Google Critics/Domination Articles Archive


Is a Google Backlash Building?
BusinessWeek, June 15, 2004

Will upset advertisers and publishers hurt Google in the long-run? A look at some complaints and efforts by the company to improve things.

In Searching We Trust
New York Times, March 14, 2004

The headline says “searching” which suggests this might be a look at how we search in general. But apparently, we still only search with Google. You’ve read this type of story before: Google “miracles,” at least tempered that Google isn’t always perfect. Yahoo is not mentioned once in the entire story. That’s sort of like saying we all watch TV, but that we only watch one channel. Yahoo’s a big whopping search channel that many, many people view.

How do I love Google? Let me count the ways
ZDNet, March 12, 2004

Just when you thought the popular press may have been learning there are other search engines than Google, here’s an example where it’s like the good old days of “only Google find things.”

Google definitely won on the lyric query David Coursey was after. But the Boomtown Rats “I Don’t Like Mondays” query I’d give to Yahoo. Both Yahoo and Google have the same first listing that answers the question he was after. But the Yahoo description of that page is much better and actually answers the question without having to go to the page, unlike the case at Google. As for BofA media contact, both Google and Yahoo had the same good page as the first result. And Yahoo, like Google, does list the column that mentioned the Sweden town of Fjuckby.

Behind the Rise of Google Lies the Rise in Internet Credibility
New York Times, Feb. 27, 2004

Jaw. Drop. Floor. “The Web has moved from the periphery of a good researcher’s awareness in 1998 to the very center of it in 2004,” this opinion piece goes, with Google as usual the savior of the web. I’m sorry. Good researchers were using the internet and other search engines long before 1998.

The Hit Factory. Has Google Had Its Day?
The Independent, Feb. 24, 2004

Looks at Google’s rise to power and the forces that seek to knock it off the throne.

Google for a grade
Seattle Times, Feb. 2, 2004

Apparently the first university course on Google has been offered, though I suspect there have been others, just not publicized. It focuses on Google as a cultural phenomenon. Let’s hope the professor actually decides to encompass search engines overall as a phenomenon — which they are, but for which Google gets the lion share of credit today.

For example, one student says, “It has completely changed the way many if not most people access or find information.” Another says, “This just blows me away that we’re sitting in a classroom in Seattle, I type words into this thing and we’re getting web pages from all over the world right with a click of a button…I’m not overselling Google. I’m talking about the web. Is this what humanity has been waiting for?”

Actually, Yahoo, Lycos, WebCrawler — those early search engines from 1994, before Google even existed — completely transformed how people accessed information. They popularized the idea of search as a resource. Google came afterward with a better system, but as I’ve written many times before, people did indeed locate information even before Google.

So is the second student overselling Google? Yes — or at least giving them too much credit for a path originally trailblazed by others — some of which like Yahoo are still going. (permalink to this item)

Digging for Googleholes
Slate, July 16, 2003

Google’s not perfect (nor is any search engine, for that matter), but some believe it to be. Steven Johnson points out flaws to dispute this myth, though there are some flaws to his flaws.

For example, Google’s top results are claimed to be heavily skewed toward shopping sites, if you are looking for something that is sold online. To prove this, a search for “flowers” is shown to bring up mostly online florists at Google (same is true for AllTheWeb, Teoma and Inktomi, by the way).

Well, if you are searching for flowers, there’s indeed a good chance you’d like a florist. If you want information about flowers, then trying “flower information” brings back much more general, non-commercial information. And if you are doing research on tulips, then typing something specific like “tips on growing tulips” works great and is what you should do.

You wouldn’t walk into a library looking for tips about growing tulips and simply say to the librarian, “flowers.” Nor should you do the same with Google or any search engine. Certainly, though, it’s good if a search engine tries to help you along. An example of this is at Teoma, where a search for “flowers” suggests “flowers gardens” as an alternative in the Refine section of the page. Google is notable among the major search engines for not offering search refinement assistance like this.

The synonym problem described, where “apple” is dominated by results related to Apple Computers, is true enough — and true on AllTheWeb, Teoma and Inktomi as well. But refinement at Google certainly would help for the odd person interested in apples you can eat. Do a search for apples at MSN Search, and you’ll see “apples (food)” suggested as a topic. Select this, and you’ll get a list of much more relevant sites.

Is Google God?
New York Times, June 30, 2003

Could we now make it a requirement that anyone planning to write about Google must use at least one other search engine? Perhaps then we’ll see some perspective. This opinion piece hits a new Google high — Google as God.

If Google is God, then someone should explain to columnist Thomas Friedman that the search engine universe, like ancient Greece and Rome, has several of them. Other search engines have the incredible power to show you what people are searching for worldwide, just like Google (see What People Search For.

Google’s most God-like power is based on a quote in the column from a new wi-fi company’s VP, who says, “If I can operate Google, I can find anything….which is why I say that Google, combined with wi-fi, is a little bit like God. God is wireless, God is everywhere and God sees and knows everything.”

Sorry to say, but Google and other search engines don’t find everything. They are imperfect gods. I love them, and we all certainly depend on them more than ever before. But, I still depend on my telephone, friends, magazines, libraries, email, books and other forms of information to locate what I want, as well.

The Google backlash
Salon, June 25, 2003

Is Google’s popularity causing a backlash against it? When Salon writer Farhad Manjoo asked me, my response was immediate. Absolutely. Google is no longer some tiny, start-up company. It’s a search behemoth, and behemoths of any type make some people nervous.

As always, there are some serious concerns about Google, as explained in this article. And as always, many of these are applicable to other search engines, as well. Google, by the way, continues to deny that it is downweighting blog links. But as my Coping With GDS, The Google Dance Syndrome article from last month explains. Google does say it may consider various factors on how to credit links of any type, blog or not. Also, Google does not name its updates, as stated in the article. Updates have been named by the community.

Has Google Ruined the Web?
PC Magazine, June 10, 2003

This is such a bad article in so many ways that it’s shocking that someone with Bill Machrone’s reputation in technology reporting authored it. In the article, Machrone takes claims made by Google Watch, reports them as facts and mixes in technical errors and oversimplifications of his own. Here’s the rundown:

1) “Google also looks at keywords, but not just those in the meta tags. It actually looks within web pages to see where the words are used.”

Other search engines also do this. In fact, that’s been standard practice with search engines even before Google emerged, except for a very short period where Lycos, in the early days, only indexed a short “abstract” of a page.

2) “Because of its patented PageRank algorithm, Google rose quickly to become the dominant search engine on the web.”

PageRank is not the Google algorithm, as Machrone states. Rather, PageRank is one component used to rate the popularity of a page, based on linkage. It doesn’t factor in the other important component Google uses, the context of a link, along with many other factors used to rank pages.

3) “Google takes great exception to people who try to jigger its relevancy scores, and it doesn’t document the safeguards it takes. The service is known to reduce the scores of sites manually if they appear to be abusing its ranking algorithm.”

The statement is true of any search engine that crawls the web, nor is it something that suddenly has happened. There has long been an arms race between search engines and those who want to influence results in ways the search engines disagree with.

4) “Google’s intractable problem is that big sites tend to rank higher because they are extensively linked, while new sites with lower rankings may be so far down on the page that they’re easily overlooked.”

No proof of this fact is offered. It’s a claim I’ve seen made in the past by Google Watch, so Machrone appears to be parroting here. In reality, many small sites do very well in Google.

5) “Google records your IP address as well as your search terms and which sites you actually click on from the returned list. It also places a nonexpiring cookie in your system. I’m not sure why.”

If you don’t know why, then try asking someone — perhaps even Google! Of course, Google doesn’t always answer these days. But if they had, Machrone would have discovered that the cookie does expire. True, it lasts for about 35 years. But as stated in my past article on this issue, even Google Watch says the cookie expiration date itself is not the real issue of concern.

6) “Bloggers have an inordinately large effect on page ranking.”

Did I understand right? First I’m told little sites get buried by big sites in Google, but now I’m told blogs — which are little sites — have super-Google powers. No proof of this problem is offered, but nonetheless Machrone declares:

“Google needs to address this issue, perhaps by indexing blogs separately from web pages or by standardizing a syntax to suppress (or select) blog results.”

In reality, any network of sites that cross-links might skew link analysis systems. Nor is “blog clog” necessarily the fact it’s made out to be. A search for the ever popular “britney spears” query on Google brings back fan and official sites, rather than blog domination. A search for “bill machrone” doesn’t pull up blogs, nor are searches for “weapons of mass destruction,” “apache web server” or “microsoft” blog-filled.

