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Is Google Objective?

By - August 26, 2010

I was struck by this headline from TechCrunch: Has Google Purged Places Of Yelp? All Signs Point To Yes.

The story is rather pedestrian – yet another dispute between a content and community service with the all powerful Google. Sure, it’s Yelp, but at the end of the day, it’s another company who has run afoul of the distribution giant, and is a bit confused by how things seem to be playing out. It’s like Google isn’t playing by the rules that, well, that created Google.

I think the question, which I’ve raised before a number of times (it was a chapter in my book), must be raised again, if only to force clarity on how we think about the role Google now plays in our ecosystem. And that question is simply this:

Is Google objective?

Before I wax for too long with an answer, I’d love your thoughts.

Ok, maybe I’ll wax just a bit.

Back in the day, Google was seen, as it is now, as a black box, but at least it was a fair black box. No matter who you were, your content or service was subject to the same rules as any other content or service. Entire industries sprung up attempting to charm Google’s algorithms into favoring a particular page, or content class, or service.

The premise was simple: Google may be all powerful, but at least it doesn’t favor any one partner over any other one.

I predicted, many times over, that this could not stand. Once Google started buying content assets like YouTube, or building its own favored “owned & operated” properties like Google Finance or Places, there was no way that it would happily and objectively cede its own distribution power to its competitors (competitors who, before Google expanded into content, were partners in a happy ecosystem of search).

It has always been so, in a way. Google is a platform, and at some point, platforms always build out that which most benefits the platform, for any number of reasons. Twas so for Windows, for Facebook, for Twitter.

But Google, many of us thought, was different. The holy sacrament of search is fairness to all that which might be available on the web.

So I ask you. Is that sacrament dead?

Seems to me, it pretty much is, no?

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  • Rob

    John, great post. I remember that in your book.

    I was actually thinking about something like this today. Back in the day when Google was playing nice with other popular sites and trying to be part of what’s cool on the Internet. Now I feel it’s almost a conflict for them. Do they want to be indexing FB and Twitter posts in their search engine when they have their own coming down the pipe?

    It’s no doubt they are becoming more and more business-like (and less Google-like?) as they grow and pull in execs from other industries. I wonder if these execs and managers are bringing a different culture in to Google. Even the most corporate people I know are wanting to get in to Google. Not sure how true it is, just my observation.

  • http://www.webhostinglogic.com/web-marketing/web-marketing-home.html Seo Guru

    They may certainly be biased for their own sites but how can we prove it? They know their algorithm and definitely they will just say, hey, SEO was done for Youtube in fairness for other video sites. What can you expect from them? They had evolved from good to bad.

  • http://izdelava-spletnih-strani-1a.blogspot.com/ Simon

    I sure hope they’re objective. But i had the same dilema when choosing Blogger over WP, i imagined that Google ‘likes’ their sites a little bit better.

  • http://www.crearecommunications.co.uk Tom Nolan

    Very interesting post…I definately agree with you…Google has definately become more corportate and less ‘fair’! I believe your reasoning for it is also sound. A part of me wishes it could’ve stayed true to its roots but with such massive growth it was always going to change!

  • http://blog.famebook.com Jan Simmonds

    Trying to fit a ‘head’ to ‘long tail’ business models or content to user-generated environments… or class to graffiti is impossible. Corporate greed creates an arrogant desire to try and achieve this but as examples before and Google and Facebook now demonstrate, it just doesn’t fit properly. Trouble is, the long term online media future still needs a head because that’s where the big money is. I haven’t seen anyone show even the signs of owning that space…yet! BTW John, I don’t do ‘likes’ on Facebook so wish I could share your wisdom in the now old fashioned way of a share button… Best, Jan

  • http://www.alwaysonmessage.com/ app developer

    Yes, I too think that sacrament of fairness is dead.
    Google increasingly is saying one thing and doing the opposite – net neutrality/ Verizon being a major case in point.
    Buzz and Wave are two obvious failures of Google to understand the market/their customers.
    Collecting WiFi data is an obvious failure to comply with the law.
    Such profound mistakes show us that Google is not what it used to be; and I don’t think I’m alone in moving from trusting it to mistrusting it.

