There is still a palpable sense amongst many bloggers that Google’s recent slapdown of blogs PR rankings has created a lot of mistrust, misinformation, and misperception about Google’s intentions. But a number of truths are indeed self-evident:
#1 Google is a search engine AND an advertising company.
Increasingly, it is collating a lot of the world’s information through its various programs in libraries, publishing, and so on; and it intends (with or without the owners’ direct permission) to sell advertising on such work. While the search engine benefits a lot of people, and so people tolerate the spidering of their websites (despite the fact that Google does NOT pay for this information) even though it costs them money to let this happen. Indeed, Google is increasingly playing up the advertising side of its business, by siding with newspapers, radio, mobile phones, and other advertising dependent media.
It’s Google’s success AS AN ADVERTISING company that has allowed it to grow beyond its humble beginnings. It’s its current position AS AN ADVERTISING COMPANY that allows it to generate its large profits.
#2 The GOOG Monopoly: Intentions vs. Reality
That Google is a large and increasingly powerful company that aims to control a sizeable share of Internet advertising, primarily through AdWords and AdSense. While it is not yet a monopoly, it’s fast behaving in monopolistic ways.
Whatever your stance is on paid blogging, buy and selling links or similar activities, the fact remains that this kind of information and linking is going to be influenced by money. It will spawn a whole new generation of companies that will trade this information, just as in the past. It someone wants to buy, someone WILL want to sell whatever Google does.
The REAL question is whether the governments in the US and Europe should be stepping in and asking REAL questions about Google’s intentions: Is Google merely managing ITS own search engines or is it trying to SNUFF out legitimate competition? As Google would have you believe through its own ‘shills’, they are trying to make the results ‘better’ for everyone in Google.com… Doesn’t anyone see parallels on how Microsoft tried to make Media Players ‘better’ for everyone by REQUIRING them to be installed on all systems, UNTIL the EU put a stop to that! Can’t anyone say “Goodbye competition!” / “Hello, Monopoly!”
And even if Google does NOT intend to behave in monopolistic ways, its sizable market share creates the environment in which it is monopolistic, and its decisions carry sway over all the people who rely on Google: audience, content producers, advertisers, etc.. Those three groups experience these monopolistic type consequences WHATEVER words Google uses to pacify the accusations.
#3 Web 2.0 is about RELATIONSHIPS
And that’s a fact. Everywhere you go, you see people building relationships (via email, chat, SMS, Twitters, Social Media, linking, postings, community)… The reality is that Google is very much a web 1.0 company that is arriving in the Web 2.0 arena late. It is still doing Web 1.0 things well, but its Web 2.0 ability is poor. It’s just done email, and chat. And while reinventing email has been good, it’s effort in chat can only be graded D- at the moment. They don’t have a social media website yet apart from Orkut, and it’s not open to anyone… Web 2.0 is going to be all about the relationships…
However, this betrayal of the very bloggers who create the content for Google strikes at the foundations of Google’s future. Undermining the work of bloggers who create posts, blogs and content for Google’s search engines isn’t smart. And the bloggers are starting to rebel: some are cutting their Google Services completely, others are dropping them slowly, others are simply looking for alternatives to Google in any area that is important to them.
So many bloggers are now completely disabused of Google’s impartiality now that they have begun to take their own actions against Google. While each action is no greater than a sand particle in a desert, it is not the individual action that causes problems for Google but the sum of those actions operating in unexpected ways that Google needs to be aware of.
Here is a partial list of actions I’ve read about: dropping Adsense, swapping RSS readers, installing Adsense Blockers, switching Search Engines, removing Google inspired conveniences from the blog (such as robot exclusions for WordPress duplicate postings – which aren’t duplicate, it’s just dumb GoogleBot thinking they are), blocking Google Spiders entirely from the Website, removing their Picasa Albums to FlickR… There are more than a dozen other ways that have already been discussed, too.
Worse, though, it has damaged Google’s reputation as an impartial and trustworthy search engine in bizarre ways that the engineers can’t have thought of. Imagine asking users to REPORT websites that ABUSE their guidelines (Wow! Now Google is trying to be an intermediary between the audience and the content creators) – imagine asking staff to manually alter a supposedly automatic ranking of the website – imagine asking bloggers not to violate their TOS (most bloggers NEVER saw the TOS of Google, NEVER signed up for it, were NEVER given any opinion about its creation, and were NEVER asked if it was OK for Google to spider their website). Google has simply acted like a bull(y) in a china shop in its attitude… “Hey, I’m taking my ball, and I’m going home… I’m not going to play with you.”
#4 PageRank could just disappear
But the dumbest consequences are already beginning to be felt of this decision to limit PageRank, knockdown rank, and install no_follow.
It’s just simple: take a look at Engadget (I’m not giving them a real link) to see what I mean. There are so few external pagelinks in Engadget that it is possible for visitors to become trapped inside and end up going around in circles. Naturally, this strong inlinking combined with no_follow on external links and limited external linking creates opportunities for acquiring pagerank in Google’s Search Engine. It really doesn’t help visitors find their way around. Many times I’ve given up in despair trying to find the link to products that they have featured only to end up on irrelevant related pages. More often than not, I’ve had to copy and paste the phrase in a search window just to find what I want. I usually end up closing the window itself (and no, I don’t exit by clicking on the ads!).
But what if everyone or at least large segments of the blogging population start using tools that automatically no_follow EVERY external link? Doesn’t that mean that PageRank will start to reduce on such sites? Doesn’t that imply that PageRank will become much scarcer…? Doesn’t that reduction in liquidity mean that index will start to fail further as PR for most sites just becomes impossible. If that is the case, PageRank will start to exclude popular websites and increasingly will have its reliability questioned, much as I’m raising the issue here. It’s at this point that we will see a revision to PR or even alternatives that measure different aspects come to the fore.
PageRank already has implications for websites like this one: in the official Google index, there are reportedly 168 links to this blog only! Hah! In Yahoo! there are an estimated 14,000 links to this blog. I’m no fool to believe either of these as being accurate. But I do know Google’s own statistics for the last three months, traffic came from over 250 ‘active’ referrers… Mmm. Something is wrong there.
#5 Other Dumb Mistakes
Removing the commenting boxes for URLs in Blogger, adding no_follow to comments (has it stopped spam?), … can you add to this list?
Unfortunately, one diatribe by itself won’t change Google’s heart and mind, but that’s how avalaunches start… when one or two snowflakes create or exacerbate an underlying structural problem in the snow. Perhaps my post will help to change one or two things… And so I’ll end with a quotation…
“In this simplified setting of the sandpile, the power law also points to something else: the surprising conclusion that even the greatest of events have no special or exceptional causes. After all, every avalanche large or small starts out the same way, when a single grain falls and makes the pile just slightly too steep at one point. What makes one avalanche much larger than another has nothing to do with its original cause, and nothing to do with some special situation in the pile just before it starts. Rather, it has to do with the perpetually unstable organization of the critical state, which makes it always possible for the next grain to trigger an avalanche of any size.” from Ubiquity, Why Catastrophes Happen quoted in John Mauldin’s Newsletter entitled “Black Swans and Endogenous Uncertainty” published on December 7, 2007.
Disclaimer: I would like to thank all the bloggers over the past few months who helped shape my thinking on this, from AndyBeard, JohnChow, the bloggers at Payperpost, and there are too many to thank! But I’m thinking of you as I write this.