Wall Street Journal Figures Out What Google Is Doing, Gets Criticized

December 15, 2008

The Wall Street Journal’s Vishesh Kuman and Christopher Rhoads stumbled into a hornet’s nest. I think surprise may accompany these people and their editor for the next few days. The story “Google Wants Its Own Fast Track on the Web.”  The story is here at the moment, but it will probably disappear or be unavailable due to heavy click traffic. Read it quickly so you have the context for the hundreds of comments this story has generated. Pundits whose comments I found useful are the Lessig Blog, Om Malik’s GigaOM, and Google’s own comment here.

The premise of the article is that the GOOG wants to create what Messrs. Kuman and Rhoads call “a fast lane.” In effect, the GOOG wants to get preferential treatment for its traffic. The story wanders forward with references to network neutrality, which is probably going to die like a polar bear sitting on an ice chunk in the Arctic circle. Network neutrality is a weird American term that is designed to prevent a telco from charging people based on arbitrary benchmarks. The Bell Telephone Co. figured out that differential pricing was the way to keep the monopoly in clover a long time ago. The lesson has not be forgotten by today’s data barons. The authors drag in the president elect and wraps up with use of a Google-coined phrase “OpenEdge.”

Why the firestorm? Here are my thoughts:

First, I prepared a briefing for several telcos in early 2008. My partner at the Mercer Island Group and I did a series of briefings for telecommunication companies. In that briefing, I showed a diagram from one of Google’s patent documents and enriched with information from Google’s technical papers. The diagram showed Google as the intermediary between a telco’s mobile customers and the Internet. In effect, with Google in the middle, the telco would get low latency rendering of content in the Googleplex (my term for Google’s computer and software infrastructure). The groups to a person snorted derision. I recall one sophisticated telco manager saying in the jargon of the Bell head, “That’s crap.” I had no rejoinder to that because I was reporting what my analyses of Google patents and technical papers said. So, until this Wall Street Journal story appeared, the notion of Google becoming the Internet was not on anyone’s radar. After all, I live in Kentucky and the Mercer Island Group is not McKinsey & Co. or Boston Consulting Group in terms of size and number of consultants. But MIG has some sharp nails is its toolkit.

Second, in my Google Version 2.0, which is mostly a summary of Google’s patent documents from August 2005 to June 2007, I reported on a series of give patent documents, filed the same day and eventually published on the same day by the ever efficient US Patent & Trademark Office. the five documents disclosed a big, somewhat crazy system for sucking in data from airline ticket sellers, camera manufacturers, and other structured data sources. The invention figured out the context of each datum and built a great big master database containing the data. The idea was that some companies could push the data to Google. Failing that, Google would use software to fill in the gaps and therefore have its own master database. BearStearns was sufficiently intrigued by this analysis to issue a report to its key clients about this innovation. Google’s attorneys asserted that the report contained proprietary Google data, an objection that went away when I provided the patent document number and the url to download the patent documents. Google’s attorneys, like many Googlers, are confident but sometimes uninformed about what the GOOG is doing with one paw while the other paw adjusts the lava lamps.

Third, in my Beyond Search study for the Gilbane Group, I reported that Google had developed the “dataspace” technology to provide the framework for Google to become the Internet. Sue Feldman at IDC, the big research firm near Boston, was sufficiently interested to work with me to create a special IDC report on this technology and its implications. The Beyond Search study and the IDC report went to hundreds of clients and was ignored. The idea of a dataspace with metadata about how long a person looks at a Web page and the use of meta metadata to make queries about the lineage and certainty of data was too strange.

What the Wall Street Journal has stumbled into is a piece of the Google strategy. My view is that Google is making an honest effort to involve the telcos in its business plan. If the telcos pass, then the GOOG will simply keep doing what it has been doing for a decade; that is, building out what I called in January 2008 in my briefings “Google Global Telecommunications”. Yep, Google is the sibling of the “old” AT&T model of a utility. Instead of just voice and data, GGT will combine smart software with its infrastructure and data to marginalize quite a few business operations.

Is this too big an idea today? Not for Google. But the idea is sufficiently big to trigger the storm front of comments. My thought is, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.” Ignorance of Google’s technology is commonplace. One would have thought that the telcos would take Google seriously by now. Guess not. If you want to dig into Google’s technology, you can still buy copies of my studies:

  1. The Google Legacy: How Google’s Internet Search Is Transforming Application Software, Infonortics, 2005 here
  2. Google Version 2.0: The Calculating Predator, Infonortics, 2007 here
  3. Beyond Search: What to Do When Your Enterprise Search System Doesn’t Work, Gilbane Group, 2008 here

Bear Stearns is out of business, so I don’t know how you can get a copy of that 40 page report. You can order the dataspaces report directly from IDC. Just ask for Report 213562.

If you want me to brief your company on Google’s technology investments over the last decade, write me at seaky2000 at yahoo dot com. I have a number of different briefings, including the telco analysis and a new one on Google’s machine learning methods. These are a blend of technology analysis and examples in Google’s open source publications. I rely on my analytical methods to identify key trends and use only open source materials. Nevertheless, the capabilities of Google are–shall we say–quite interesting. Just look at what the GOOG has done in online advertising. The disruptive potential of its other technologies is comparable. What do you know about containers, janitors, and dataspaces? Not much I might suggest if I were not an addled goose.

Oh, let me address Messrs. Kumar and Rhoads, “You are somewhat correct, but you are grasping at straws when you suggest that Google requires the support and permission of any entity or individual. The GOOG is emerging as the first digital nation state.” Tough to understand, tough to regulate, and tough to thwart. Just ask the book publishers suggest I.

Stephen Arnold, December 15, 2008


4 Responses to “Wall Street Journal Figures Out What Google Is Doing, Gets Criticized”

  1. Do No Evil + Net Neutrality = Et Tu Google | Gauravonomics Blog on December 15th, 2008 11:00 am

    […] see: Om Malik, Lawrence Lessig, Doc Searls, Broadband Politics, TechDirt, Save the Internet, Beyond Search, Gizmodo, Broadstuff, Read Write Web, GoogleWatch, Sidecut Reports, Steve Schultze, Computer […]

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