search engines (including books) if only it was willing to cut revenue sharing deals. Why, I wonder, is the company allergic to this partnering model?