Jeff Atwood at Coding Horror sent about 3,000 people here over the last couple of days from his post about the dangers of Google Monoculture. The least I can do is defend him against his critics, so here are answers to a few of the most common criticisms in the comments to his post.
I can switch any time I like, so it’s not a problem. Or “The Google monopoly seems a lot less scary than it’s marketshare would suggest because a new search engine is only a click away.”
No you can’t switch any time you like, for two reasons.
First: you can use another search engine, but when everyone else is using Google to find their way around the web, any other search engine that uses popularity as an input (most of them I think) is going to reflect Google’s recommendations. Google shapes the web as much as mapping it, and you can’t escape that shape easily even if you use another search engine.
Second: Google isn’t in the search business, it is in the advertising business. And while Adwords is its big moneyspinner, Doubleclick and Adsense ads are all over the place and you can’t escape them (not easily anyway).
The problem is that Microsoft acted in a belligerent and bullying manner, whereas google has not. An no one feels locked in, because they can switch in an instant.
Can we get past this idea that Microsoft is full of moustache twirling evildoers while Google is populated by friendly helpful people? Face it: companies respond to incentives. Google’s incredible success has saved it the tough decisions of squeezing the most out of every customer (and employee) so far, but when times get tough for Google, as they will sometime, it will squeeze just as hard as Microsoft, because it will have no choice.
Also, we have a different relationship to Google than to Microsoft. Most of us are Microsoft customers, but we are not Google’s customers, we are Google’s product. It sells us to advertisers. Google’s treatment of its advertisers is mysterious, but there are grumbles. For example, see El Reg on Google’s Money Machine; its ability to place ads on search terms that an advertiser did not bid on (and so collect money) and to extend ads to the iPhone (and charge for them) without asking their customers. And Google is quite keen to “embrace and extend” news organizations with Google News, and to use its site-directed top search results to take extra advertising revenue from the sites it directs you to.
Give Google time, then ask their customers if they feel they can switch.
A lot of people compared the Googopoly to the Micropoly. My very smart colleague Graeme commented: “In short, Microsoft’s monopoly was *created*, Google’s was *earned*.”
This is a tough one, but I disagree. In the key areas, both MS and Google made very good products by making the most of increasing returns to scale and from network effects. Many years ago I used Lotus 1-2-3 and WordPerfect, but Office just got better and more integrated. But that’s a subjective opinion and it is asking for trouble. In the end, sure we use Word because everyone else uses Word, but in a way we use Google because everyone else uses Google: like Microsoft they work hard to exploit their relationship to us. Microsoft did it with design consistency and with file format compatibility, Google uses the information we give them every time we search to tweak its products. Both have produced some very good products and some products that win just because of company size. I use Google Docs because the scale of Google’s operation makes it responsive and convenient, but let’s face it, it’s an unpleasant experience compared to other writing and spreadsheet products.
And finally, although I can’t find a comment, there’s this impression that Google is
closed open while Microsoft is openclosed. Rubbish! Google gives away stuff that doesn’t matter to it. When it comes to its core technologies – the Adwords and Search algorithms and its data centre construction, Google is as closed and secretive as anyone. It recently refused to give information on water use at one of the new data centres because “We’re in a highly competitive industry and, frankly, one or two little pieces of information like that in the hands of our competitors can do us considerable damage. So we can’t discuss it.”