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Google's gone evil.

December 29, 2006

Some of you might remember how worried Google has been about the possibility of Vista and IE7 recommending Microsoft’s Live.com search engine over Google when they shipped.

I certainly know I remember meetings at Google where this very fear was front-and-center and how Googlers at those meetings were very passionate about the issue. They all agreed – it was horribly wrong of Microsoft to recommend an inferior search engine simply because they had upgraded their desktop software.

Have you tried searching for ‘blog‘, ‘calendar‘, or my personal favorite, ‘photo sharing‘ at Google today?

That’s right. Since Google’s own products aren’t good enough to make the top of the rankings themselves, they’re starting to promote them directly, outside of AdWords, with bright logos and top placement (which no-one else can use).

Don’t get me wrong – it’s Google’s search engine, so they can do whatever they like. But let’s not forget that Google’s Code of Conduct specifically talks about trust. That’s one of the big reasons you and I use Google instead of, say, Yahoo – because we trust that the best results will more likely surface to the top at Google, unhindered by self-promotion of inferior in-house products.

I don’t think there’s much mystery that WordPress, TypePad, and LiveJournal are better blogging platforms than Blogger. It’s a shame Google’s resorting to self promotion and damaging their credibility rather than improving their products.

Trust is easily lost, Google. Tread lightly.

Blake Ross, he of Firefox fame, has a great writeup on the same subject. I’m sure there will be others, so keep an eye on Techmeme and Tailrank.

Categories: business, web 2.0
  1. December 29, 2006 at 12:49 pm

    I think that you and Blake are taking Google’s stated code of conduct out of context for the purpose of discussing a subtle (but perhaps unwanted) change in Google’s page layout.

    If you do a search for “spelling” on Google, you’ll see that Google has taken the opportunity to promote the Google Toolbar in the top sponsored spot. They have been practicing this activity for a while now, FWIW.

    That they have (for some search terms) moved their products out of the sponsored spot, and put it into a “tip” section doesn’t really bother me any more or less than placing competing ads in the sponsored section. Keep in mind that Google probably isn’t paying for that top advertising placement either, which *does* bother me as a paying customer that happens to also be competing with them on some level. IMHO, this tip section is just an extension of the sponsored area.

    Now if Google made the decision to muck around with actual search results that then favored them in some way, you’d get me writing about it on my blog too. As it is though, they (apparently) are sticking to their standards and returning the relevant results based on their current algorithms.

    I’ll also point out that for “blog”, Blogger ranks #2. right after Wikipedia, and for “calender”, Google Calender ranks #3, right after some site I’ve never seen. Those search terms are consistent with ones being returned by both Yahoo and Live.

    As for photo sharing, I agree that Picassa isn’t really the best solution for online photo sharing. Perhaps we should talk them into selling tip placement spots to SmugMug and Zoto! πŸ˜‰

  2. KB
    December 29, 2006 at 1:05 pm

    Clearly you are both approaching this ‘photo hosting’ thing from the wrong direction. The key to success in this market is to build a wildy popular search engine first, and then promote your products at the top of the page.

    It’s *so* obvious.πŸ˜‰

  3. December 29, 2006 at 1:10 pm

    *smacks head*

    Now why didn’t I think of that before?!

  4. December 29, 2006 at 1:24 pm

    BTW, a small but potentially interesting comment thread is growing over at digg, too, so check it out if you’re interested in the story:


    I’ll cross-post my comment from there:

    I don’t have a problem with self-promotion – Yahoo and Microsoft seem to do it fairly often.

    What I have a problem with is a double-standard (or what I perceive as a double-standard, anyway). Googlers are angry at the exact same measures being taken at Microsoft, and point me to their Code of Conduct while assuring me that they’d never do something like that themselves, because they’re different.

    And then they do it anyway.

    I realize the few individual Googlers I’ve talked with don’t set corporate policy, and I’m fairly sure they wouldn’t be thrilled with this, but at least from my point of view, it seems like a slippery slope, especially when Google talks so much about trust.

    BTW, I actually think Picasa is a great product, and PicasaWeb is interesting and I expect it will get very good as they improve it. I’ve written about it on my blog before: http://blogs.smugmug.com/onethumb/2006/06/14/welcome-google/

    But both the “blog” and “photo sharing” search terms could easily recommend better products (Flickr? WordPress?) in their respective fields in the “tips” rather than their own, and retain some semblence of trust. Google Calendar may very well be the best calendaring system online, I don’t really know, but I certainly know that there are a handful of better (using varoius definitions of better – pick your favorite definition) options for the other two.

    Of course, picking other options then leads to kicking and screaming from those who weren’t chosen (For the record, I wouldn’t kick & scream if Flickr or Yahoo Photos or Zoto were chosen. Editors have to make choices, afterall). But it would be nice if the “tips” were open to other products than Google’s, if they want to maintain their trust relationship.

