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Is Opinion tide turning against Google?

UPDATE: We promised to forward Google's response to the scraping problem. Google spokesman Barry Schnitt just got back to us, and the general message seemed to us to be that the problems aren't big enough for Google to take action. He couldn't say much. Scroogle uses automation to scrape the advertising away, and so "scraping is against Google's terms of service," Schnitt said. (Google's terms of service require that searches be done by individuals, and not by automation.) Google could theoretically try to shut down the IP address that is doing the scraping, but apparently hasn't done so. As for Butler, which is an application, not automated, but used by individuals through Firefox, Schnitt took a different tack. He said: "Users want to see relevant ads, because these ads provide useful information to help them find what they‚re looking for." But again, between the lines, we got the impression Google feels there's no major action called for. Finally, he declined to comment on the Google X cloner.

There comes a time when a company gets so powerful, and the perceived potential to abuse that power so large, that public opinion begins to turn on it. True, Google has been one of the world's most valuable brands for several years, and there's no sign -- yet -- that the general public has cooled on it (even if Apple recently pushed Google to second-best brand). But we've noticed a growing dissatisfaction with Google in various niche constituencies over the past several months.

1) There's the growing guerilla campaign among software developers to scrape or otherwise clone Google, something Google apparently hasn't figured out how to respond to. Check out Scroogle, which removes Google's advertising, for example, which we mentioned here. Or the Butler application here (with analysis at Battelle and here), or this latest Google X Clone histoire, explained here (follow the thread). We've asked Google's media folks how the company plans to respond to the Scroogle and Butler, and will post the answer once we get one. Apparently, Google has already contacted the Google X cloner.

2) Perhaps worse, the tech b'sphere has gotten angrier. Check out the ripping Jeff Jarvis has given Google recently (check out the comments, too, and subsequent posts), for not being transparent about how it selects its news sites, and for linking to Nazi sympathizing sites, among others. He and others also continue to gripe about the Google's refusal to disclose exact information about how much ad revenue it is sharing with publishers using Google's ads, and there's a host of other complaints too. Even the unabashedly positive Battelle takes a swing at Google.

3) There's the entire nation of France -- which, for sure, may not be a measure of anything. But the Francophone world's main news agency, AFP, is so upset with Google for listing its news on Google News, it has pledged to keep fighting Google despite the latter's decision to remove AFP from its news listings. France's Gaullist leader Jacques Chirac fanned the flames recently, making Google out to be a Anglo-American cultural threat of sorts, wherein he vowed Europe should launch its own version of Google Scholar.

We're wondering, how long will these negative memes take to filter into mainstream media, and to the public's general view of Google? Maybe they will, maybe they won't. Perhaps they're just the usual bumps that happen whenever a for-profit company gets powerful. But actions count, and Google's individual responses will help determine the outcome. Stay tuned...


I think you're right. The tide is definitely turning. And with a number of vertical search engines showing they can provide more relevant results than Google, the company should definitely take heed.

The fix? I think Battelle is right. Increasing transparency would be really good for them. Think about the AutoLink fiasco. If they would have responded to the massive criticism immediately, I bet people would have been okay with it. But they didn't and the brand continues to get bashed. Will this wake up their communications department or do they feel they have bigger fish to fry? Let's hope it's the former.

Frankly, though, if Google comes out with some radical innovation, I think all of this goes away. People don't forget, but they forgive, especially when something new makes their life easier.


Justin Gardner on March 23, 2005 2:25 PM
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We may have proved your point for you. We wrote about the AutoLink controversy here just a few weeks ago, and here we are, forgetting to add it to the list of Google backlashes. Maybe people DO forget these flaps, unless they're really irked. Google itself has always recognized that users are only one click away from switching to a competitor, but they probably see no evidence of attrition. Maybe they'll take their cue from eBay -- don't listen to the whiners unless things get really bad.

Matt Marshall on March 23, 2005 2:46 PM
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Personally, I think very little, if any of this, is going to make it out into the mainstream. I don't know if its conditioning, or just lazyness, but if we're willing to look the other way on bigger issues; I don't think the real world is going to pay attention to narror technical battles and the snubbing of investor.

As for the b'sphere, the election is over (and they didn't have that much of an impact), so to feel relevant, they've gone casting for a new windmill to tilt at. Google is hip, hot and so they're all rallying around complaining that Google isn't listening to them. Sounds like huff and puff to me.

Derek on March 24, 2005 2:03 AM
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