Sunday read: The information-industrial Googleplex

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It says pretty much everything you need to know about Google that its name became a verb for Internet search within a few years of its founding — even if the company itself would rather you save it for when you use its engine.

But the company’s friendly ubiquity sometimes hides its dominance. As The New York Times observes in an op-ed, Google has an 88 percent market share in search advertising. And to think that people used to complain about Ma Bell.

Maybe, in fact, Google is a little too dominant. It’s not just that SEO (search-engine optimization) has become an actual job, mainly spent tweaking pages so they can rank high in Google search; it’s that Google, which promised to democratize information, has bigfooted actual information gatherers.

That’s the subject of today’s Sunday read: “How Google eats a business whole,” by Adrianne Jeffries.

A few years ago, a guy wanted to know what Larry David was worth. So he pored through all kinds of information — not all of it easily searchable — and came up with a number. Thus did Brian Warner found

Google liked Warner’s information and wanted to feature it on results in which people wanted to know, well, how much a celebrity was worth. It’s something the engine already does when you type in “What year was Bela Lugosi born?” and “How do you make buttermilk?” Sometimes the top result, called Featured Snippets, is pulled from Wikipedia, but it also comes from sites that offer easy answers.

But do you actually click on that Featured Snippet? Or, having had your question answered, do you simply go, “Thanks, Google” and move on?

If it’s the latter, you’re costing those sites ad revenue. And Brian Warner wasn’t interested in losing ad revenue.

Google used his information anyway.

You’ll have to read the article to find out what happened, but it’s an issue we’re going to be coping with more and more. It’s not just because Google is so dominant; it’s also because we’re becoming a world where we ask Siri or Alexa the same kinds of questions, perhaps depriving a site of a precious click. It’s the equivalent of the old-style call to the reference librarian to look in her Facts on File, except now there’s no need for almost anybody to purchase Facts on File — or be paid to compile it. (I love my reference books, but except for the dictionary and AP Stylebook, I don’t pull them off the shelf much anymore.)

You can find “How Google eats a business whole” here, and also check out some of the links. I want to make sure The Outline gets some clicks.


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