  5. December 29, 2006 at 2:25 pm

    Personally? I don’t have a problem with it. It’s their site, and their products. Regarding trust-worthiness, my only comment is that the “tip” should clearly indicated that the products and services it is pointing to are GOOGLE products.

    The “photo sharing” example does this, it says “try Google’s Picasa WebAlbums.” However, the “blog” example does not. It just says to try Blogger – with nothing to tell you that Google owners blogger and that’s why it’s recomennding it to you. Some users might think Blogger is just the most popular service and that’s why it’s up there.

    Even then I don’t think what they’re doing is wrong – but without proper disclosure of why this “tip” is showing up, I do think it impacts my impression of their trustworthiness.

    Now regarding the double standard – I completely agree. Perhaps I’m biased because I work at Microsoft, but I think it’s absurd to think that clean installations of Windows would point at anything other than Microsoft’s own search engine. I think it’s reasonable that Microsoft make sure that *upgrades* maintain the user’s previous choice, though honestly I couldn’t see Microsoft doing anything different. It’s pretty obviously the right thing to do for the user.

    However, on a clean installation or for a user who has never used IE, or any cases like that where a useable preference by the user hasn’t been made – it’s ridiculous to me to think that anyone would suggest Microsoft do anything but make their search engine the default experience. It’s clear that Microsoft has gone to great lengths to make it easy for user’s to change the search provider in IE, and also given web sites like Google the opportunity to “upsell” the ability to have their engine be the default. I think it’s great for the user and fits with Microsoft’s long-successful model of building pluggable architectures. Expecting Microsoft to go farther than that (without some kind of financial or at least strategic compensation) seems absurd to me – and I’m betting most shareholders agree.

  6. December 29, 2006 at 2:36 pm

    A tip is not a search result, I know that when I see it, it’s formatted completely differently. These tips look even less like real search results than do sponsored links.

    Evil? Hyperbole is what’s really evil. πŸ˜‰

  7. December 29, 2006 at 3:07 pm

    I really don’t see how this is any different than manufacturers putting coupons on product packaging for their other products. Evil only if you are trying to pass it off as something as it’s not, like a search result. In this case it looks nothing like the rest of the search results. I see no evil here.

    In Blake Ross’ case, when you download Firefox, there’s a little blurb on the page encouraging you to buy stuff from the Mozilla store. Mozilla would be guilty in kind. But again, I don’t see the evil here.

    I’ve always interpreted Google’s “not being evil” mantra being more about protecting your privacy, not being ridiculous with their intellectual property, and trying to solve the world’s information problems.

  8. John Barron
    December 29, 2006 at 6:26 pm

    It cracks me up that people believe mission statements and corporate value declarations. The number one goal of any business is to maximize share holder profit period. Any BS statement like “don’t be evil” is only declared to build good will, -it does not influence how they act. That is why all the dumbass computer geeks who keep supporting google, like it is some kind of leader of the people, are complete morrons. I think any loyalty to a for profit corporation is completely nuts. Microsoft, google, -they are all the same and yes, no duh, they are goint to do whatever makes their shareholders the most money, not what makes customers happy. Customer satisfaction is only one of many tactics to maximising shareholder profit.

  9. December 29, 2006 at 6:32 pm

    @John Barron:

    In general, I agree. And I’m willing to concede that this may very well be the case (though the attitude of your typical Googler doesn’t indicate this is a motivation).

    But I can tell you from first-hand experience that here, at SmugMug, customer satisfaction is a much much higher priority than maximizing shareholder profits.

    The really great side benefit is that by maximizing customer satisfaction we’re actually maximizing shareholder profits. The two can and do go hand-in-hand sometimes. Probably they should far more often than they do.

    Imagine a world where one of the cell phone companies suddenly started treating their customers like people, with courtesy and respect. Since number portability is here today, there’s very little lock-in. This mythical cell company that cares about customer satisfcation would likely have a stampede of business, and as a result, a mountain of shareholder profits.

    It could be done. And I think we’ve all been hoping (and I still hope) that Google is that sort of company.

  10. December 30, 2006 at 7:33 pm

    The funniest of your examples is searching Google for “blog.” The top 4 results are:

    1. Wikipedia – blog
    2. Google Blog Search
    3. Blogger
    4. Official Google Blog

  11. May 2, 2007 at 4:41 pm

    Hallo, but colleague, you are sure?
    Good luck!

  12. November 15, 2009 at 10:19 am

    Interesting comments..πŸ˜€

  1. December 30, 2006 at 7:22 am
  2. January 1, 2007 at 3:10 pm
  3. January 10, 2007 at 3:04 am
  4. April 29, 2007 at 12:05 am
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