Google’s Incentive and the Open Source Movement in Online Marketing

The blogosphere has been all abuzz with the latest news from Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, in that he is attempting to construct a human generated search platform to rival Google.

Search is part of the fundamental infrastructure of the Internet. And, it is currently broken.

Why is it broken? It is broken for the same reason that proprietary software is always broken: lack of freedom, lack of community, lack of accountability, lack of transparency.

Here, we will change all that.

There are already dozens of thoughts and opinions on whether or not this will work or if it is even original or feasible (see the holy tech trinity of Techmeme, TechCrunch and Technorati if you haven’t been following).

However, one of the questions very few are asking is whether or not Google is doing a decent job at providing access to all of the world’s information, which was one of the company’s original mission statements.

Does Google have enough incentive to provide a decent search platform? I’d argue no, because Google is at its heart an advertising company.

Dave Winer sums it up the best with:

Today Google’s profits come from ads, and that business gives them a reason to keep search weak. They want you to do a lot of searching to find what you’re looking for — and the stuff they find for you for free is competing with the stuff they make money on. So Google actually has a disincentive to make search better.

Amen, Dave.

holidazegoogle.png

Whether or not Jimmy’s project succeeds or fails is important to watch, but realizing that Google’s hegemonic grip on providing quick access to our information is beginning to loosen is also important to ponder.

It means everything to online marketing.

Whether you like them or not, CPA networks reflect the democratization of the affiliate network structure which held the affiliate marketing industry back in terms of reach, technology platforms and stature within the larger scope of online marketing. In a way, CPA networks show the market’s ability to prefer democracy over hierarchical and non-transparent imposed structures.

The next 50 years will see the exponential demand for “open source” and “free” technological equipment and platforms. This will extend WELL beyond just software such as browsers (Firefox) and begin to make us question why we allow companies to set boundaries on our own entertainment and consumption habits (think of how restrictive your iPod really is on your music).

Think of fonts. If you had told any professional newspaper or magazine publisher that consumers and individuals (from 3rd graders on up to grandmothers) would know the difference between the Helvetica and Verdana fonts in 2000, they would have thought you were crazy. We don’t realize the impact that such technologies as MS Word have had on our culture in terms of opening up the publishing and content creation business to non-specialists, but now it is taken as cultural competency that kids entering college know the difference between Courier New and Times New Roman since you can squeeze an extra page and a half out of a 10 page paper if you are using Courier New rather than Times New Roman. Profs and freshmen know this, and that’s just odd considering the course of human history.

If you don’t watch Ze Frank’s The Show, you should. At least watch this episode (on this very topic) for me.

So, what does that have to do with Google and online marketing? Everything.

Consumers will begin to examine why they can’t listen to their iTunes music on more than 5 computers if they bought their music fair and square. Consumers will begin to wonder why Vista restricts the application of certain handy software programs. Consumers will begin to wonder why Google doesn’t provide the best links on the front page.

And this will happen soon.

So, don’t get stuck in the present or the 2005 as we enter the new year. Realize that it’s not a matter of consumers becoming more educated about technologies, but they are becoming more accustomed to using these technologies and realizing what things like Google, search, affiliate links and top down technologies and services can and cannot do.

Eventually this will be a mute debate, but as a species we have constantly dealt with attempts to co-opt and control the learning process, going back to the roots of literacy, trade and sociological functions such as religion. It is inevitable that everything will be open source and non-proprietary, it’s just going to take a few more thousand years to get there.

Knowledge is power and Google’s power seems to be slipping as consumers realize that Google’s main product is not knowledge, but advertising.

[As an effort to show my cards and provide disclosure, I’m a hippie libertarian (deep down I think Shawn is too) teacher/student and online marketer who distrusts efforts to make knowledge (or access to knowledge) proprietary at heart and this post was made on the Drivel blogging platform (Gnome blogging platform) inside the Linux-based open source Ubuntu OS with links provided by the Epiphany web browser (a Gnome based browser similar to Firefox but more community minded). I listen to my music (non-drm) on a Rockbox hacked iPod Mini while reading my feeds on Liferea and chatting on Gaim.]

