Google: Good or Evil?

There has been much discussion of late about Google’s antics in providing ‘tips’ at the top of searches. For example, try running a search on the word ‘blogging‘. What’s that, just under the sponsored links? A tip telling us to give Blogger a go! Not WordPress.com, or LiveJournal, or TypePad, but Blogger, Google’s own blogging platform. Hmmm.

There have been loads of posts about this issue, but more attention was gathered when Blake Ross, FireFox founder and all-round good guy, blogged about it:

Google is now displaying “tips” that point searchers to Google Calendar, Blogger and Picasa for any search phrase that includes “calendar” (e.g. Yahoo calendar), “blog” and “photo sharing,” respectively. This is clearly bad for competitors, and it’s also a bad sign for Google. But I generally support anything that benefits users, even if it’s controversial. I believe, for instance, that shipping Internet Explorer with Windows was a good move. So why are tips bad for users?

I care that Google is doing it because the company’s integrity over the years has impressed me and earned my loyalty.

Dave Winer, who was at the very least heavily involved in the development and propogation of RSS and related technologies, makes a further point:

I stopped believing in Google fairplay when they added a Blog-This feature to their toolbar, and didn’t use open APIs so users could post with any blogging tool, not just Google’s. To be clear, I wouldn’t have objected if they had set the default to work with their tool, as long as users could change a preference to use it with other tools.

Absolutely right – the ‘Blog-This’ function on the Google Toolbar was enough to make me remove it in annoyance. Why add a feature if it turns users away? A similar example is the fact that Picasa will only upload photos to Google’s piss-poor web albums, and not other sites like Flickr or PhotoBucket.

So why are people pissed off with Google? After all, they are a corporate company – and a damn big one. Surely they can do whatever they like in the interests of themselves? That’s what business is about, right? It’s like the decision to collude with the Chinese government in the censorship of search results. Whatever helps Google get ahead in its chosen markets is ok.

But as Ross points out, Google was meant to be different. That mantra of ‘Don’t be evil’ meant something to a lot of people and played a part in the huge and rapid growth of the company. Google were seen as the good guys, and continue to position themselves in that way in their competition with Microsoft. But the tides appear to be turning in popular opinion.

Matt Cutts – who plays a similar role for Google that Scoble did for Microsoft when he worked there – has responded to the barrage of criticism the search giant has received on this issue, and generally, he’s in agreement with the criticisms. He notes several searches where unwanted and irrelevant tips have appeared, and concludes that,

In each of the previous cases, I was not in the market for a blog or calendar or photo sharing service. Furthermore, the triggers appear to match on substrings: if I type in “blogoscoped”, I’m looking for Philipp, not to create a blog. The poor targeting alone is enough reason to turn off these tips (if I had my way).

He also agrees that it is reasonable for users to expect more of Google:

…it’s a fact that people expect more from Google than other companies. People compare other search engines to Google, but people compare Google to perfection. We have such passionate users that they’ll complain loudly if they think Google is ever straying from the right path. If you’re a Googler, it may feel frustrating. Instead, I’d choose to be grateful, because that passionate feedback keeps our heads on straight. When our users yell at Google, they care and want us to do the right thing (for their idea of what the right thing is). What other company gets that kind of feedback? Besides, if Yahoo or Microsoft jumped off a building, would you jump off too? 🙂 So yes, if the decision were up to me, I’d remove these tips or scale them way back by making sure that they are very relevant and targeted.

Let’s hope that whoever is in charge of the introduction of these tips into Google’s results soon sees the light and gets rid of them. They aren’t tips, they are advertisements.

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2 thoughts on “Google: Good or Evil?”

  1. Google sometimes ticks me with their “Holier than thou” additude but hey they are the only game in town right now. This is my invitation to you to join my community and visit my Blog: A Hannah Montana Fan Blog Please leave a comment, your opinion, suggestion or any tip on how to improve my blog.
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    MarkH

  2. Hmmm. Your comment was sent by Akismet into the spam bin originally, Mark. I was kind and dragged it out.

    Thanks for sharing your view, but I don’t get the connection between Google and Hannah Montana (whatever the hell that is) though…

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