Stephen E. Arnold: Google Is Not Free

IO Impotency
Stephen E. Arnold
Stephen E. Arnold

Are Google and Free an Oxymoron?

I am working on my presentation for the upcoming ISS intelligence conference. One of the topics which I will be addressing is “What is possible and not possible with Google’s Index

Now don’t get the addled goose wrong. The goslings and I use Google and a number of other online services each day. The reason is that online indexing remains a hit-and-miss proposition. Today’s search gurus ignore the problem of content which is unindexable, servers which are too slow and time out, or latency issues which consign data to the big bit bucket in the back of the building. In addition, few talk about content which is intentionally deleted or moved to a storage device beyond the reach of an content acquisition system. Then there are all-too-frequent human errors which blast content into oblivion because back up devices cannot restore data. Clever programmers change a file format. The filters and connectors designed to index the content do not recognize the file type and put the document in the “look at this, dear human” folder or just skip the file type. And there are other issuers. These range from bandwidth constraints, time out settings, and software that does not work.

Does Google face a tough climb if online advertising falters? Image source:

Are these issues discussed? Not often. And when a person like the addled goose brings up these issues, the whiz kids just sigh and tell me that my dinosaur tail is going to knock over the capuchin machine in the conference room. No problem. Most search vendors are struggling to make sales, control costs, and keep the often-flawed systems running well enough so the licensee pays the invoices. Is this a recipe for excellence? Not in my old-fashioned notebook.

I read “The Internet’s Next Victim: Advertising.” I found the title interesting because I thought the Internet’s next victim was a manager who used online search results without verifying the information. The article caught my attention because if it is accurate, Google is going to be forced to make some changes. The line “Everyone agrees that advertising on the Internet is broken” is one of those sweeping generalizations I find amusing. For some folks, online advertising works reasonably well. When one considers the options advertisers have, the Internet looks like a reasonable tool for certain products and services.

Evidence of this is Google’s ability to fund everything from tryst jets to self driving automobiles. Google has, if I understand the financial reports, managed to generate about 95 percent of its revenue from online advertising. The job hunting Steve Ballmer pointed out that Google was a one-trick pony. Well, he might have been wrong about my love of Windows 8, but he was spot on with Google’s inability to generate products and services beyond advertising.

That’s why the “Next Victim” article is thought provoking. What if Salon is correct? What will Google do to generate more revenue if advertising money decreases? What will Google do if the costs of selling ads spikes by 15 percent or more?

The options for Google are plentiful; for example:

  • Raise ad rates
  • Take ads from advertisers who are now not permitted to use the Google system
  • Reduce staff, benefits, or salaries
  • Cut back on some of the investments which are essential expensive science fiction Bell Labs-type projects
  • Ramp up fees to customers.

There are other options, of course. But the easiest path to follow is to increase the number of sponsored messages and ads shown to users of Google’s most popular services. Mobile advertising is tricky because the screen is small and the graphic approach on tablets makes the clutter of the old-style desktop display look like a 1959 Cadillac tail fin.

What happens when ads take precedence over relevant, objective results? The usefulness of the search system decreases. The good news is that most users on online search systems are happy to get some information. These users believe that information in a search result page are accurate. Who needs for-fee research systems? The free results are good enough. The downside is that for the subject matter expert, the results from most free online search systems are flawed. For many of today’s professionals, this is a small price to pay for convenience. Who has time to verify search results?

Net net: if the “Next Victim” article is correct, Google may find itself facing an uphill climb. Looking at the data through Glass won’t change the outlook, however.

In my ISS talk, I will be offering several concrete suggestions to those who want to verify online results displayed in response to a predictive, personalized query.

Stephen E Arnold, September 3, 2013

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