American Culture

Google contemplates Evil; the distress of being a monopoly

Microsoft’s success in operating systems spawned an entire industry of hackers dedicated to finding flaws in the software and creating exploits and viruses. The most expensive computer virus was the MyDoom attacks on SCO in 1994. It is estimated that the loss of productivity cost businesses around the world US$ 38 billion. Both SCO and Microsoft offered rewards of US$ 250,000 each but they were never claimed.

Now hacking has moved from the desktop to the Internet. And there is a new monopoly whose success is a large target to the “black hat” community of hackers: Google.

Creating industry standards drives down costs and reduces misunderstanding. Remember the days (if you’re old enough) when you needed to produce document files in different formats to ensure everyone got a file they could read? Microsoft’s success also became its problem.

Monoculture in farming results in a vast breeding ground for parasites and diseases that flourish in a world where their favourite food is plentiful. It is necessary to ensure economies of scale that results in cheap food. Just so with Microsoft. But it does become a target, and those viruses and problems are part of the problem that created the ambivalent attitude that the general public has towards the company.

But Microsoft never got all preachy about not “doing evil” as Google manifestly declares in their articles of association.

Now Google has lost its virginity dooming countless businesses to Google Hell.

Businesses are falling foul of new rules created by the Google programmers to try and cut down on the content of web spam. The Black Hat SEOs (named after the eponymous spy in Mad Magazine’s Spy vs Spy) love gaming the system to get higher rankings. They do that with targeted links, massive content sites and link-backs. Sometimes they pay for these; mostly they just write hacks. Ever wondered why captchas are necessary?

A recent product release is theContentSolution which will automatically create vast numbers of pages for your website filled with content more or less relevant to your site.

Why do the black hats do this? Partly it’s the fun of gaming a popular piece of software; such as finding France listed first under the search “world’s greatest military defeats”. And there can be real cash benefits in hosting adverts (see the entry on Bubble 2.0).

But, in their heavy-handed response, Google has alienated a vast number of legitimate businesses. They are realising the danger of pinning all their customer sourcing hopes on a single operator. In pushing their agenda, Google may turn seemingly innocent “white hat” behaviour (like getting a high Digg count by getting friends to vote for you) into something that gets you banned. Unlike Microsoft, though, the switching cost to another search engine is not that hard.

Perhaps there is a genuine opportunity for Jimmy Wales’ WikiSearch project.

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5 replies »

  1. There are other search services in the market. Some run on Google tech and I assume are subject to the same kinds of gaming, but not all. Doesn’t this maybe represent an opp for one of those smaller competitors? Somebody like or Jeeves, maybe? Or have they been bought and I missed it?

  2. Search Engine Optimization. SEO companies try to get your company as close to the top of any relevant Google search page as possible. It’s a big business, and not a terribly respectable one. But it’s an okay job to have if you lack the morals to be a prostitute or used-car salesman.

    Or am I editorializing?

  3. It’s amusing watching Mark Shuttleworth (of Ubuntu Linux fame) squabbling over the PC with Dell when the ownership of the Internet is more important (for the moment – read previous etc since I still think the cell phone is more important).

    However, I really do think Google is going to achieve pariah status in a significantly shorter period than Microsoft did. It’s the same as accusing your favourite band (when they suddenly become popular) of “selling out”. And Google is selling out on their original principles in reality.

    Still, I don’t see Microsoft doing nothing – they have lots of cash and a good relationship with many of the key players in the industry (Intel, IBM, etc.) and can still do what they did at the beginning – buy interesting opportunities.

    Everything comes down to AdWords and any contender to Google must find a way to offer that service.