[EDIT: Here’s the link to the Search Wikia page from Jimmy Wales.]

6 thoughts on “Google’s Incentive and the Open Source Movement in Online Marketing

  1. This post is a great example of why I come here every day.

    I have more to say about this post but it’s too long to write here, so I’ll try to catch you after the holiday. Mostly I think it’s interesting to examine the flip side of your argument — the economic pressures that keep information and knowledge from being as free as it should be. Google is itself an interesting microcosm of the current state of information availability — it’s certainly a bit schizophrenic, making billions by corrupting its own model while trying to take down Microsoft by offering open source alternatives (even pushing Firefox on its homepage). They key here is to take the long view as you are doing here, but also pay attention to the economic systems that will be created (and destroyed) as information becomes as free and accessible as we all know it will be one day. Who creates and controls that information, how we receive it, what value it has, and how we all make a living in that world as the marketing of that media spreads further and further down the tail are all hanging in the balance.

  2. Online marketing shares so much with sociology, psychology and network science and this is another example of that relationship:

    >examine the flip side of your argument — the economic pressures that keep information and knowledge from being as free as it should be.

    Amazing how this applies to Google, Commission Junction, governments, religions, and even classrooms.

    I’ll put together some thoughts on how these meta economic/sociological pressures affect the dissemination of things such as stats, coupon codes, etc in our niche b/c it is a fascinating topic and idea.

    Thanks for the kind words and spurring of thought!!

  3. I’m curios why you think that Epiphany is more community minded than Firefox.

    I mean, Epiphany has a community that’s a tiny fraction of Firefox’s and it’s only available in one toolkit (gtk) which means it doesn’t play well on KDE or other non-Gnome Linux systems (not to mention a dozen other platforms where Firefox is a good citizen). Mozilla and Firefox, on the other hand, have a massive community of developers, testers, marketers. localizers, and extension and theme developers, it’s available for just about every platform under the sun, and on top of all that community, Mozilla provides code to many other projects including the overwhelming majority of the code that makes up Epiphany.

    How have we managed to build such a massive community (I’m happy to provide numbers for both Epiphany and Firefox/Mozilla if you’re interested) if we’re not as community minded as the Epiphany project which has attracted a only tiny fraction of the participants?

    – A

  4. Hi Asa-

    I stand corrected… but I would like to get the numbers for both Epiphany and FF/Mozilla (sam@costpernews.com) and figure out a way to tie that into a conversation about online marketing. That would be a fascinating piece if you’d like to provide that information as the foundation.

    I know my readers here would love to read and take part in such a discussion as most are FF users (around 67%) when they visit and I suspect when they are working.

    You’re right… that was an unfair comparison in terms of community development. I’m a fairly monogamous user of Gnome and tend to appreciate the simplicity there rather than the richer KDE interface, although I do appreciate what it provides to certain users (especially platforms such as Konqueror).

    FF is definitely more flexible in terms of how it can be adopted to other systems. Epiphany is pretty much glued to Gnome, but being a Gnome-fanboy, I’m OK with that.

    And you’re right that the Firefox community is just as vibrant as the Epiphany developer community. I’ve been a FF fan and lover since the first releases and I credit FF with helping me to realize there was a world beyond Windows and IE.

    The real question, I think, comes back to defining community and realizing that different types and sizes of communities provide their members different resources and experiences. I’ve always been a fan of smaller and more concentrated communities, whether it’s my favorite bar or my favorite OS or my favorite browser.

    For my own personal tastes, I’ve gotten a richer experience from my interaction with the Epiphany crowd rather than the FF crowd, but that is a completely objective assessment and I’m sure most would find a better experience with the larger FF user and dev crowd, and for good reason.

