The demonization of Google has begun. (Image from InternetWeekly.org.)
It's one of the great laws of politics. As soon as people decide you have power, and you can be moved, everyone and his auntie is going to try and move you.
I hinted that something might be happening more than a month ago, but it was probably the controversy over Google News that tipped it over.
With Google News, from the very beginning, Google did something it claimed it wasnt doing. That is, it exercised editorial judgement. As SearchEngine Journal noted, While an algorithm based on publishing popularity chooses which articles are found under which keyword phrases, the news-authority sources themselves are supposed to be pre-screened by a human. And some immediately started writing programs to see what those humans might be doing.
But just as I was objecting, wanting to get in, others were objecting wanting to stay out. Agence France-Presse has won an agreement from Google that News wont even spider stories sent to its affiliates, while Jeff Jarvis is crowing that Google News no longer spiders hate sites.
And now the atmosphere of controversy has spilled into the main site. French law demands that ads for competitors not be placed against trademarks. Google complies, on its French site, but continues to employ them on its U.S. site, where the standard is different. So the French sue.
It also comes out that both the Associated Press and Kyodo News Service have been objecting to use of their affiliates stories in Google News, and with the Agence France-Presse precedent in hand you can expect the wires to disappear entirely. Or, if Google chooses to pay for those links, expect others to then join in on the shakedown fun.
Obviously a tipping point has been reached, one that demands a creative solution.
I have thought that appointing an editor for Google News, a respected journalist who could stand behind the services editorial judgements, might be helpful. But that would not end the controversy because, as in the Agence France-Presse case, there are commercial and not just editorial judgements at stake.
But it still might help. Google News could use editorial tricks to get back its mojo. It could have links, on the home page of Google News, to the home pages of agencies who dont want their stories linked-to. Then it could spider everything else. It could also become more aggressive in spidering blog postings, many of which link in turn to wire service stories, and watch the news agencies go after bloggers.
There are many things Google could do.
The first thing it has to do is recognize that it has a problem, and recognize that computers alone wont solve it.
The second is to find a human being who can be the public face behind those decisions.