Posted September 22, 2011 8:55 am by with 3 comments

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The Google goes to Washington show has kicked up plenty of dirt, exposed the shortcomings of a huge organization and shown just how power and control can corrupt. And that’s just on the government’s side!

I have watched and listened to some of the activity from yesterday that allowed public officials to get some air time. I watched NexTag take full advantage of this free advertising to remind everyone that they still exist. I also watched Yelp’s Jeremy Stoppleman complain about the unfair treatment his poor company has received from the entity that props up Yelp through the search engine traffic it provides his neglected and abused company.

All in all, it was a pretty pathetic show. There is so much to look at not the least of which is the allegation that Google is giving favor to some of its shopping results. If that’s true even a small percentage of the time that is just a ridiculously stupid move by the search giant. Considering some of the company’s past statements (especially many by Google’s favorite lady engineer Marissa Mayer) Google isn’t beyond showing a little favoritism to their own offerings.

Google’s problem is that even if their offerings were optimized to rank better like the rest of the competition you know that the next argument would be “Well, they know how they rank sites so of course they rank higher!”. On this point, Google can’t win. They should just mark their own stuff as a promotion. In the end, if they can give a shopper the best price the consumer won’t care if it’s Google, Schmoogle, Yahoo, Bing, Bong or one of Santa’s elves that gives them the chance to save money.

But let’s not forget just what these largely for show hearings really do. They allow guys like Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.) and Mike Lee (R- Utah) to let people outside of their families know that they exist and have some power. They allow guys like Al Franken (D-Minn) to berate people (“Mr. Schmidt. I like Google but …….). And last, but certainly not least they allow people like good ol’ Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to take the stage to pitch Mr. Schmidt and Google for some jobs in New York. It was like watching Ringling Bros, Barnum and Bailey Circus but the clowns were wearing suits.

Well, I have a solution for all of this. Everyone needs to start using Bing, Yahoo, Blekko (by the way check out their CEO’s post from before the hearings, at least someone is talking some sense) and any other search engine that exists out there more often.

Why? Because it will look like there is interest by the real concern in this matter, the consumer. It would show they care that there are other ways to get information (which they really don’t, only the geek patrol in the Valley has issues with any of this). Just show up and do a search or two to even compare results with Google and make it look like the others are viable alternatives. The go about your business and use what you like the best. I bet its Google. Funny how that works, huh?

I mean c’mon. It’s obvious that Google has come by this great success in the marketplace through manipulative means like cornering their users into having no other real options. Wait, they haven’t done that. There are options that have no barrier to access except that pesky free choice thingy that consumers are supposed to have anyway.

Oh, how about this one. They have built their brand by flooding the marketplace with advertising and making sure that no competitor can get a word in edgewise! Wait, they hardly advertise at all. In fact, for the years that they built their lead over inferior competition their advertising was the fact that their brand name turned into a verb, a part of the English lexicon, because people used them more because they were the best option. They didn’t need to sell people on an empty brand campaign, they just built a better mousetrap (by defeating a slew of early search competitors like Yahoo, Alta Vista, Lycos, LookSmart etc).

So wait, there has to be something. Well, actually there isn’t. Or at least not much. You see people use Google and that’s just a fact of life. Is the company perfect? Not even close. In fact, Google has more warts than, well, something that usually has a lot of warts. They make mistakes. They have lousy customer support unless you are an Adwords customer of some weight. Their ex-CEO turned chairspokesperson has said enough bizarre things to make even the most seasoned huckster shiver a little. The list goes on.

In the end though, I would hate to think just how bad our current economic woes would be if Google didn’t do what it has done for the past decade. Forget the 25,000 or so people who work there. That’s a drop in the bucket. What about the literally millions of people who have full-time or part –time income tied to the online world where search is a central player in their ability to make a living. What about the free services they offer the small guy so he or she can compete without having to be buried by overpriced productivity tools?

I use a lot of these tools and I use them gladly. Sure I complain if they are slow or whatever, but they help me support my family. In the end, any of my complaining is just grousing and me having Google as an easy target. The complaints have no real merit because the upside I get from using Google’s services FAR outweighs the downside.

So here’s a question for you. Is it fair then that I can’t afford to invest in Google? Is it my right to get something from Google just because they exist? After all, I use their services. I support them in many ways. Am I being shut out of the real deal here and should I have a right to exact even an ounce of flesh from the company just because I exist? Nope. Not even close.

Nobody owes anybody anything in any of this. Companies like NexTag, Yelp and even Microsoft, however, are parading out under the banner of “Representing the Commoners” when all they really look like in the end is the guy who thinks that he should have had Google’s ideas and success rather than the version he has. And they feel that, as a result, the search engine owes them something. That’s just whiney and lame especially coming from companies that have benefited greatly from Google’s search engine to this point.

I have said before that I am not a Google apologist. I am, however, a fan of free markets and looking for the positives in that system rather than focusing on someone’s version of a negative. It’s hard to argue Google’s impact on the society as a whole and that’s where we need to focus, not on the complaints of a few who feel wronged. Hey, life’s not fair and trying to legislate fairness simply encourages mediocrity. Let’s not go down that road, please.

Are there risks with the amount of power Google has and will continue to have? Absolutely. If the government should be doing anything regarding Google it should be making sure that the data it collects is secure and used appropriately.

As for making the search engine create exceptions to their model because someone in the sandbox doesn’t like the toy they have? Nah, that’s not the government’s job. That’s the consumer’s job.

Ok, show’s over for now. What’s your take?

  • Lukas

    Just to clarify a point for any readers, which Lee seemed incapable of understanding, during the hearing, is that “Product Search” is not a search result. Google offers multiple venues for search: Images, Products, Books, etc. When you search for something, Google tries to figure out if you might be better served by a product search, or an image search, and then offers the results of those searches within the stream of results, as a convenience.

    For example, if you go to Google and search for “Hair Drier”, it’s going to assume you’re probably interested in buying one, at which point, it suggests you perform the search through Product Search.

    Likewise, if you search for “Salvador Dali”, you’re presented with the option of an image search. It’s functionally identical to the Product Search option, but, strangely enough, Lee didn’t seem to have any issues with that.

  • Keenan Steel

    I’m not sure either party really understands the concept of monopolies, free markets, or competition. It’s just pathetic.

    I swear to you, if they block Google from showing product results, I am going to sue Bing and Yahoo for the same thing myself for one of my products they rank their shopping results higher for.

  • Rob

    Great post – you bring up some really good points – even though in the end i think the government will do whatever they want you still make lots of valid points – there are many other competitors out there people COULD use. In fact as we all know when you buy a new computer your browser is usually set to Bing or MSN yet people still chose to use Google. That says something.

    Not that Google is any better, but the PERCEPTION is that it is, and thats most important to them. Once that PERCEPTION changes then it’s anyones game.