Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Google: can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em

If you ask internet travelers who or what Google is, chances are they will simply say that Google is a search engine. They use Google to find things on the internet. True. To an internet entrepreneur, however, Google is much more than that.

A lot of people who are trying to eke out a living on the internet these days, trying to make a buck doing something they love to do, have begun to think of Google as some sort of mysterious internet god, on whose good graces their internet livelihood depends. Indeed, Google itself has lately seemed to fancy itself as some sort of supreme arbiter of all things internet: Google giveth, and Google taketh away, or so they seem to think.

Here’s the truth: Google is a website. You have a website. I have a website. Google has a website. Google earns a living by selling something on the internet. So do you and I. And all of us, Google included, live or die on the internet depending on whether people do or do not visit our websites.

Google’s income is derived from selling advertising. Many of us regular people try to make money selling advertising, too. We all have our methods of attracting traffic to our websites. Google’s gimmick to attract visitors to its website is that it has discovered a way to index the internet pretty well, and thus has made itself useful to internet travelers.

Unfortunately, Google’s success in being useful has put them in a position of being able to hurt some pretty good people. Over the years, Google has slowly changed from simply publishing what is essentially a dynamic “telephone” book of names and addresses, and selling some “yellow pages”-type advertsing, to thinking they have the right to establish the criteria under which all “good” businesses should operate.

There is a huge leap between simply providing an honest list of internet denizens along with a brief description of what they have to offer, to telling internet searchers whether or not this or that business is “good” or not. Worse, Google gets to define what “good” is—or so they seem to think of late.

All this seems kind of uppity until you step back and realize you are doing the same thing. So am I. We all decide what appears or does not appear on our websites. We don’t feel an obligation to be fair about it, either; our decisions are arbitrary and final. Our goal is to produce the most effective website we can produce. I think that is Google’s goal as well: not just content but relevant content. That’s what Google wants to return to their searchers.

Then again, you and I don’t have the power to affect so many people with our websites like Google does.

I read somewhere a quote by a Canadian politician which wittily, though superficially, summed up the essence of Canada’s love-hate relationship with the USA. This quote keeps popping into my mind as I sit here and try to analyze our own relationship with Google:

“When you are compelled to sleep next to an elephant, you tend to sleep with one eye open. Every time the elephant decides to roll over, it affects your life.”

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