    Thanks for your insights and your participation! Looking forward to that information and more of your thoughts-

    Sam

  5. First, pardon my slightly ranty response above. Upon re-reading it, I see that I could probably have said my piece in a fraction of the words and included some actual data. But rather than correct my earlier mistake and opt for brevity in this post, (I’ve got a few minutes so) I’ll give you a bit of history and then some numbers.

    The history is obviously colored by the teller and the “roughness” of the stats reflect my mild impatience with the tools and the disparity between my familiarity with the people involved in Mozilla and people involved with Epiphany. Still, I think you’ll find the overall picture interesting.

    History:

    We were not always this large of a community. When I first got involved with Mozilla, back in the middle of 1998, “the community” was essentially non-existant. There were about 100 or so Netscape software engineers and about 30 QA engineers with next to no real volunteer base. Their management, and even the handful of people that made up the mostly independent mozilla.org Staff group, were overwhelmingly focused on bringing what they called “external” or “outside” _developers_ into the project. Back then, Open Source was about developers, nearly exclusively.

    I came to the project looking for a way that a non-technical person like myself could get involved. There really wasn’t an opportunity for people who weren’t software engineers. Back then, Mozilla only provided source code and no binaries, so you couldn’t even download Mozilla and check it out unless you had a compiler, a powerful enough computer, and the skills to set up a pretty crazy build environment.

    I spent a most of 1999 putting in 20-30 hours a week volunteering on Mozilla with the explicit goal of opening up the process and finding ways to involve other non-developers. In that time, we got Netscape to start shipping daily binaries for testers and we increased the number of regular volunteer testers from a tiny handful to hundreds — going from just a few thousand active Bugzilla accounts to about 15K by early 2000 when I was hired. I happily take a lot of credit for the building of and and the subsequent care and feeding of that early testing community — and mozilla.org Staff’s decision to hire me to work full-time on building community for Mozilla seemed to validate that.

    After getting hired as a community person at Mozilla, I started work on opening up the project management process to a larger community. As part of the drivers@mozilla.org group, I worked to solicit product requirements from all of our participants and build those into our technical roadmap. I was instrumental in designing the systems (first keyword based then using the new Bugzilla flags features) for community input into defining release requirements and making sure we could track progress on and hit those targets.

    In early 2002, working in my evenings as a community coordinator with Blake, Dave, Ben, and Joe on a side project called “m/b”, I started building a new, more focused community of testers and developers, around what would eventually become the Firefox web browser. We ramped quickly to add a few more engineers but most importantly, we started to attract a new community of users and activists who mostly weren’t even aware of what open source was. These users, testers and advocates grew from just a few dozen people who found out about the first m/b updates at my weblog to literally thousands of active participants and millions of happy users well before we shipped the first release version of Firefox.

    By the end of 2002, Netscape was pretty much no longer contributing any resources to the Mozilla project. In April of 2003, the Mozilla Foundation was started with 10 employees that included an engineering team of one Firefox developer, two Gecko developers, and me doing half-time QA. There was no path to sustainability, much less success, that didn’t require growing a thriving community of contributors — and quickly. It was around then that we shifted from the old Mozilla browser to what would become Firefox with a community that was quite discreet from the older Mozilla community.

    In the lead-up to Firefox 1.0, Blake and I launched yet another community called Spread Firefox — to give our thousands of fans, active advocates and marketing volunteers a tool suite for spreading the word about the upcoming release. Spread Firefox grew to tens of thousands of active members in short order and launched groundbreaking community marketing projects over the next two years.

    OK. That’s a quick history of how our communities came to be and the various roles I’ve played.

    Here are some rough estimates on community size I extracted from the two projects’ Bugzillas (btw, we — our community — make Bugzilla too, which is probably the most important community coordination tool for literally hundreds of open source projects) and from the two projects’ Bonsai tools (another project from Mozilla that lets non-technical and technical people alike examine the changes to files in a CVS source code repository) as well as some reading elsewhere and in project documentation.

