have a confession to make. I am in love with a monopolistic
corporation. Devoted to it. Way beyond brand loyalty.
This does not fit my image of myself. As a general rule, I
like the little guy, the local business, the family farm.
I try to avoid wearing corporate logos (except for that one
Peeps® baseball cap, but that’s an inside joke having to do
with civil disobedience outside the World Bank, so it doesn’t
count). I think the problem with an unregulated free- market
system is that there’s not enough competition. (Note to both
Bush and the Democrats screaming at him about gas prices:
OPEC is what happens in an unregulated free market.)
But here’s the dirty truth: If the Google logo were as pervasive
as the Nike “swoosh,” I probably wouldn’t bat an eye. My closet
would be among the most guilty.
Google doesn’t feel like a company to me, in roughly the same
way the characters on Friends don’t seem like actors
to the true fan. Google is more a like public utility, roughly
akin to the municipal water system.
I turn to Google for nearly everything: tracking down old
friends, checking breaking news, background research. When
I was Webmastering, I optimized the sites I managed only for
Google’s algorithm. If I’ve only got lima beans and barley
and it’s an hour until dinner, I guarantee you in five minutes
my laptop will be perched on the microwave with a new recipe
up (search on “barley lima beans recipe”) and my cookbooks
not having been touched at all.
As with any romance, I can easily sing the praises of my beloved.
Compared with Alta Vista in 1998 (the last time I have ever
used a different search engine for anything), Google’s results
are 50 million times more relevant, speedy, and well-ranked.
The page has no infuriating blinking, hopping, screaming ads,
or irrelevant clutter. I can tell the actual results from
the ad results, which are even useful occasionally.
But there comes a point in most relationships where your blind
devotion is challenged by outside information that implies
that you’ve had a few delusions going on. Like any good lover,
my reaction has been swift and unequivocal:
To the rash of articles critiquing Google and its growing
ubiquity, including the one from Mediabistro that chastised
journalists for relying on it too much: Y’all are just full
of sour grapes. Don’t blame Google for the fact that some
lazy-ass journalists think that the number of hits returned
for a celebrity’s name is a meaningful number. So there are
“Googleholes”: So a search for “apple” returns a bunch of
stuff about superior virus-resistant computers, and not much
about fruit. Didn’t anyone ever teach you to search creatively?
Duh . . . “apple trees” “apple varieties” . . . It’s not so
hard. They’re doing the best they can. I’ll bet you couldn’t
write a search algorithm to find your own toes.
To Microsoft’s brief flirtation with buying Google, which
said it would rather do an IPO: (After my heart rate returned
to normal from its brief panic from misreading the headline
and thinking Microsoft had bought Google). Ha ha. Gates,
you sleazy lech. What made you think Google would be interested
in you? Google’s way too cool for that. The nerve of you to
even ask! (Right, honey? Why did you even talk with them anyway?)
To the new Yahoo! search engine: Whatever. Yahoo! can’t
compete. Laughable. Who would want to go there? Eeewwww. Distracting,
ugly, lame. Get over it. I’m never leaving my search engine
for a blockhead like you, no matter how popular you are.
To Google-bombing, the process where people start a campaign
to link to a certain page with certain link text, so as to
make that page come up on top of a Google search for that
text: How can you complain about a search for “miserable failure”
turning up the White House biography of W., or about sex columnist
Dan Savage’s redefinition of “santorum” being locked in a
death struggle with the senator’s official site for top place?
OK, OK. I know that the fact that people I agree with can
Google-bomb means that Google is flawed, vulnerable, and subject
to such attacks by others with whom I disagree (indeed, Jimmy
Carter comes in second now under “miserable failure,” and
Michael Moore is third). Yeah, yeah, it should make me suspicious
of Google results in general. Chill. Work with me here. Google-bombing
just goes to show that far from being just a company, Google
is an extension of the public square (cue violins), where
the battle for the country’s heart and soul continues.
Do you think I protest too much? Probably. There’s always,
eventually, the painful realization that relying on one person/search
engine (no, I’m not personifying too much, leave me alone)
for all your needs is generally a bad idea, even if you decide
to pick a favorite. (Yes this means you, newlyweds.) It’s
time for me to let go of the defensiveness. The following
is entirely in the service of my own relationship therapy.
Any of you out there in the same boat are welcome to repeat
will change. It will not do so with my wishes in mind.
As the recent redesign and addition of the questionably useful
“Froogle” (it’s not like you didn’t get shopping options on
regular Google) has firmly taught me, I cannot rely forever
on having kinetic memory of exactly where the Google News
is not perfect. Much as it deeply chagrins me to credit
the New York Post for anything, its recent column about
a scam artist whose firing for dishonesty from one of his
jobs could be found with a search on his name on other search
engines, but not on Google (which turned up nothing suspicious
for him), is a pretty solid blow to my vision of Google supremacy.
is a corporation. Google is a corporation. Google is a corporation.
Just this week it has proposed to scan the content of messages
in its new Gmail service to target advertising. This portends
dramatically greater creepiness and corporateness, despite
the founders’ assertion that they’re “not going over to the
dark side.” No matter how geeky they are, the goal is really
to make money; once it goes public, it will have no choice.
Maximizing shareholder value becomes the law. Sigh.
I’m not breaking up with Google just yet. But I think it may
be time to open the relationship. As long as I don’t have
to turn to Yahoo!.