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Plus Yours, Google

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By Erik Erickson

Google is a huge company. This is not news.

Google behaving like a big company, however, is surprising. Like many other tech-heads, I’ve been an ardent fan and supporter of Google since I was first introduced to their search engine in college. They not only provided the most relevant and junk-free results, they innovated quickly in many other areas: mapping, email, 3D modeling, news aggregation, phone service – the list goes on.

More recently, Google has begun to act exactly in the same manner that has generated so much ill-will towards Microsoft. Instead of relying on home-grown Google services, that are significantly differentiated from others (e.g. Gmail), they have acquired a staggering number of companies, many times to try and catch up to others. And some recent services, which were completely new, have flopped: Google Wave and Google Buzz. Others have been a blatant facsimile of services created by other companies – one cannot reasonably argue Google’s social network Google+ is not a direct copy of Facebook.

We’re a ways from co-founder Larry Page’s original purpose and principle, which he laid out succinctly to Playboy magazine in an interview before the company went public (PandoDaily, via Daring Fireball):

“Most portals show their own content above content elsewhere on the web. We feel that’s a conflict of interest, analogous to taking money for search results. Their search engine doesn’t necessarily provide the best results; it provides the portal’s results. Google conscientiously tries to stay away from that. We want to get you out of Google and to the right place as fast as possible. It’s a very different model.”

Google has started off 2012 with a bang – from a misfiring gun – brought on by bad publicity surrounding a few major missteps. In direct opposition to the statement above, Google now promotes its own Google+ social network above more relevant results from elsewhere on the web. You can read all about the details here but the bottom line is: they’re ignoring info spread on Facebook and Twitter and heavily pushing their own much less popular product. Facebook has something like 750 million active (active = monthly) users vs. Google’s ~62 million. Google does not provide a breakdown of how many of those are actually active. I haven’t touched my Google+ account since the first month I created it. I know many other people like me.

Microsoft’s Bing search engine may have been a distant third in the market, but now that it powers Yahoo’s search results it effectively has ~ 20% of the market. And Bing shows results from Facebook and Twitter, based on the relevance of the information being shared and how popular the content author is. This means that for some searches, Bing now delivers more relevant results than Google. And Bing doesn’t try and force some copycat social networking service at you.

Another couple of dents in the mighty Goog’s appearance came earlier this month. I won’t get into details but they are well-documented online. They involve Google violating their own paid links rules – which famously caused JC Penney’s search rankings to plummet – and a situation where Google was trying to sell ads to a particular directory of businesses under the false pretenses of having a formal relationship with the directory to do so.

Although they’re not off to a great start, and have started to fundamentally change the direction of their famous search engine’s purpose, they’ll still own the majority mindshare because we’re so entrenched, and because they still do a lot of things better than others. But with Larry Page back at the helm, hopefully Google can get back to a more strict application of its stated mission:

to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful

…not just Google’s information.

POSTED: 01/26/12