    Both projects go back to about the same time so this info covers participation at any time on the project.

    Community Metrics:

    Browser Developers

    Firefox Developers who have checked into our CVS source code repository number around 140. There are also an additional 250 or so people who have submitted patches that were checked in to Firefox by someone else. Based on my quantitative and qualitative analysis of how many people could be considered “serious” Firefox code contributors since the beginning of the project, I’d put the number at around 90.

    There’s another 700 or so developers who have checked significant code into to Mozilla’s Gecko rendering engine which is a core Firefox component and not included in the Firefox numbers above (Gecko also a core Epiphany component, responsible for everything inside the content area). There are also about 600 people who have contributed Gecko code that was checked in by someone else. While the Gecko developers essentially contribute to Epiphany (and several other browsers) I don’t believe I’ve seen any significant or ongoing contributions in the other direction (not to discount the few patches that have come to Mozilla) so I’m going to call them Firefox community.

    Developers checking into the Epiphany project number about 30. There are an addition 20 or so that apparently don’t have cvs access but have submitted patches that were checked in to Epiphany by others. Further analysis suggest that about 8 of these people could be considered serious code contributors since the beginning of the project and the bulk of the code seems to have come from 2 people.

    Extension developers

    Firefox has over 1000 add-ons developers responsible for nearly 2000 Firefox extensions.

    Epiphany seems to have about 18 extensions most of which are written by the same core team of 8 or so Epiphany developers.

    QA Testers and Bug Reporters

    Firefox has roughly 50,000 people that have filed bugs. (add another 20K for people who have filed bugs exclusively on Gecko.) There are about 3,000 people that make up the core bug reporters for Firefox.

    A quick scan of Epiphany bug filing shows that fewer than 2,400 people have ever filed a bug on Epiphany and the active bug filers (those responsible for the majority of bug reports) number about 150.

    Advocacy and Marketing:

    Firefox has just under 200,000 people signed up at Spread Firefox, more than 70,000 of them have posted Firefox buttons and banners at their websites and weblogs resulting in tens of millions of Firefox downloads. Firefox has wow’d not just the open source software world but the mainstream and especially the marketing pros with events like the New York Times celebration that raised more than $100,000 from around 10,000 fans who gave small donations to take out two full pages in the NTY to announce the release of Firefox 1.0. Other major marketing successes that came from our volunteer community were the nearly 300 Firefox Flicks 30-second videos, 4 of which — thanks to firefox fan sponsorship, are playing on television as we speak. And just a couple of months back, a team of volunteers carved out a 40,000 square foot crop circle in Oregon which got coverage in nearly every major tech-focused website, as well as major magazines like BusinessWeek, Inc., Fast Company, Wired, and more.

    Epiphany’s community marketing page seems to be completely blank but they do offer a button/badge somewhere on their site.

    Users:

    Firefox has an installed base of around 100 million users with tens of millions of daily users. Most webstat companies put Firefox usage at between 12 and 25% (mostly depending on geopgraphy. We’re as high as 40% market share in some parts of Europe, but down around 8% in Japan.)

    Epiphany has a fraction of the Linux desktop which seems to account for between 1 and 2% of the desktop market. Epiphany doesn’t register at all on any of the major web stats lists.

    Conclusion:

    Firefox is massive. The Firefox communities dwarf not only those of the other browsers, Epiphany included, but they dwarf the entire Linux ecosystem in terms of both size and impact on today’s consumer desktop. That sounds pretty arrogant as I type it but it’s basically the truth.

    Other:

    As far as marketing goes, I’d love to talk with you more about that. I’ve been intimately involved with Mozilla’s marketing program since before we had a marketing program and I’ve had my hands in not just the organization of this community but the actual projects and campaigns we’ve been running. Unfortunately, for now, my time has run out and I’ve got to go get some other work done 🙂

    Take care and have a happy new year!

Leave a Reply