Monday, April 07, 2003

Google: The Backlash Begins

Americans love an underdog, and fear and loathe overdogs. Google's emergence from nowhere, with an appealing and seemingly non-commercial public image, touched a chord with a lot of people. Google's increasing dominance of the Web today is starting to scare those very same people. At the same time that Yahoo is changing its strategy [plus bonus link] to be more like fast-rising Google, real questions about the monopolistic power of Google to manage information and even create meaning are starting to emerge. At this rate, Google will quickly become the new Microsoft in ways which are somewhat less appealing than near-infinite positive cashflow and world dominance.

First, there was the GoogleWashing controversy, which I commented on a couple of days ago, below. Now, Andrew Orlowski at The Register -- seemingly a one-man anti-Google-hegemony bandwagon -- has found another crack in the new Darth Vader's armor. In a piece from April 5th, Orlowski points out that Google news is including press releases and other corporate PR in with "straight" news. As he positions it, this calls into question the basic journalistic premise of what is truth in the perception of readers. Orlowski gets to the heart of the issue in this snippet:

"Tools you can trust? Transparency in the instruments we use is vital, to ensure the integrity of the system. So we need to know how these editorial decisions are made."

In a completely unscientific sampling of reader letters [which tend to overweight the offended-enough-to-write-in] The Reg's readers get all huffy -- saying things like, "Why is Google shooting itself in the foot? In providing information, credibility is everything."

They're right. And one reason that traditional centralized, hierarchical media retains its hold on our collective consciousness is that it goes to extraordinary and sometimes arcane lengths to preserve our collective trust -- as demonstrated by the self-flagellation of the LA Times over their recent (pretty banal) altered photo flap.

Contrast this to Sean-Paul Kelly's somewhat cavalier "you caught me" over at the Agonist (see my previous post) and ask yourself who you're going to trust to be straight in the future -- the LA Times, which wants your trust badly enough to grovel for it; The Agonist, which shrugs its shoulders and says, "you decide" -- or Google, which says nothing at all.

I read a lot of good newspapers, and other traditional news sources.

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