I don’t much like Google, either

Apologies, dear reader, for neglecting you, but there have been some tough times recently. Baruch has been rather depressed, as he faces what he thinks will be a quite nasty environment for stocks next year. Living in the present, however horrible it is, is much more fun than looking forward to 6 months, maybe even 12, of gloom, a narrowing market, and the inevitable short-covering rallies which will blow up the index put positions he uses in a futile attempt to keep the wolf from the door.

Yesterday was his last working day of the year. Although his Epicurean Dealmaker-blocking evil deep packet inspection spyware position blew up and had to be put out of its misery, it was actually pretty good, a fitting end to Baruch’s wildly successful 2007. He is on holiday! Now he can devote himself entirely to you, his adoring public.

To the matter in hand. You know I hate Apple. Now I want to tell you about how I dislike Google.

Bento, I know you are not one to bite the hand that feeds, but the more I think about it there is something deeply creepy about Google. The hubris of the people who work there puts me off, for one. Their crazed diversification, and the concomitant lack of discipline and focus does too (now they are going to become a mobile operator, I understand), and the fact that they are permitted to get away with this by infatuated fund managers and supine analysts — it drives me insane. 

There are 2 things that are more serious than this, however:

Firstly, they are commercialising that which should resist commercialisation, namely knowledge, by dominating the media by which it is shared. Commercialising knowledge is dangerous, as it can bring in bias, and naturally tend to exclusion, or the de-emphasis, of knowledge which does not agree with that commercialisation, or which pays less. Spinoza himself gave up business in order to follow philosophy, seeing a contradiction or difficulty between the two. Google has so far been enabling. It created the best extant search engine, for which we should be grateful. It has monetised it, for which we should admire it, and buy the stock, even. But there is a limit to which the ad-driven model can be taken — I for one would pay to avoid having my mobile blitzed with adverts, however spuriously targeted at me they may be, and I am not a curmudgeon. In furthering this business model, Google to me resembles nothing more than an aggressive, hegemonising swarm.

Secondly, they present themselves as something new — “don’t be evil”, wheras their motives are as old as business itself. “Don’t be evil” is Blairite in its meaninglessness, one of those damnable, early 2000s lies; presentation rather than reality. We all know how well Blair turned out; while Google hasn’t yet achieved that type of depth of wrongdoing, surely the point is that is very possible to do evil while being well-meaning. Spinozists know that it is works, not faith, which make the difference in the world, that charity towards a neighbour, the tolerance and freedom to philosophise we allow to others, is much more important than what we think others think, and what they really hold in their hearts.

Both these points are enunciated very clearly in an excellent post by Anil Dash (via Felix), prompted by Google’s latest attempt to move in on Wikipedia’s turf with the awful Knol. I simply don’t see what added value comes from Knol, how it will improve on Wikipedia. To be sure, we will know who wrote what; it will, I suppose, attempt to lend “authority” to postings, for instance in the sample “knol” on Insomnia we are treated to the wisdom of a Stanford professor on the subject. “Knols” will be graded by readers, and (worryingly) by Google itself. But surely  the anonymity of the Wiki is an advantage, providing us the content in a context-free manner. This sounds bad but it isn’t. In most cases there are 2 or more sides to an issue, often tightly held to by their partisans; a thesis and antithesis. A “knol” would likely be one or the other. The genius of the Wiki is its ability, via a similar mechanism to price clearing in a market, to achieve some form of filtered synthesis — likely abridged and excised, to be sure, but what remains is the stuff which people can grudgingly agree to agree or disagree on. Allusions to one side or other of a controversy can remain, but they invite further reading and investigation.

No, Knol to me seems more hegemonising behaviour by Google; part of the old Ellison-Jobs-Gates etc etc Silicon Valley power games we of the econo-bloggy-firmament love to comment on, and which Google, for all its presentation of itself as something new, has enthusiastically joined in and intensified.

The key to this slightly disfunctional behaviour lies I think in a possible truth about Google as revealed by Fake Steve Jobs in a fictional exchange with Google’s CEO, who says (or rather, didn’t say). 

“Seriously, Steve, you think this search monopoly is going to last forever? Have you ever read Andy Grove’s book, the one about how everybody wants to kill you? Our industry is full of companies that used to be great. Look at Sun. And Novell. They used to be huge but they couldn’t invent a second act for themselves and now they’re dog shit.”

I’m like, Dude, didn’t you kind of run both of those companies?

He’s like, “Next question. Fact is, if Google doesn’t come up with something else, we’ll be road kill too.”

Well I’d never looked at it that way. But maybe he’s got a point. The fact is, Google might seem rich and powerful, but in fact they’re in danger. They’ve got a CEO with a wobbly track record and an army of high-IQ oversexed teenagers with severe ADHD running wild in a Montessori pre-school of a campus.