The Web, According to Google
BusinessWeek, June 10, 2003

Similar to the PC Magazine article above, I have several comments on issues raised with this article. It’s not that I think Google is perfect, but it’s also nice to see some perspective when discussing its problems.

The biggest blame for the lack of perspective in this article falls not on author Alex Salkever but instead Google itself, which declined to comment on the issues raised. This has been a common tactic of Google in the past, not to cooperate on stories that seem to dwell on its “dominant” status. As a result, readers of BusinessWeek won’t get to hear Google’s side of some important matters.

The issue of search privacy is raised, with the Big Brother nomination trotted out — but not the significant fact that Google didn’t make the short list of companies actually chosen to perhaps deserve it. It’s also said that Google has no policies about the confidentiality of data collected using cookies. That’s not correct. Google does indeed have policies on what it does with the information collected.

It’s also too narrow a statement. Even without cookies, Google and other search engines collect search information that could potentially be traced back to users. Potentially, but not easily, as my article on this subject points out.

It’s an excellent point raised about people assuming that Google has everything they need to know. It doesn’t. But this belief isn’t new nor Google-specific. Way back in 2000, there was a great study that found search engines as a whole were the top way people looked for information, over friends, books, magazines and so on.

It was stunning to see this finding, since we’d only had search engines for about five years at the time. Search engines the top information resource? They have huge gaps in what’s recorded, and anyone who assumes everything on the web is in a search engine, Google or otherwise, is terribly mistaken. It’s also why I tell people that after about 10 minutes of searching, try seeking information in other ways, if only to avoid “search rage,” as described in this article.

It’s raised that “webmasters are starting to question the opaque rules that Google uses to determine what to index.” Again, neither a new issue nor a Google-specific one. Webmasters have questioned the rules search engines have used to rank and index pages for ages. For example, back in 1998, issues with Infoseek (remember Infoseek?) got a push for standards going.

To its credit, Google probably does more to reach out to webmasters about ranking criteria than any search engine has ever done. But for everything it reveals, people want more. In addition, it faces pressure more than any other search engine before it, since it powers so many searches.

In the past, people might routinely lose rankings at a search engines, but they always had traffic from other search engines that tended to even things out. Today, lose ranking at Google and you’re looking at a huge black hole. Fortunately, some balance will begin to be restored when Yahoo begins using Inktomi results later this year, as it is widely expected to do.

Finally, there’s the usual “should we regulate” Google chorus that often comes up in these type of articles. Back in 1997, as I’ve written before, similar things were said about Yahoo. Today, no webmaster worries that Yahoo should be regulated. I tend to feel the same will eventually happen with Google. We’ll see more balance in how search results are powered, rather than the current Google-centric universe that can be so worrying to some.

To Google, and Other Internet Neologisms
SearchDay, June 9, 2003

Google’s lawyers don’t like it, but the search engine’s name has become a generonym, a brand name that people use as a generic word for searching. The word Google itself is a neologism, a variation on the huge number, a googol.

Why Try to Out-Google Google?
O’Reilly Network, May 16, 2003

Why is every search engine trying to out-google Google? Because Google has a massive audience that’s worth millions in paid listings revenues. But can they do it by simply imitating the current Google? No, says Google Hacks coauthor Tara Calishain. Google’s a moving target, so the search engines that seek to compete with Google need to look ahead.

How to do this? None of the suggestions offered are necessarily that compelling to me as a way to get the average searchers that have turned Google into a synonym for search. RSS feeds are wonderful but still seem far from how the typical person gets their web information. The Google API has done a huge amount to make Google popular among the influential web tech community, but it’s hard to say that Google wouldn’t be as popular without it. As for involving information publishers, Google and the other search engines already do a lot of outreach.

The most compelling suggestion, an all-in-one search page, is something that all the search engines are looking at, sort of. But the average searcher will not want the version as described in this article, where you get matches from all of Google’s databases, at the same time. This assumes that you always want images, newsgroup matches, product search results, web page matches and directory matches — a model we actually used have with some search engines in the past and an overall mess that forces you to dig to find the important stuff. Well, what about letting people tickbox the search results they want? Past experience has shown that users don’t do this. Heck, many users still have no idea that Google has tabs or how to use them.

Instead, we want search engine mind reading coupled with high-quality specialty search databases. Go to Ask Jeeves and search for “what does DNA look like?” In response, the first “listings” are actually pictures of DNA, rather than written web page matches. That’s good mind reading. And “san francisco weather” on Yahoo brings up the actual weather report for that city right in your search results. Both are example of Google being out-Googled in real, meaningful ways that may capture users.

Tara also suggests that things like Google’s sense of humor, its “willingness to share” and a sense of the internet’s culture have helped form Google’s success. They’ve certainly added to it, but its Google’s clear relevancy that emerged at a time when competitors were lost in the morass of being portals that has made it the current king of search, in my view. The average searcher indeed does care about Google’s great search technology much more than PigeonRank jokes or funny logos. When I’ve talked with average searchers, this is what they remember about Google — great results. To out-Google Google, its competitors are going to have to offer not just great results but better-than-great results.

Agog about Google: Europeans tag along
International Herald Tribune, March 17, 2003

A look at how Google has grown in Europe, as well as an examination of other popular search destinations.

Media Expectations Of What Google Can Do
Microdoc, March 14, 2003

Here’s a great article that analyzed 412 news stories about Google, to determine what search activities people do the most. Based on news reports, we check on ourselves the most, then do searches to test how well Google itself works, then try to thwart plagiarism. Many other activities are listed. Of course, this reflects only what activities are named the most in news articles. What broad activities we actually do may be much different. The Google Zeitgeist page does provide information about top queries. However, it doesn’t reveal search behavior statistics.

Google: An engine of change
San Jose Mercury News, May 5, 2003

You’ve read this type of story before. Everyone uses Google! But is the company too dominant? Are there privacy issues when anyone can be Googled? Should they be regulated. As always, a lot of these issues are more broadly applicable to the entire search engine industry, not just Google. And here’s an interesting tidbit. Tim O’Reilly, founder and president of well-known publisher O’Reilly & Associates, apparently has a small investment in Google.

Google Buys Applied Semantics
Search Engine Watch, April 2003

Google And The Big Brother Nomination
Search Engine Watch, April 2003

Search Privacy At Google & Other Search Engines
Search Engine Watch, April 2003

Google is the net dominator
The Guardian, Feb. 27, 2003

And yet another of the endless articles suggesting that only Google can make sense of the web. “If you want to find something online, you have to use Google. Without Google, the net is a random mess.” No, you do not have to use Google. You have good, alternative choices such as AllTheWeb, Inktomi or Teoma that also do an excellent job of cleaning up that mess. Run on over to, and you can easily try all three and Google as well.

Google Named Brand of the Year, Feb. 11, 2003

Readers of Interbrand’s name Google brand of the year. Out of 1,315 votes, Google received 15 percent, followed by second place Apple with 14 percent, Coca-Cola with 12 percent and Starbucks with 11 percent. Google ranked fourth, last year.

Google falling victim to success
Oakland Tribune, Feb. 10, 2003

Staying on top of the search race may be harder for Google, now that its competitors are have improved and are focusing renewed efforts on search. Another “challenges Google faces” story, and another one where Google declines to comment, leaving competitors like Ask Jeeves and Yahoo to speak for them.

A Nation of Voyeurs
Boston Globe, Feb. 2, 2003

“The first tool truly to make sense of the white noise that is the Internet,” this article says about Google, in yet another rewriting of history. Gosh, what did we do from 1994-1998, stumble around blindly? No, we used good tools like AltaVista and Yahoo to efficiently locate information everyday. Google absolutely raised the bar on relevancy, but we were far from blind before it appeared.

And yet again, another article on how Google alone perhaps provides access to too much private information. Hey, lots of this information can also be found in other search engines, as well. This isn’t a Google problem — it’s a search engine problem. In fact, it’s not even a search engine problem. If information shouldn’t be accessible to the public, then it shouldn’t be posted to the web, period. If it’s on the web, then even without search engines — people can still find it, albeit with much greater difficulty.

The article suggests that only deep pockets can help get content removed at Google, as alleged to have happened in the Scientology case. Sorry, no — that was a reaction to US law. Show Google or another search engine that they are violating a law by providing access to certain information, and you too may find it easier to get that information pulled, regardless of your pocketbook.

Best part of the article is when Google cofounder Sergey Brin is asked if he would be comfortable knowing someone could find his home address via Google. “I hope not,” he says, saying it would bother him. So perhaps those worried about personal information being provided via Google may find a sympathetic ear in coming up with a solution to remove it from Google. Of course, it will still remain online and accessible through other search engines.

