Googzilla Gets Social

January 11, 2012

I scanned the “official” line of Google’s most recent social play. I flipped through the long list of comments, views, opinions, etc. My reaction? What’s the big surprise. Here’s an anchor post: “Antitrust+,” which appeared in Parislemon. The main idea seems to be that pundits recognize Google, an outfit I called Googzilla back in 2005, is doing the beaver thing. (The notion of Googzilla originated from my research which revealed that Google believed that its “system” would provide the underpinnings for most business processes. Therefore, search was the new infrastructure. When I used this reference in a talk in London, the Googler on the panel with me said, “Cool.” Googzilla is just a big beaver, doing its beaver thing.) You may recall the adage, “Beavers do what beavers do.” Put the beaver in the kitchen of the Cast Iron Grill in Harrod’s Creek, Kentucky, and the beaver starts building a dam. Why? That’s what beavers do. Easy to predict because beavers do their thing. Here’s evidence of the Google-beaver similarity:

Google is using Search to propel their social network. They might say it’s “not a social network, it’s a part of Google”, but no one is going to buy that. They were late to the game in social and this is the best catch-up strategy ever. Given that it’s opt-out, I’m just not sure that this is all that different from Microsoft bundling IE with Windows.

Google is doing the social thing, not because Google is social. Google is doing social in order to remain relevant to the Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn users. In these systems, content from humans is perceived to be more accurate, less biased, and generally more useful than a list of results in which ads, content, red herrings, and even malware lurk. Hey, some users seem to think, the social information is just “better.” When the user is looking for a short cut, getting mis- or dis-information from a “friend” is probably a better bet than taking what a non-social system generates.

Beavers do what beavers do. Why does one expect the beaver to build a computer when beavers build dams.

My view is that most of the free content available on the Web is dicey stuff. Most users today—including recent library school graduates—lack the skills to determine accurate content in most topic areas, distorted content  with bent or shaped “facts”, content with mixed semantic or sentiment coloring, and the most relevant document for a particular query.

In short, “beavers do what beavers do” applies to Google, but the adage also applies to users who take what systems give them because advertisers and other funding sources foot the bill. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. When I am looking for information, I consult multiple commercial databases, review a representative selection of the documents, and make judgments about which documents warrant further investigation?
  2. When consuming results from any free online system, do I routinely verify facts by looking for another source which can verify the data in which I have an interest?
  3. When accepting “hits” from predictive systems, I run the same query on another predictive system and evaluate the outputs?

I know from information gathered as recently as last week, that even among recent library school graduates that few, if any, perform these actions.

So Google is getting social because:

  1. Facebook and other “real” competitors are nibbling into Google’s revenue growth system. In 2006, Google had essentially zero competitors. Today, Google is in an uncomfortable position. Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and even the once presumed terminal Microsoft are posing problems, big problems. Google’s management is responding with “me too” solutions in the hopes that sheer imitation will solve the competitive gap problem. The beaver is doing what the beaver does.
  2. Google’s gravity free run is now carrying the ballast of staff retention. With the big paydays coming to employees of pre-IPO companies, 13 year old outfits don’t have that old hiring magnetism any longer. As a result, Google cannot innovate and disrupt. Google is now in the imitate and disrupt mode in my opinion. Aging beavers do what aging beavers do; that is, look for short cuts.
  3. Google must push through increasing friction. The resistance is coming from regulators who can be “managed” but that takes time, mental resources, and effort. No problem but with legal hassles on every continent except Antarctica, Google finds the legal tar getting harder. Other factors bumping up the coefficient of friction at Google are the cut backs, the about faces, and the multi-front product and service wars the company is fighting. Even beavers grow careless. I saw a squashed on on the way to the post office yesterday.

Wow, I bet everyone using social media for information wishes that the traditional method of research were back in vogue. Online services reflect the user. In short, beavers do what beavers do, and today beavers don’t do “get your hands dirty” research. How inefficient! Let’s get social to find the “truth”. That works?

I find Google interesting and one can make its public search system deliver high value results. However, most online users just accept what the system outputs. When I was younger, I worried that commercial online services like Dialog and LexisNexis would manipulate results to suit their corporate purposes. As risky as placing trust in a commercial online service may be, Dialog and LexisNexis made no effort to filter the content generated by commercial database producers. In fact, the systems made it possible to run a query across multiple commercial files using the 411 command or to run comprehensive searches across a corpus of third party content. It took time and effort to grind through these outputs, but the effort would yield insights, suggestions for further research, and often make visible unintentional or factual errors. In our Business Dateline database, we went so far as to include post publication corrections to the full text article. The idea was to make it clear that even commercial publishers make mistakes, often really big ones.

Today, the online consumer is getting exactly what the online consumer wants. The content finding systems are not built to deliver accurate, unbiased results. The majority of online users want answers, not the time consuming, intellectually exhausting task of figuring out the provenance and accuracy of information. Who wants to do library research and mind numbing data analysis. I want the equivalent of ESPN Newscenter so I “know” what happened in sports. Who has time to watch the games? Why read “long form” content when one can snag information via Flipbook and Pulse?

So let’s knock off the worry about Google and its incursions into social. Put that effort into performing rigorous searching. When the users shift from taking spoon fed, baby food content to more substantive fare, then Google as well as other online services will adapt.

Perhaps this type of sign should be posted on search result pages from ad supported online research services? Image source:

Right now, Google is doing what beavers do. Users are doing what users do. Hard work, fact based analysis, and exercising judgment are not driving online. Distraction, ease of use, easy, fast, and fun information access is driving beavers into a frenzy.

Beavers do what beavers do. One can’t change Mother Nature. Complaining about Googzilla is pretty much a waste of energy which can be better spent with more rigorous research. Wow, that will be popular with today’s “average” user looking for pizza in all the wrong places.

Stephen E Arnold, January 11, 2012

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