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Search Neutrality?




As expected it looks like this week may be a bit light in the news department. That’s fine. Everyone needs a break from time to time. So as I am looking around this morning I come across an op-ed piece in the New York Times that is written by Adam Raff, a co-founder of Foundem, an Internet technology company.

From what I can gather, Mr. Raff is upset that his site was banned from Google’s index. There is no explanation as to why this happened so I am not going to assume anything although an article from eConsultancy looks at his plight and we get some insight as to why Google is so ‘mean’ to him. As a result, Mr. Raff contends that Google simply is too powerful and that the government should be considering a ‘search neutrality’ platform that falls in line with the ‘net neutrality’ platform. Here is a bit of his concern:

Today, search engines like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft’s new Bing have become the Internet’s gatekeepers, and the crucial role they play in directing users to Web sites means they are now as essential a component of its infrastructure as the physical network itself. The F.C.C. needs to look beyond network neutrality and include “search neutrality”: the principle that search engines should have no editorial policies other than that their results be comprehensive, impartial and based solely on relevance.

I had to shake my head that this was actually put in print but I kept reading. I bumped into more ‘complaints’.

Another way that Google exploits its control is through preferential placement. With the introduction in 2007 of what it calls “universal search,” Google began promoting its own services at or near the top of its search results, bypassing the algorithms it uses to rank the services of others. Google now favors its own price-comparison results for product queries, its own map results for geographic queries, its own news results for topical queries, and its own YouTube results for video queries. And Google’s stated plans for universal search make it clear that this is only the beginning.

I guess my question is “What is a company supposed to do in that situation”? Why should anyone in the free market be obligated to being relegated to a ‘public service’ status just because they do something better than most?

I admit that it seems a bit creepy at times to see just how far reaching Google is with regard to services. I also believe that as they get bigger there are likely to be many vulnerabilities that will be discovered and exploited as the free market has seen in the past with seemingly invincible powers like IBM and Microsoft. It just happens.

There’s a lot more to this op-whine piece that I am surprised the Times even allowed to see the light of day.

Without search neutrality rules to constrain Google’s competitive advantage, we may be heading toward a bleakly uniform world of Google Everything — Google Travel, Google Finance, Google Insurance, Google Real Estate, Google Telecoms and, of course, Google Books.

Some will argue that Google is itself so innovative that we needn’t worry. But the company isn’t as innovative as it is regularly given credit for. Google Maps, Google Earth, Google Groups, Google Docs, Google Analytics, Android and many other Google products are all based on technology that Google has acquired rather than invented.

Ask Cisco if they ‘invented’ everything they own. The folks who make Flip cameras are thrilled that Cisco likes to buy good ideas. Interestingly enough, Mr. Raff actually shows that Google PROVIDES market opportunity for the little guy. There are small companies out there that make good things that Google could buy thus making the companies that were innovative enough to be recognized successful beyond what was likely to happen on their own. Maybe Mr. Raff needs to think about making something worthy of being purchased by Google rather than worming his way into the media to complain about his issues.

I do have a solution for Mr. Raff. If there is this need for an impartial search engine (which is a ridiculous concept because in order for anything to be ‘ranked’ in numerical order there needs to be some guidelines thus implied ‘partiality’) that is based solely on merit (Whose definition of merit? Someone has to be judge and jury here, right?) and relevance (as defined by whom?) why not let the government build its own search engine? Why put this constraint on the private sector? Our current situation here in the US is that the government wants to be knee deep in everything so why not let them create the engine ‘for the people and by the people’ then let the people decide?

Are there any Googlers out there who would like to address this kind of thinking? As for Marketing Pilgrim readers how do you really feel about Google’s place in the market? Is there any validity to this argument? Is Google’s dominance something to be concerned about or just accepted? Is there a real threat of this becoming a Google world? What if that did happen? Is there any validity to the concept of ‘search neutrality’? Weigh in please.

I have a better idea. Would someone please make some news so we can move on to other things?

  • http://savercheaper.net BB

    I don’t like Google. It’s so many junk site on results pages. I like Yahoo Search Engine is my best
    .-= BB´s last blog ..Mother-to-Be Maternity Support Belt =-.

  • http://www.tkyoung.com Tom Young

    Just the fact that this story originated on the New York Times should be explanation enough for the poor me attitude expressed by the Adam Raff.

  • http://blog.webdistortion.com Paul Anthony

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head when it comes to “who judges” relevance. The guy in question is simply lashing out after having been slapped from the index.

