Thursday, 9 April 2009

Google Conspiracy Theory?

Yesterday, I was rightly picked up on a few points in my article entitled 'Google's Gonna Get You' by SEO expert and entrepreneur, Mark Lewis and he was worried as to whether I was fuelling some 'Conspiracy Theory' on Google. I am not sure that is the case, as I have stated before, I am a huge fan.

But now that he has raised the subject, it is worth exploring that the company that has done so much for releasing the power of the web has big plans for the future. Whether those plans were the brainchild of the two founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, it is not clear. What is clear is that CEO, Eric Schmidt, is taking a greater lead in the company and perhaps he has a point to prove. Schmidt was the driving force behind Novell which had so many high hopes of being the dominant network player. Schmidt is an unusual man in Silicon Valley terms, he is one of the few, if not the only, people to become a $billionaire via stock options, perhaps he considers that to be the 'nearly man' route.

In the final quarter of 2008, Google had revenues of $5.7bn and made a profit of $382m, down from the previous quarter of $1.29bn - Google is a seriously huge and profitable company. And this revenue is almost all due to its search engine technology which creates rankings.
In theory, for any string of words you enter in the search box, Google will report back impartially based on its complex algorithms which work on raw data acquired by 'crawlers' which go through the vast amount of content on the web. This is called 'naturals' and is supposedly very distinct from the paid-for results which is the box of 3 or so main choices at the top of the page and the context sensitive adverts down the aide. To get higher up the rankings and so appear more regularly in the 'naturals', SEO experts advise the use of 'keywords' embedded in the html on your web pages - these are invisible to the readers but Google's army of crawlers knows how to find them.

For mortals like me, it's a confusing subject. My website and my blog contain my name and yet if you 'Google' it, only my LinkedIn and Ecademy profiles occur, no mention of the fact I submit articles to ezine, Newsvine or author a blog. In fact, only if you use the exact titles of my blog articles will you ever get to any of them, and that is by no means in all cases. Yet I have written over 200 articles and written hundreds and thousands of words. By contrast, Nigel Dunn, a jeweller in Worcester, a wood shavings expert and a song writer appear many times before I get a mention despite the fact at some points in my life I have been on national radio and quoted in National Newspaper articles as well as industry magazines (I haven't had my full 15 minutes yet by far, believe me).

It's a perplexing subject and, having been in involved in parts of the industry, I know that some companies specialise in getting you much higher up the 'naturals' and that costs money.

What Conspiracy?

No company becomes this big, this quick by being benevolent.

It is obvious and a commercial fact that those who pay the bills get the service and that is perfectly fair. Also, no company gets this big without aspirations to get bigger and, as usual, Google has Microsoft in its sights. Would this have been the strategy at outset by Page and Brin? I doubt it - they were kids who had a superb idea, had great fun making it work and getting rich beyond their dreams as a nice side effect. When Schmidt took over, things changed somewhat.

Google Apps was to be the way of the future. Google Mail is already a very interesting and useful take on email. Hosted entirely online by Google, it arranges mail by subject strings and it means it is far easier to search for things than, say, MS Outlook. Again, the founders' influence is very much at the fore. But things get a little hairy after that. Google Apps is all about hosting your entire set of office applications in 'The Cloud' along with all the content. Across the globe, a vast network of storage and servers, owned by Google, is being commissioned to support this. Some major companies have already switched to this new suite and embraced the 'devil' of hosted applications - they have fantastic economic and, for that matter, environmental advantages, which I have blogged about before.

Then up popped, iGoogle. This neat application sat as a dashboard/portal in your browser, it arranged and delivered your chosen content regularly to your PC. The weather, sports news, interesting industry snippets - you name it, you can have it. The trouble was, when you first downloaded the tool, there was an innocent looking option to allow your progress across the web to be recorded - by Google. The outcry was similar to the furore surrounding Facebook's bodged implementation of something similar. It was, in the view of many, an invasion of privacy in order to be able to make more money. In essence, this was true, but it did not fit with the shiny, friendly face of the Google we knew.

More recently, there has been furore about Google's addition to its Maps facility. Not only do we have terrain, road and the highly detailed satellite views but we now get cameras with 360 degree views of the areas at the addresses entered. Whinging civil righters felt this was an intrusion on privacy while there was a real case where a woman who had changed address to avoid a violent partner was in view outside her new home. Google's ability to fuzz out faces and number plates had not worked properly and some people or vehicles were recognisable. Of course, all views were freely available over the entire web.

In reality, Google Street View is a fantastic addition to already amazing facilities at Google Maps. I don't think anyone would really think theives are going to get better ideas on who to rob and where but they may check a target address as before. Terrorists aren't going to get any better idea of a place than a satellite view or going in person to check out an area. But for me, as a visitor to an office in Valencia next week, I could even check out what the road looks like, the office block and the parking facilities.

How cool is that?

Google and The Future

There is always a risk that companies who grow fast have to become more aggressive and grabbing on order to grow similarly in the future. Microsoft became an all-consuming ogre off the back of a virtual monopoly in the PC market and many, like myself, would argue they have some of the least innovative products on the market but get through by sheer presence, the old IBM way - you never got fired by choosing them even if the products aren't the best. Microsoft and IBM have shown that there is a time when you are big enough, that you can become complacent and the innovative edge wanes. Companies like Microsoft need to be challenged to keep moving and Google is certainly doing that.

But Google is different. There is still a nerdy, geeky feel about what you see. Presentation isn't everything at Google and the information is the important part still. They may be exercising too much muscle over the content providers like newspapers but we could equally argue they have had a good long run at things and maybe it is time to innovate more. Google genuinely is still providing excellent products and facilities and is clearly innovating at every step. It is still free to consumers in the main, corporates are different. I like 'The Cloud' concept and I have little fear of the idea of hosted applications and data - I have worked for two companies in that field and use datacentres and hosted applications extensively today. I disagree with companies that believe there is either a risk or that the web is unreliable - data outages on private networks are so common that people don't notice anymore while the web is obvious.

To get prominence on the web costs money and requires some skill - it's clear I haven't got enough of either to get my blog or website into real prominence. I have only been at it 3 years and still those crawlers and bots haven't found me. I don't blame Google for that - I'm just glad, like so many others, that I have a little pitched area of my own where people can find me if they look hard enough.

Unlike my net-colleague, Mark Lewis, I am cynical of the 'big company getting bigger' syndrome but like Mark, I think Google is a company to embrace rather than fear. There is no conspiracy other than to make money and bring cool services to all users.

Who could deny them that?

No comments: