Just a few loose thoughts. In two interesting posts on his blog, Nicholas Carr writes about the centripetal forces towards Google. In the case of Google’s new First Click Free policy, for comments see this post at Google Blogoscoped (incl interesting discussion with Matt Cutts in comments), Google defines it policy in such a way that it enforces the centripetality towards its search operations.
Seth Finkelstein in a related post and comments states that it’s plausible that the highly ranked Wikipedia links in Google suck away some attention from better specialist results. I think I can agree with that. Google + Wikipedia is simply the sum of least possible efforts possible, explaining the prominence of the combination. I am not sure if we have to consider this to be a problem.
First, one has to be somewhat knowledgeable to be able to find and understand ‘specialist’ reports. That takes effort on the side of users, and I do not think a search engine could easily take away the need for that effort.
Second, attention may be the measure for success in terms of the market for eyeballs. From the perspective of real debate and valuable information exchange, such attention needs to be qualified however. Was attention meaningful, did the reader learn something new or used the information for subsequent action? Maybe 10 readers is sometimes better than 50,000. By measuring in terms of eyeballs just seems to explain Google’s choices for popularity as a measure of quality.
I am quite worried about the possibility of publishers ‘speaking’ to Googlebot and Google users differently than to other bots and users and in fact about all such intensified formal interaction between online publishers and Google. The idea that a newspaper gets to choose who to speak to in such a way just seems entirely illegitimate to me. It’s an interesting legal question whether it is legal in such cases to identify oneself (falsely) as a Googlebot or a Google user, if that is technologically possible. The question becomes different in case newspapers get paid for privileged access for Googlebot and Google users. That changes the character of Google’s service.