    If he spent more time figuring out what was wrong, and filing a reinclusion request – his time may be better spent than shouting “Bad Google. Bad Google” from the rooftops.

    Search neutrality doesn’t exist in my opinion – as long as theirs 1’s and 0’s involved, their will be someone out there that doesn’t play by the rules and creates an unfair advantage for themselves.

    Google aren’t going away anytime soon – and for publishers that means knuckling down, playing by the rules – and building great sites.
    .-= Paul Anthony´s last blog ..A decade in web design =-.

  • http://www.ariespenguin.com Mikeok

    Hi Frank

    I have to agree with a lot of Mr. Raff’s point of view. They are to large and can manipulate search results at will. And yes, I understand that it’s their product, they should be able to direct traffic to there sites. That’s why I would agree to some sort of “search neutrality”. Not government controlled though, they are surely to f*** that up too.

    His point is also valid about purchasing their tech products. Those of us in the search engine game are to close to the situation. We all know that they have aquired some of there most important and visable products. The general public has another view. They think Google has built it all. Nobody remembers keyhole, only Google Maps.

    Google does a good job. Especially when you think how much power they really have. They really need to be careful not to step to far.
    .-= Mikeok´s last blog ..Hey Mister, can I rent your Zombie Network? =-.

    • http://www.frankthinking.com Frank Reed

      @mikeok – If you think search neutrality is a good idea, how would it be implemented? Who would make the decisions? Wouldn’t it really turn out to simply be a ‘keep Google down” play? Also, how in the world can there be objective restrictions on a subjective activity like search? I just don’t see the inequity like others do I suppose and I likely won’t.

      Thanks for coming by and leting us hear your voice. Please keep talking up!
      .-= Frank Reed´s last blog ..Merry Christmas =-.

      • http://steveplunkett.com steveplunkett

        ME..
        I am the one that gets to decide what google shows in the results.. i’m an seo, that’s what i do…

        but.. since we need someone to be impartial about listings…

        i will list mr. Raff’s website ONLY in the UK… and since most people don’t go to search engines and type in “search engines” he won’t be getting too much traffic.

        eveyrone ok with that?

        isn’t this what the idiot who wrote the NY piece wants?

        Mr. Raff,
        i decided your site sucks.. and instead of letting you follow the rules we already setup… i made a decision, based on what u asked for… your website is a waste of bandwidth, NO GOOGLE traffic for you! (think soup nazi).. live with it.

        any other search decisions i need to make? i promise to be impartial and THINK OF SEARCHERS FIRST.. which is how i do SEO anyways.

  • David Mihalek

    Google is great at what it does; it provides relevant results to search queries performed by its users if it didn’t then it would not hold a 65%+ market share. To protect Google’s profits and its investors it must ensure the accuracy of its search results and the day those results become spam filled is the day people will stop using Google. I think Mr. Adam Raff is upset only because he tried to pull a fast one on Google and got caught. Maybe he needs to submit his website for reconsideration: http://tinyurl.com/5voqv5. :)

    Regarding Raff’s comments on ‘search neutrality’ Raff to me is living in a dream world one free of spam, website pollution and those who pray on non-savvy internet users.

    I often worry about what exactly Google is doing or will do with the amount of data it is collecting via Google Analytics and its search query data, otherwise, I feel like Google, Bing and any other search engine that is operating has one serious goal and that is to provide the most relevant data and prevent spam and as of today Google is achieving that goal the best.

  • http://www.brasilseo.com.br/ Anderson

    I think both ideas are correct. There seems to be some manipulation from google. Has anyone seen any video result except from youtube? Or any map excpet from google maps?
    What if I run a good video website that has good content, user reviews, etc. How can I compete with youtube?

    On the other hand Mr. Raff seems to be too much upset about this own website. Google is not a non-profit company that shows everything on the web, it is a company that has its own rules to be listed. If you don’t follow them, you are out. If you don’t like Google rules (and you don’t have to) go find other ways of making money.
    .-= Anderson´s last blog ..Nanuni Kokoritu – Desafio SEO 2009 =-.

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  • http://sethf.com/ Seth Finkelstein

    “… in the past with seemingly invincible powers like IBM and Microsoft. It just happens.”

    Umm, no. There was this thing called “anti-trust” that happened also.

