Google Taking Blows

Google is no stranger to competition. It has come up through the ranks like a young boxing phenom plowing his way through all adversaries to become champion. So needless to say, Google can not be intimidated by confrontation. Like any smart business, they capitalize on any advantage their opponents give them. This article will examine some of the most recent blows (sucker punches?) they have given and received, and how they handle the referees judging the fight.

Google Knol

Now entering the ring, weighing in at over 9.1 million articles and standing 253 languages tall, it’s the "hard-cover killer," the "reference rapist," "DJ Wiki Wiki Wawa," Wikiiipediaaa! And the crowd goes wild. I know, for me, Wikipedia is one of my favorite sites, and not just for reference. People say the Internet killed the need for people to actually know anything; they can just look it up on the web and forget about it later. Well if that’s the case, Wikipedia gave it the death blow. Anyone who’s been in school recently knows that professors (the traditionalists) have been desperately trying to hold it back, but clearly there’s no stopping a juggernaut, be it the idea of user-created reference content or Wikipedia itself.

After Google’s latest announcement, we might have to go with the former. I mean if anything can stop a juggernaut, it’s another juggernaut. Although it is yet to be released, Google’s new "knol" tool will work by acquiring articles from random users, who will have their names added as credit. The authors can then permit ads to appear alongside the article for a share in the revenue. And like Wikipedia, other users can edit, rate, and comment on the articles.

As I mentioned earlier about the Internet in general, Google has already done wonders towards making information accessible by just about anyone through its search engine. But Google believes that "not everything is written nor is everything well organized to make it easily discoverable." Specifically, they want to make it easier for people to share knowledge and they want the authors to be given the proper credit. The author will have complete editorial control of their "knol," which will act like a simple web page with references, links, and user reviews of the articles.

Because participation in the "knol" community is completely open, Google will rank their quality for search results on a "knol by knol" basis. The content will also be available to other search engines. I’d like to see where the "knols" rank on Google’s search engine compared with a Wikipedia entry on the same topic. As of now, Wikipedia ranks in the top three of the search queries for which it has an entry.

From the looks of it, this new Google venture will fall somewhere between the vast encyclopedia that Wikipedia has become and a basic online article directory, like goarticles.com. The one sample I’ve seen so far shows a very sophisticated design that matches Wikipedia step for step. I imagine this sample showcases what one of their better articles would look like. Even the ads don’t take anything away from the overall design of the page, but then this is just a sample.

Wikipedia has become ultra-successful over the last few years and Google has decided to capitalize on their niche; it’s simply doing what any business competing in a common market would do. However, at this rate, Google will soon become part of every market. The next few sections will examine some of Google’s recent ventures and the not-so-calm affect they’ve had.

When Google released OpenSocial in early November 2007, they said their aim was to integrate all social networks "so the web as a whole can become more social." OpenSocial, in itself, is a set of common application programming interfaces (APIs) for building social network applications. It involves both JavaScript and Google Data APIs and an application using either will be operable on any social network that supports them. Open Social is part of a larger social network initiative called "Maka-Maka," which is designed to combine data from Google users across the web into a larger social graph.

Just about every social network has gotten in on the deal, including Friendster, Plaxo, and MySpace, in an attempt to outdo Facebook. Facebook did something very similar last May when they unveiled a platform for developing social applications. So far, over 5,000 applications have been built and Facebook has been the go-to social network for application developers.

One reason for Facebook’s unprecedented success with these applications is their ability to connect and spread to various users’ friends via the collection of social data or a "news feed" that alerts users that their friends have just installed the application. Already some of the most popular applications from Facebook, such as iLike, Flixster, Slide, and RockYou, have been scheduled to adapt their programs to run through OpenSocial.

Even though Facebook is the fastest growing social network and their traffic ranking has been as high as seventh overall, the OpenSocial alliance could bring in a combined 100 million users, which is almost half of Facebook’s total users. And Google can definitely benefit from selling advertising on those sites, assuming they all benefit in the way Google expects them to. As the net’s largest search engine, Google would love to see any increase in Internet use.

