Questioning My Google Loyalty
Google, Net Neutrality and Anti Trust — Who's Right?
The recent allegations against Google, most recently in a paper authored by Tim Wu (formerly a consultant to the FTC and formerly on Google's side), had me questioning my loyalty to Google. Is Google the new Microsoft? Is Eric Schmidt a shmuck?
I wanted to be irritated by Eric Schmidt. I set out to be. I've always felt that I must be a little naive to be such a fangirl of Google. All the real contenders in the SEO/content world seem to be jaded and cynical about Google. On dark nights when I'm really insecure my stance, that "Hey! They're not looking out for websites, they're looking out for people searching for stuff" seems a bit too facile.
Maybe I want to buy a bridge? (You might be too young for that. Google it.)
I read a few articles on the subject. Notably this one over on re/code and then went straight to the source. I read Eric Schmidt's speech in Berlin at Native Instruments called the New Grundergeist. Then I read the paper by Tim Wu (and Michael Luca and the Yelp Data Science Team).
First: Yes, I Agree That Eric Schmidt is a Sexist Ass
Of course he is. That lovely demonstration he gave us at SXSW, wherein he tried very hard to let us know how very unsexist he is -- by repeatedly (and, honestly, very weirdly) interrupting co-panelist Megan Smith helped immensely. As we like to say: Show, don't tell. Well done, Eric.
I'm totally okay if you disagree with me here, but his sexism has no bearing on his ability to orate about Google and explain to us his point of view vis a vis the allegations by Tim Wu, Michael Luca, and the Yelp Data Science Team.
How he acted on that panel at SXSW truly showed a kind of sad, outdated and odd side to his character that makes me never want to work for/with him. And in interviews and also in that New Gundergeist blog post he comes across as a little too "Just one of the guys!" for me.
But moving beyond that, to whether or not we as consumers are able to navigate around Google to find what we need on the Internet is what I am interested in here.
And here, I think Eric Schmidt has laid out clearly the obvious fact that we are very able to find what we need without going through Google. As he said, "Amazon is Google's biggest competitor." And I can certainly go straight to Amazon if I need a pair of shoes, a book or a new blender. I do not need Google.
Net Neutrality: It's Complicated
I do believe most industries do well when (well) regulated. A great example taught to me by my Dad when I was young was the strength of the New York Stock Exchange which was well regulated (I'm old, so this is quite a long time ago) versus the Vancouver Stock Exchange, which was a joke. You could also call it "The Wild Wild West" but in any case, it was notoriously unregulated and poorly run.
Sometimes deregulation benefits consumers, but often quality suffers.
So. Some regulation is usually a good thing when it is done in a fair-minded way.
I would say that regulating the Internet in order to keep it free, by and for the people and not corporations, is probably one of the most important issues we face.
Who is the Good Guy?
When you hear Eric Schmidt tell the crowd on Brian Lehrer's public radio show that Google should not be regulated as a public utility because, well, government regulation is bad, I just want to smack him. Or regulate him.
And hearing the crowd laugh with him is irritating, to say the least. "But he's one of us!" You can just hear the crowd say. "He's so real!"
Tim Wu, who coined the term "net neutrality" is in favour of regulating the Internet (not Google) as a public utility. Tim Wu actually uses the adage that there the biggest reason for net neutrality is that there is probably some guy in a garage challenging Google...
...which brings into focus the oddly silent response from Google to the huge win for net neutrality that happened earlier this year. As Fortune notes, Google has grown up and made friends with some of the biggest opponents to net neutrality, such as Verizon.
FairSearch.org feels that there is no question that Google now has a monopoly on search, and Tim Wu has said that to him, it is reminiscent of ATT in the 1920s.
Monopoly, Sure. A De-Facto Monopoly
The thing that I would stress after reading what I have read is that yes, I understand that clearly, Google dominates search presently. And I am pretty convinced that there is strong evidence to suggest that Google does use universal search to degrade search for consumers.
However, consider this, just for a moment: unlike a monopoly which impedes competition, Google, as Eric Schmidt has said on many occasions, is most likely prodding competition with a sharp stick. I'm with Schmidt when he says that there is definitely competition being born right now in a garage somewhere and that this competition will not look anything like Google looks now.
I haven't got any idea why Google would so transparently degrade search as it is now doing (see Tim Wu, Michael Luca and Yelp Data Science Team's paper for full details). And I'm all for going after them to keep this from happening.
But beyond that? I see no reason that we as consumers can't move around Google, as we are already doing, and use TripAdvisor, Yelp, social in general, and Amazon to find what we need.
There are no barriers to us doing that. None. So, except for citing extreme laziness, I am not sure what argument we (as consumers) might have against Google. Why would Google need to be forced to serve us its potential competitors on a silver platter?
To the Future!
As a writer, I want to stress that though I respect Google, I see it as less and less important in my writing. Sure, I use Google Trends, Google AdWords, and Google Analytics. But I am more and more focused on other means to find and keep an audience.
Humans are social creatures. Google is popular because it is useful, as Eric Schmidt noted. But we are not only social, we're fickle. And with new social sites popping up like dandelions, mixed with the very tempting and useful search engines such as Amazon, TripAdvisor, and, yes, Yelp, I don't think we need to regulate Google as much as we need to sit back and wait for new companies to emerge.
Regulating the Internet? Now that is much more complicated.