  • Dave

    Absolutely the NYT op-ed piece is valid. Google is a monopoly that abuses its power. Its policies are very anti-advertiser-friendly and designed to use its monopoly status to extract every last penny. As a major advertiser (over $1M in PPC per month), it has major financial implications for our business. You can’t make the argument that it is just good, old-fashioned, honest capitalism and that they should be lauded because they have a great business plan. Their business plan is based on being a monopoly. The comment in the op-ed about Google receving too much credit for being innovative is right on the money. Every product/service they have launched other than PPC has failed to produce revenue for them. Look up the stats- 95% of their revenue still comes from PPC. This is a major problem that needs to be resolved somehow. Regulators definitely need to step in an do something.

    That said, I agree with your comments that the concept of “Search Neutrality” as described in the NYT piece is unrealistic and has major challenges and questions to be answered. But I’m glad NYT at least started the conversation. This is an important conversation that needs to happen. And frankly, this same conversation has been going on for years amongst advertisers behind closed doors or over cocktails at search conferences. I don’t know what the solution is, but I’m glad the subject is now out in the open.

  • http://www.ariespenguin.com Mikeok

    Hi Frank

    I don’t know how to implement search neutrality and agree that it is a huge task. Probably impossible. What I would suggest is a dedicated algo only option for Google. That way, it is as close to search neutrality as you can get. Google could still gain advantage on the organic side since they know how they rank pages. A pretty big advantage but not SERP tampering. They can also use Adwords free of charge or other placement for their own products.

    Keep organic search organic.
    .-= Mikeok´s last blog ..Hey Mister, can I rent your Zombie Network? =-.

  • road

    Personally, I’m grateful for nearly everything Google does. That said, they hold a scary amount of market-share. However, we DO have anti-trust laws on the books and the way to address this sort of situation would be to break-up the company or sue them for anti-competitive behavior, NOT legislate how they provide search results. Note: I’m not in favor of this course of action, I just think that there should only be certain avenues available to the government for regulating the behavior of companies.

    BTW – I don’t know why everyone calls this a monopoly. There is plenty of competition. If Google stopped being superior for 3 weeks their market share would vanish.

  • http://andybeard.eu Andy Beard

    Well he didn’t gain a link to Foundem or his Search Neutrality piece from the NYT article – The Google Delusion redirects to Search Neutrality.

    Based upon limited browsing

    1. He was being screwed by Adwords quality score penalties and had to be manually whitelisted

    2. Search – whilst in 3 years of penalties I would have probably taken the hint and invested some time in creating content Google wants to see for search, rather than concentrating on what users want… the cheapest prices every time, I still believe in some ways the penalties are not being evenly applied as the sites ranking above Foundem are in many cases worse.

    Certainly 15 years ago the WHich? magazine would be a credible source for a review, thus if they can get 3rd place in a flight comparrison search that is fairly useful for a visitor.
    http://www.searchneutrality.org/foundem-google-story

    The “penalty” for search exists, it is fixable and should if applied fairly have taken out many listings above them first. Some of their competitors should probably have had their Adsense banned by now as well due to image placement.
    .-= Andy Beard´s last blog ..MyBlogLog R.I.P Long Live Blogcatalog =-.

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  • http://indiatechnews.com/ Rash

    I think the same happened to me, I was blocked and banned from using the Q&A section of Yahoo, just because I had answered a question which was slightly irrelevant in Yahoo, I asked them for a chance, but they wouldn’t budge. Just goes to show how they could rule over you.
    .-= Rash´s last blog ..2011 Ford Mustang GT – Recharged finally =-.

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  • http://www.wordstream.com/keywords/ Susannah

    Frank,

    Great article; it’s nice to see someone in the industry giving Google credit for their (well-deserved) success. I think a lot of what has made Google so dominant is that they listen to the marketplace and make improvements on the products of others. Innovation on someone else’s ideas is an important part of business, and one that we as consumers benefit from. Why do so many companies become “bad” simply because they’re doing well?

    I suggest those who disagree with Frank give “Atlas Shrugged” a read and think hard about the negative effects of over-regulation. Frank writes, “Why should anyone in the free market be obligated to being relegated to a ‘public service’ status just because they do something better than most?” Ayn Rand would agree.

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  • Nic W

    I like Google, they offer a lot of great technologies that I use on a regular basis. As for Google acquiring technology, who cares. Microsoft bought an operating system for 50,000 dollars in its early days which contributed to them becoming major players in the up and coming computer industry. If Google is able to search out and buy up quality technologies then kudos to them for keeping an eye on the various industries that they have branched into. In turn these companies who perhaps would not have the financial means, recognition or power to get these technologies adopted into the mainstream are able to be compensated but the like of companies like Google.

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