Content Mission: Search Neutrality, The New York Times and Google
I realize this Sunday section I have here on Marketing Pilgrim is supposed to be concentrating on the business of content but I needed to say something about an editorial from this past Wednesday’s New York Times. Since editorials, no matter how ill conceived, are content I will stretch the boundaries of the definition today.
The gist of it as follows. Since Google is so big and most people use it for their Internet searches, how do we REALLY know if they are being fair? If we can’t be completely sure should there be some form of government oversight for the engine to ensure its fairness? In political speak, this editorial is about search neutrality.
Here is a slice of the editorial
When Google was a pure search engine, it was easy to appear agnostic about search results, with no reason to play favorites with one Web site or another. But as Google has branched out into online services from maps and videos to comparison shopping, it has acquired pecuniary incentives to favor its own over rivals.
….the potential impact of Google’s algorithm on the Internet economy is such that it is worth exploring ways to ensure that the editorial policy guiding Google’s tweaks is solely intended to improve the quality of the results and not to help Google’s other businesses.
So what this editorial is suggesting is to first follow the path of the European Union’s (EU) European Commission (EC) which has been hounding Google for just about everything as of late. The EC’s intent is clearly to limit Google’s ability to do business in the EU by looking to regulate everything Google does in the name of ‘fairness’. This comes from a group that is looking into Google because of the complaints of spam site producers and inferior search engines. Acting on these types of complaints is the equivalent of validating a street level drug dealer’s claim that the big pharmaceuticals are restricting his ‘trade’. Puh-leeeze.
There is even a scenario played in out in this mindless drivel from the Times that half wonders out loud if the government should require Google to make its algorithm public!
Some early suggestions for how to accomplish this include having Google explain with some specified level of detail the editorial policy that guides its tweaks. Another would be to give some government commission the power to look at those tweaks.
Google provides an incredibly valuable service, and the government must be careful not to stifle its ability to innovate. Forcing it to publish the algorithm or the method it uses to evaluate it would allow every Web site to game the rules in order to climb up the rankings — destroying its value as a search engine. Requiring each algorithm tweak to be approved by regulators could drastically slow down its improvements. Forbidding Google to favor its own services — such as when it offers a Google Map to queries about addresses — might reduce the value of its searches.
Notice the wording of ‘might reduce’ or ‘could slow down’ when describing the potential impact of regulating a company like Google. This is the language of an entity that thinks that this may be a viable alternative. Even thinking this way and simply bringing this idea into the realm of this discussion is too much. For now at least, we are a free country and our economy operates on free market principles. While far from perfect I challenge anyone to show me another system that works better.
If you have had enough of my rant and would like to hear Google’s opinion of this whole thing then read the piece written by Google’s vice president of search product and user experience, Marissa Mayer, in the Financial Times. It’s worth the look and be sure to read the comments as well because not everyone outside of the New York Times thinks this is a bad idea.
So how do you feel about the idea of the government essentially regulating Google? Is it a good thing, a bad thing or nothing? What’s your opinion of the New York Times going down this road?