Finally, in case you’ve forgotten the virtual wonder tour of Google’s HQ from upteen billion other articles, you can live the dream all over again, in this one.

Google-Opoly: The Game No One but Google Can Play
Slate, Jan. 29, 2003

Revisits issues in the SearchKing case and touches briefly on some of the concerns that Google’s perceived power raises. Also see my earlier coverage on the Googleopoly that some worry about, reality and myth,

Google’s Gaggle of Problems
BusinessWeek, Jan. 14, 2003

Another of the many articles that have been appearing that look at the challenges Google faces as the industry leader in search. I’d disagree with the contention that Overture has slowed Google’s momentum in the paid listings market. Overture recently won a deal with CNN that’s cited as key proof of this, but I’d interpret that as a relatively minor win.

In contrast, Overture failed to win completely the much more important Yahoo Japan account, instead being forced to share the searches with Google. If anything, it is Google that throughout 2002 curbed Overture’s momentum as the monster player in the paid listings space, winning the much more sizable deals of AOL and Ask Jeeves. Overture remains a huge player, of course — but Google provides it with serious competition.

I also don’t know where the LookSmart CEO, quoted in the story, is getting the figures to say that Google has “stolen 40 percent” of the search market from AOL, MSN and Yahoo. If anything, those players have all held their audience shares relatively steady, in the onslaught of Google. It’s the smaller players such as AltaVista that have really fed into Google.

FYI, some confusion here has me saying that 20 out of 30 links on Google’s home page don’t earn revenue. Actually, this was Yahoo that I was talking about — and it’s a reason why Yahoo might have wanted Inktomi, in order to use paid inclusion as a means to earn more off those currently “unpaid” editorial results.

Very interesting to see that Google declined to be interviewed for the article. A bad move that leaves it with no voice against competitors like LookSmart.

The Power of Google, Jan. 14, 2003

Examines Google’s great influence given the traffic it can route to other sites and the possible responsibilities it has.

On the Web, forget the A-list: It’s the ‘G’ list that matters
USA Today, Dec. 17, 2002

Looks at the growing importance of a Google listing to site owners and cites Google’s cofounder Sergey Brin saying the company hopes to grow to 10 billion pages in 2003. Also links to sidebar article on getting listed at other search engines.

Google vs. Evil
Wired, January 2003

Yet another look at issues Google has to deal with at the company matures, such as pulling content due to legal requirements, trying to balance principles versus advertising, fighting to reappear in China and the emerging role that Google cofounder and copresident Sergey Brin is now playing as policy czar.

The World According to Google
Newsweek, Dec. 16, 2002

Another story documenting the incredible popularity of Google and how it has become synonymous with search, while also touching briefly on the responsibilities that go with being the world’s most popular search brand.

Sites Become Dependent on Google
New York Times, Dec. 9, 2002

The “should we fear Google” and “is Google too dominant” questions long raised online now firmly jump into the traditional media. This New York Times piece examines the Google dependency that some sites have and how they fear being cut-off. In case you missed it, also see my own in-depth look at these type of issues from October 2002.

The Age of Google
National Review, Nov. 14, 2002

This is a Google love story that perhaps goes a bit over the top. For example, author John Derbyshire used Google to track down a particular quote to Winston Churchill, something he believes would have been impossible before Google emerged onto the popular scene, in 1999. I can’t time travel to test this, but I suspect getting that answer would have indeed been possible. I certainly know that today, it isn’t just Google that easily finds it., AltaVista, Inktomi results at MSN Search and Teoma all found it, as well. All but also found the link he liked that Google provided about mathematician David Hilbert.

As for using Google as a dictionary, there’s a better way to do it than trying different versions of how you think a word is spelled and seeing which gets the most matches. Definitive dictionary links are actually built into the Google search page. And if you are after a good resource for quotations, encyclopedia information and other reference material, see long-standing specialty search site

Google: Can The Marcia Brady Of Search Stay Sweet?
Search Engine Watch, Sept. 3, 2002

Does search dominance by Google mean that the company is destined to be hated, in the way that Microsoft endures a poor reputation due to its dominance of operating systems, office software and browsers? Such a fate is not preordained, especially given that Google faces plenty of competition.

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