Issue #110

Google kills the internet? (2 of 11)

It’s funny, it just occurred to me that this series here in the Daily is kinda like Spaceship Earth at Epcot. Only we’re talking about the internet. 🙂 If you’ve never ridden it, it takes you from the early stages of societal technology (at the bottom) to the future up at the top.

It’s funny, I just rode that ride at Epcot few weeks ago. It was so much more interesting when I was younger. Plus, when you get to the top now (the future), you can just TELL they had NO idea what to put up there! 🙂 It used to be this whole space scene up there with the Space Shuttle and astronauts and the whole thing. Now, just vague blackness and hilariously vague narration. Clearly, they gave up. 😉

But, I digress. This isn’t about Epcot.

Let’s talk about Google.

Because surely this look at the past, present and future of the internet has Google smack dead center.

About 80% of all referral traffic across the whole internet is controlled by Google and Facebook. I mean, that’s just astonishing. BusinessInsider has the stat.

Google is the search company. Facebook is the social company. We’ll talk about Facebook tomorrow. Let’s focus on Google…

It is one of the greatest ironies that the founding motto of Google is “do no evil”. It’s ironic because, if one believes in information democracy and equal opportunity, then Google is failing their mission.

Google’s dominance of search makes it so that any little algorithm change can make or break websites. Today, many publishers and bloggers hinge on every little blip out of Google.

I clearly remember, years ago (I think it was the Penguin update but I don’t remember) watching my traffic to my tech site get SLASHED by about 40%.

It happened virtually overnight. And with it went my ad revenue.

I changed nothing. It was just Google… being Google.

Now, this was actually a nice trigger in retrospect, because it ultimately helped shape what I do today. Even though I already had learned the dangers of “all your eggs in one basket” earlier, I realized I was overly dependent on ad revenue at the time. Specifically from Google.

But, that was just the early days.

As things have progressed, Google has perfected their search results using various signals. And more and more, those signals give high rank to sites which are already authority sites. It makes it much harder to come into it anew. Starting a blog today can be done, of course. But, this isn’t the same internet that I came up in. Things are tougher now.

Today, we have this term “fake news”. Perhaps we should talk more about that later (in a non-political way, of course). But, the “solutions” to try to combat fake news only bring to light, once again, the stranglehold that Google has over internet content.

When one searches for current events type stuff, they’re going to get the big corporate news sites. Smaller ones are ranked down. In some cases, they’re de-monetized by Google based on community standards nobody fully understands or could change on a whim. Some Youtubers have had their videos yanked down with little explanation. And the control is only going to increase with their latest Google News initiative.

What we have is a situation where Google’s control over the flow of information online is actually threatening free speech. And, even if the content you produce is totally uncontroversial, all of these controls Google puts on things for various reasons just makes it  harder to get noticed.

It isn’t going to get better, either. Google was recently testing out SERPs with ZERO listings. Yep. In the future, more and more searches will result in Google simply giving you the answer and providing zero listings to third-party sites unless you ask for it.

That’s when research and knowledge gets replaced by “OK, Google”.

I’m not here to harp on Google, mind you. Google is an incredible company and they’ve gotten where they’re at by providing things we want. They’ve made life vastly more convenient and they’ve been rewarded by the private market for that.

But, the issue is CENTRALIZATION.

When one company has that much control, then innovation suffers and instead it becomes a game of placating Google’s whims. Today, if one wants to conduct business online, we need to play by Google’s rules.

But, again, Google isn’t necessarily the problem. Centralization is.

But, don’t get down in the dumps over it. There are solutions. Both current and things coming. Things that go to the very structure of the internet itself.

We’ll get there. 🙂

This is a multi-part series, however. And tomorrow, we have to talk about the other half of the traffic stranglehold.

That’d be Facebook.

Until tomorrow

– David

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