It may even be deeper than that. You know what? I have only twice in my life clicked through on an internet ad on purpose. Just twice. And I don’t think I look at them much the rest of the time. What about you?


6 thoughts on “I don’t much like Google, either”

  1. Yes, 99% of the time those keyword ads are annoying and distracting (in the sense one has to consciously ignore them). But for many businesses who can’t game the search results those keywords are their lifeblood. For instance, my buddy’s dad runs a Copper Canyon Travel, where they provide backpack excursions in Mexico and Guatemala, and google adsense provides 75% of his new business. The rest are word-of-mouth customers.

    The online ad market is rapidly changing where words are highlighted and if you scroll over them an ad box appears, which appears more user-targeted than google’s keywords. I expect most blogs to switch away from google to other ad providers. Google still will be the dominate search engine of choice for the tech-savvy users. For nearly all of my 20-30 yr. old friends google is automatic. That said I rarely click on ads unless they appear first on the top of the search results even though the same non-sponsored ad appears 2 inches down. Maybe it’s a form of schadenfreude, but I’d rather believe it expedites my internet adventures and propels pretentious google. I am fascinated with google, so contributing to their hubris doesn’t bother me in the near term.

    By the way if and when the DoubleClick merger is approved the synergies and economies of scale will be unfathomable. I think people underestimate googles real asset, not their employees rather the plethora of micro/small/medium/fortune 500 businesses that choose to do business with them. Now with googles dominance they can implement new ad technologies for a small cost and reap massive rewards when they find a clean and practical one.

    Google stock is another matter, I would expect it to fall to $500ish and consolidate for a year or two before it ascends again.

    Mobile advertising is overhyped. No one wants to receive pertinent, much less annoying useless ads on their phones. I have a friend that just graduated from Stanford working for GreyStripe, an cutting edge mobile ad firm, and he says basically everyone there is hoping for a google buyout for a ridiculous price.

    By the way love your weblog. I have picked up reading Spinoza because of you.

  2. Ah-h-h; but those internet ads are not aimed at the likes of you! They are aimed at those users who take up the quest to ‘help out’ a millionaire in Nigeria.

  3. Wow, Invictus, that’s great! You make me very happy. What have you read so far? What do you think of him? Good, isn’t he? And suprisingly readable, too.

    As for GOOG, I have to admit — at the risk of undermining my entire blog post — that I am not as familiar with the ins and outs of Google’s business model as I should be. In the fund it is not actually my stock, I do more the comms stuff — if you want to know what goes into a mobile phone I am your man. I don’t want to say that everything Google does is useless, just that it is a business model I have trouble relating with my own life, with what I do.

    I do know that someone pays Google for me to look at their ads, and the man who paid them took that money from the budget he would normally reserve for a magazine, newspaper or a TV channel. I think — as relates to me — that he made a mistake. I regularly read even the small print in magazine ads, especially American ones for cars, if only to marvel at the meaninglessness of some people’s working lives. I am capable of watching whatever TV ad they beam at me, as long as it is during a programme I am interested in, like One Man and His Dog. It is certainly hard to tear oneself away (as of course one should) from cheesy German 0898- number ads. “Sexy girls – Live!” Are some recorded? I have no idea. Internet or blog ads I simply ignore, they do not impinge on my consciousness.

  4. Google’s mission is to make internet ads even better than their search results. And for some searches, they are. If you get over your fear of ads, and if ads become really well targeted and useful, you might even find that you want them, especially for those occasions when you’re looking to buy something. After all, Google search results are quite bad at distinguishing pages *about* certain thing from pages where you can buy that thing. Google ads make the distinction by default, because only the latter group advertises.

  5. “Fear of ads” seems an extreme diagnosis of my particular condition. As I said in the comments, I actually don’t mind them in many cases. I find them intrusive in other cases, one of which would be if they were blasted onto my phone, and i had to click through an ad for pile ointment (say Google knew I had searched for “piles symptoms” recently, and looked up the side effects of Pepto-Bismol. I am standing next to a drugstore) before I was able to call home. This is the business model of their Android mobile software platform, believe it or not. I do not thinkn it will work. I would be seriously annoyed. I would pay to avoid that. I would be pissed off with any operator who inflicted that on me.

    Targeted ads is a concept for advertisers. I think you cannot target an ad to make it effectively useful to me as the audience, unless I have asked for it specifically (as you note), in which case I have most likely Searched for it. Even then, if I was to find a search engine as good as Google which displayed findings by relevance to me, as opposed to who had paid Google the most, I would use that instead.

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