Sam Harrelson

Sam Harrelson

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.


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.]

Posted: 12.26.2006

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