Sooner or later, the Internet will need to be saved from Google. Because Google – which appears to be an integral part of the information-wants-to-be-free Net dream, the search engine which gives life to the hyperlinked digital nervous system of a kind of massively-distributed Xanadu project – is nothing of the sort. Google is a private company; Google’s business isn’t even search. Google’s business is advertising – and, whatever we think about how well search goes together with tagging and folksonomic stumbling-upon, search absolutely doesn’t go with advertising. (Update 15th June: this is a timely reminder that Google is a business, and its business is advertising. Mass personalisation, online communities, interactive rating and ranking, it’s all there – and it’s all about the advertising.)
I had thought that, in the context of plain vanilla Web search, Google actually had this cracked – that the prominence of ‘sponsored links’, displayed separately from search results, allowed them to deliver an unpolluted service and still make money. I hadn’t reckoned with AdSense. AdSense doesn’t in itself pollute Google’s search results. What it does is far worse: it encourages other people to pollute the Net. Which will mean, ultimately, that Google will paint (or choke) itself into a corner – but that, if we’re not careful, an awful lot of users will be stuck in that corner with them.
For a much fuller and more cogent version of this argument, read Seth Jayson (via Scott). One point in particular stood out: Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) insiders are continuing to drop shares on the public at a rate that boggles the mind. It’s true. Over the last year, as far as published records show, Sun insiders have sold $50,000 worth of shares, net. In the same period, IBM insiders have sold $6,500,000; Microsoft insiders have sold $1,500,000,000; and Google insiders have sold $5,000,000,000. See for yourself. That’s a lot of shares.