Phil Sim

Web, media, PR and… footy

Google turns evil… for real this time

It’s official. Google had has finally turned evil.

The dot com do-gooder has finally given into the fact that it’s a corporate monolith and as a corporate monolith there are certain things you need to do. Like make defensive plays, even when it compromises pretty much everything that you’ve stood for.
Today, Google invested a $1 billion in AOL in order to stop Microsoft getting a leg-up in the search advertising market and in doing so, it cut a deal that even Microsoft has decribed as unethical.
Sure, the stock market loved it. The stock market loves big, bad corporate monoliths but in the past Google hasn’t really given two tosses about what the stock market thinks. It’s done its thing and it just so happens that its thing has mostly been on the money.
Like not plastering big, fugly advertising over its home pages. Like not bending its search results to favour advertisers. For the most part, it has actually lived up to the Larry and Sergey’s “do no evil” philosophy.
John Batelle couldn’t have better summed up the change that this move represents when he said in a NYT article: “Until now, Google has said, ‘We don’t think about our competitors. We spend all our time building better products for our users.’

The NYT report said that: “Google has agreed to give AOL ads special placement on its site, something it has not done before. Until now, Google prided itself on its auction system for ads, which treated small businesses on an equal footing with its largest customers”. Evil.

But what Google has really given up in this deal is its independence. With a billion dollar investment in AOL you’d now have to say the company is officially in the content game. The content game that is the lifeblood of its content partners, who run Google’s AdSense advertising and are largely the reason that Google has become the behemoth it is today.

The big, bad corporate world talks about co-opetition – that is when businesses claim to be able to both compete and co-operate. It’s a phrase corporate monoliths like to latch onto, because it gives them license to ride rough-shod over any one they choose. “This is the new business paradigm,” they say, “I can compete with whoever the frick I like”. More often than not the smaller guy getting smacked up in the process has to grin and bear it because they generally don’t have a choice. But this is online. Things happen quickly. Choices pop up all over the place all the time. How long will publishers/content providers keep sleeping with the enemy? How long will users tolerate an aggregation/search facility that blatantly favours one content source?

Filed under: Google, Search

Social Search

This Guardian article about Yahoo’s social search strategy ties in somewhat with what I was just saying in my previous post. Again, it gets back to hybrid human/authomated models…

Filed under: Search

Blogosphere: The biggest, best beige box of all

One of the reasons I started Squash was so I could better understand the blogosphere. You see, I’m a media tragic. I spend every day of my working life analysing, critiquing, exploring media and how it works. So I thought it was kind of hypocritical for me to be opining on blogs and how they’re going to impact other media when I’d never run one.

I’m certainly glad, I decided to kick off Squash, because I think I’ve already got an infinitely superior understanding to what I had previously.

 For example, had I written a blog at the start of this week on monetising blogs, I would have talked about building a community and gone on to espouse how blogs need to look for new ways to monetise those communities. I still think a lot of blogs, particularly your very niche ones, are going to have to evolve into mini-portals whereby bloggers plug into all manner of widgets and services like social networking tools, specialist search capabilities, e-commerce services and so on into their websites so that they more effectively interact with their communities thereby opening up more opportunities to monetise. That’s what’s happening in traditional media. I haven’t talked to a single media company in the last three years and not had them tell me that they’re wanting to diversify their revenue streams and will examine every possible way of milking every last revenue-generating opportunity out of the community they have built via their core product. I’ll still write a blog on this next week, but I’ll be coming from an entirely different point of view.

What I’ve really come to understand during my four-day blogging career, is a lot of blogs, particularly those that operate in broader, mass-appeal areas like tech, is that their core asset is not a community. The community is “owned” by the collective blogosphere, not any one particular blog. So what is the blog’s core asset then? I think it’s the knowledge, reputation and credibility of the blog’s operator.

Therefore, what needs to be monetised then, is not the blog, but the blogger.
There are obvious routes here. Speaking engagements, external writing gigs, etc. Boring. Let’s think outside the square, for a second.

I personally think we’ve gone too far in expecting computers to do all our aggregating, filtering, selection of content. As an old editor, I’ll back my ability to outperform any computer in this regard and I don’t care how friggin good you reckon your algorithm is. Given the right set of tools that make it easy to select and position content, I’d be pretty confident I could out-Google News, Google News and out-memeorandum, memeorandum. 

I believe they way to get the best possible results is with man and machine working together. 

Let me give you an example. I run a sort-of-blog/news site for the football team I follow down here in Australia, the Parramatta Eels. As part of that I aggregate and summarise every news item I manage to find on the team. Google News Alerts are a god-send in helping me to track that content. I tag all that content by player, match and so forth, so if you came to my site and look up a certain player you’ll get an infinitely superior set of results than if you typed that player’s name into any search engine. 

Even more so, if you wanted to know the best 10 sites to visit to keep up to date with the Parramatta Eels, I could deliver you a much better set of results than you’d get with Google/Yahoo/MSN/etc. 

Now wouldn’t it be a good idea for a search engine to make use of this kind of knowledge that’s out there in the blogosphere to influence it’s search results. If I could do a search on Parramatta and as a trusted influencer, drag and drop results around from a search page, bin irrelevant links and add obvious missing pages, and the search engine learned from that and it subsequently influence all related searches, now wouldn’t that be a bloody powerful search tool. The search engine would of course, pay the blogger-cum-trusted influencer a commission on all related search results, giving said blogger another revenue stream on top of their AdSense/advertising revenue. All we’ve done here is just found another way to leverage off the same expertise that we’ve already ascertained is the blogger’s core asset.

It’s not that hard to imagine ways you could apply similar principles to social networking, e-commerce, etc. In actual fact, I’d argue that memeorandum employs this exact process in its aggregation activities, as it uses the reputation of its “white list” of bloggers to influence who it’s monitoring and how highly stories rate.

It appears to be all the rage to try and build the smartest possible big, beige box that you just stick in the corner and magically it generates money. But I’d posit the blogosphere, if it can be effectively tapped into, is almost certainly the smartest, big beige box of all.

Filed under: Blogs, Search

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