Bing is not google (but it sure is acting like it)

I was mildly impressed with the launch of bing.com this week. It does seem to deliver what’s promised much more than WolframAlpha did.
However, I think it’s a dangerous road that google and now bing are following. They purport to offer more relevant content as a service to the web. For example if you search a stock symbol, or “movies” or for images and videos their search results page will deliver the content directly. They’re moving away from giving you a list of places to find content and information and toward just offering the information and content directly. This does add a great deal of value for their users. Unfortunately that value is stolen from the sites they’ve crawled.
For example, I used bing’s video search and was presented with a very relevant list of videos. I clicked on one and it began playing. Right there on bing’s page. It’s one thing to crawl the web and find relevant content to match your users queries. It’s quite another to crawl the web, find relevant content, and then just use it with token attribution on your own site.
Search engines have a symbiotic relationship with the rest of the web. Sites that provide content have to either make money to support the content they create or develop a deep community of contributors. By hijacking that content, the search engines are choking off the life of the sites, the visitors.
Any content producer would be livid if someone copied their content and presented on their own without permission. Why should search engines be exempt from this? The search engines do have one powerful tool in their kit – they are the primary gateway for new users to find your site. It’s rather like a bully taking your lunch but leaving you a couple of your carrot sticks. You could fight back… but then you wouldn’t even get your carrots. It’s rather ingenious how they’ve set this up. You can allow them to use your content for free, or you can complain and they’ll comply… by not listing your site at all.
Eventually, as doubtless they’ve planned, there won’t be room in the market for competing content sites. If you publish on the web Google will gladly index your content and give it to their users without letting them out the door. If you’d like to get at least some of your fair share, they’ll be happy to host your content for you. Just submit it directly to them. What makes this situation worse is that I’ve been using the word “they” rather optimistically. There’s isn’t really room for more than one gateway. As “not horrible” as bing is, it’s not a real threat to google’s monopoly. Twenty years ago AOL, Prodigy and compuserve set up their networks with exactly this intention. They wanted to be the single source of internet content for their users. With enough market share, one of them could have succeeded in being, essentially, The Internet. It would be a gold mine. However, their poor management choice and the presence of healthy competition foiled that plan and the internet blossomed. Today, however, there isn’t a real competitor on the scene. Google effectively owns the internet and can use their power to enact that plan. All we can really hope for is that they’ll take their slogan “don’t be evil” seriously.

Lance Cameron Kidwell

2 June 2009

Posted in Miscellania

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