I was listening to Seth Godin’s latest Akimbo podcast, where he talks about Google, and how Google started out once with a very simple mission. Index all the information on the web and build a search engine that connects people and the information they are searching for.
But, once they starting selling advertising they couldn’t continue to grow while also leaving that mission intact.
For example, Seth talks about Google Reader. Once upon a time, you could use Google Reader to subscribe to any number of blog RSS feeds, and simply login. The feeds came to you, no effort on your part.
But, that meant you weren’t spending much time doing searches anymore, which meant that Google’s search advertising market might be shrinking, and Google shut it down, so that more people who wanted to read a tech blog, or a news blog would have to search for it.
Similarly, Google started adding things directly into the search results, instead of sending you to another website. Seth talks about how they got caught stealing song lyrics from another site, but think about the last time you went to Google to search for a sports or concert schedule, the weather, a score, etc. The information was available without having to leave Google. Why do you think that is?
Seth also makes some interesting claims around the Gmail Promo folder too, and how by moving emails there and out of your inbox, you have to search to get back to a site you signed up for in the first place.
Now, why do I tell you this? Because I think it’s incumbent on us as internet users to understand while we are using Facebook, Google, Twitter, etc. why we are seeing what we are seeing. What they want us to do, and how they are attempting to manipulate us to get what they want us to do. Facebook wants you to stay on the site, sharing things (without leaving to read them) to encourage your friends to spend more time on the site, providing them more information about you. Google wants you to search for things, over and over again. It’s no accident that when you search for just about anything now, the first 2-4 results are all ads, and the rest of page one is going to be websites that have a preview of the content right there on Google. They don’t really want you to leave.
Of course, if you’re a website owner and don’t like that, too bad. Try and even appear in Google’s search results without a preview, and probably a paid ad if you want to be high enough. Just like trying to reach all of the fans of your Facebook page without buying an ad.
They are in it to make money, and keep growing, because they have shareholders to satisfy. Keeping users happy is completely secondary to that, and always will be.
When you understand that, you can start to make your own decisions about how to act, and what to do instead of allowing Google and Facebook to decide for you. When you understand that the next recommended YouTube video, or the way your news feed gets built, or the reason Google shows you information instead of linking to information is about keeping you there. When you realize that it’s all part of their strategy, you can decide to do something else.
Like go get an RSS reader. Don’t let Google decide how to handle your inbox, and be mindful of what you do on social media sites, and what you share. People who are in on the con are much harder to manipulate. Be that kind of person.