  • http://www.digitalimpacts.blogspot.com Cristiana Rodrigues

    I think in the very begining, when it was about fighting the giants and the status quo, keeping it simple and small they were. But once that was lost, it seems to me that the ‘dont be evil’ motto stopped making sense. My feeling is that they were trapped in their own model of search, so much that they could not see outside of it for a while. And I still think theyve lost a fair ground to others like Twitter (when it comes to realtime) and Facebook (when it comes to ‘portal’ of choice).

  • http://www.bukisa.com/articles/344072_how-to-write-seo-content vishy

    I think that google is objective when it comes to youtube.They know what algorithm Google search engine use and they miss use it.A real Black box

  • http://www.bradfordsbakers.com hampers

    Only google knows what they are doing. But one thing is sure, google will not do things that will harm their customers.

  • http://www.naj-vici.com Vici

    Well Google is very objective. I use Google to search forums becouse google find better than local search. The problem arise when the commercial service interference between the objective search, as everywhere.

  • http://www.syntheticzero.com/ Mitsu

    Well, if you read the article it doesn’t really sound quite that sinister… Yelp is the one who apparently objected to Google crawling its site without permission. They used to have a content deal but they don’t anymore, and they’re still negotiating it. So Google removed Yelp’s results because Yelp objected to them including Yelp reviews without permission.

  • http://johnthomson.org/blog John

    I wonder if this could be considered a shift away from the underlying philosophy that Google once espoused: that any use of the Internet was good for their business. Now it seems that they’re preferring users stick with their apps.

    I wonder just how much that really helps their bottom line.

  • http://izdelava-spletnih-strani-1a.blogspot.com Simon

    But then how can Google say that their results are the best to find on the net and most realiable, when they remove results from Yelp and such, which are very representable.

    I’m sorry but now that i’ve read The Book :) i’m a bit doubtful whether “Don’t be evil”, still stands.

  • JG

    John,

    Your “Is Google Objective” question reminds me of this thread from two years ago:

    http://battellemedia.com/archives/2008/10/oreilly_launches_found_conference#comment_134658

  • http://www.visionefx.net Rick Vidallon

    Get over it folks. Google is a business that can be counted on to do what is in the best interests of it’s share-holders.

    When it comes to Google building O&Os ( TV talk for owned and operated) they sort of remind me of a big goofy kid loose in a toy store with gobs of cash buying everything up in site. Once they get bored with their new toy, they drop it in search of another shiny new ball.

    On a side note: I really don’t think their will be any Google killer in the near immediate future either, but we are likely to see more challengers akin to those who claim to build a better burger. Yum. Lots of pickles on mine please.

  • mattmc

    Mitsu is right- Batelle has it backwards. Yelp complained their data was being used- mostly because places was seen as a competitor.
    The real story is the use of walled gardens against Google’s growing sophistication in aggregation. If Yelp opposes the data’s use in the structured results of places, what happens when Google’s regular SRP evolves to show the same data? What’s even more ironic, is that Yelp didn’t create the data- the users did.

    Techcrunch is so breathless and tabloid. My life is better for ignoring it.

  • http://battellemedia.com John

    I don’t agree. Yelp was unhappy because Google was taking its listings and showing them in Places, which is a direct competitor to Yelp. That kind of proves my point, I think.

  • http://AddingMyVoice.blogspot.com Steve

    Regardless of whether Google excluding/including Yelp is good/evil, I think it’s interesting that we’re even talking about this.

    When they were just indexing the HTML web, one of the things that made Google so “objective” was the enormous amount of content. When you have an infinite amount of content to index, you don’t have to sit there and worry about / generate interest from us observers when your algorithm now excludes some site on the 10th page of your results.

    When they develop “special” indexes for things like places and reviews, there’s simply not as much authoritative content and the content is grouped into mostly a few services. That’s the kind of stuff that makes Bing seem not as objective. It pushes towards the Yahoo-style organizing of the web into categories.

    Just my thoughts…

  • Steve

    In some ways I’m not sure we really want Google to be objective. With so many working so hard to game the algorithm, so much of search results is garbage these days, as shown at http://searchengineland.com/google-sewage-factory-the-chocomize-story-47403.

    It’s a bit like net neutrality: it’s great, but on the other hand it sure would be nice if the infrastructure could help eliminate spam.