Google already has an advertising relationship with Facebook’s closest competitor, MySpace. They also run ads through the applications used on Facebook; and this method has proven to be more effective for advertisers than a user’s personal page.

Keep reading to see how Facebook is trying to combat Google’s efforts and whether OpenSocial will even meet the expectations created by such a grandiose undertaking.

Announcer: Facebook took a wallop in that last round Joe. How do you think they’ll respond?

Analyst: It’s going to take a lot of heart. They’re going to have to dig deep into their bag of tricks just to regain some of the leverage they had earlier in the fight.

Announcer: Thanks Joe. The next round is about to start, so let’s get you back to the action.

DING, DING

On November 6, 2007, Facebook announced its own social ad network just days, depending on where you look, after Google unveiled OpenSocial. "Facebook Ads" will be different from Google’s AdSense in that advertisers will be able to target a user’s individual profile data instead of the text on a given web page. Businesses will be able to create their own Facebook pages, allowing users to interact with them directly. In addition, these pages will spread virally just like a Facebook application and give businesses an opportunity to gather valuable user information.

This new feature can only be used on people with a Facebook account, whereas Google’s AdSense can be utilized with anyone on the Internet. Obviously, there is quite a difference in the sheer percentage of the market reached through each service, but 60 million users is nothing to sneeze at, and clients will be hoping that advertising through a social network will result in a higher response rate.

Facebook has also countered the OpenSocial project by announcing that other social networks will be able to license its API technology so that Facebook applications can operate on other networks. According to Nick O’Neill, a Facebook blogger, "If other social networks adopt the Facebook platform, it will be a massive blow to Google. So who will the competition decide to partner with: Google or Facebook?" Bebo, which is very popular internationally, is the biggest social network to sign on to the project so far.

And who knows whether OpenSocial will even pan out. With numerous APIs now available for use, OpenSocial is on the verge of becoming lost in the clutter. Not scheduled for release until early 2008, OpenSocial is already well behind Facebook’s platform in terms of how many developers are already familiar with its markup language. According to Facebook, over 100,000 developers have already collaborated so far.

However, Jeremiah Owyang of Forrester Research believes that in the end, this may all be a waste of time. "Applications will never work the same over any community…every community has different technographics (the hardware, software, and code used) and different demographics. To expect that one widget will work cleanly over all platforms is overoptimistic," he says.

It’s too soon to say whether OpenSocial has backfired for Google, but clearly they are feeling the heat from a competitor that knows their way around the social networking neighborhood. The last section will explore the problems that have cropped up for Google regarding its recent deal with DoubleClick.


As a key player in online advertising, Google has been knee deep in recent consumer privacy controversies, especially after their acquisition of DoubleClick. There have been repeated requests by Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) and the House Energy and Commerce Committee for Google to discuss the deal with members of the committee’s staff. After several letters back and forth arguing over whether company spokesman actually met, Barton sent a letter asking 24 questions concerning the data retention and distribution aspects of the deal.

The European Union has also voiced concern over the deal, mainly about its effects on online advertising competition in Europe. We saw some excitement when FTC chairwoman Deborah Platt Majoras was asked to recuse herself from considering the deal because her husband is an equity investor in Jones Day, the law firm DoubleClick hired to represent it before the FCC. The FTC did approve the deal on December 20 — but the  European Commission is conducting an in-depth probe into the deal. The Commission has until April 2 to decide whether they are going to oppose the merger.

So the hits keep coming for Google. And they all grew out of Google’s quest to dominate the online advertising market. Whether it be putting ads into the "knol" articles or having access to as many social networking sites as possible, clearly Google wants to have their hand in every marketable Internet niche there is. The question remains, how many pieces of the pie can Google take before all those flavors cause a nuclear reaction? I don’t know, but Google has proven it can take a punch.

Announcer: Wow! Did you see that, Joe?

Analyst: I sure did. Google’s got a heck of a chin, there’s no doubt about that.

Announcer: How much more can he take, Joe?

Analyst: Oh trust me, this guy’s got a lot more in the tank. He’s shown he can throw with the best of ‘em and I doubt this will be more than a speed bump on the road to his ultimate goal.

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