Rare Book Monthly

Articles - May - 2007 Issue

Where Did Froogle Go?

Checkout

"Show Google Checkout items only" eliminates results from non-Checkout vendors.


But, what if at some point Google decides to reverse the order? What if they show only Google Checkout items at first, and force you to do a secondary search for other items? When is the last time, after conducting a regular Google search, you have clicked the link at the bottom to "repeat the search with the omitted results included?" That's about how often people are likely to look at all Google Product Search matches if they ever make Google Checkout results the default, rather than the second choice. Think about that one. If Product Search becomes a significant source of sales, as it surely will, you would have no choice but to offer Google Checkout, like it or not. Google would be able to extract a commission on your sales from its search results, even if you do not advertise with them.

Will Google ever use this power to make Google Checkout irresistible? So far, Google has leveraged its search engine to support advertising, but has scrupulously avoided blurring the lines. The ads are there, some even at the top of their search results, but it is clearly stated they are sponsored links. Meanwhile, search results remain free of influence. The formulas that bring sites to the top of Google's results are obscure and zealously guarded, but they remain untainted by advertiser influence. You may be able to buy your local politician for the price of a nice campaign contribution, but Google remains pure. In another blog entry, concerning Google's recent purchase of online advertising promoter Doubleclick, VP Susan Wojcicki writes, "Sponsored information served by Google has always been, and will always be, clearly distinguished from objective content available via our search results."

We'll assume this is true, though no one can promise anything forever, but the current situation is not quite the same. If Product Search results became the default, there would be no blurring of the lines. It would simply require an additional search to find all results, and presuming there were several matches within the Product Search results, it is unlikely that anyone would look further. It would be reminiscent of Microsoft's use of its operating system to leverage other products. As long as Microsoft provided you with word processing, a spreadsheet, internet browser, audio software, etc., what need was there to look further? There has never been a hint that Google intends to use its power in quite such a heavy-handed way, but when a business achieves such dominance in a field as has Google or Microsoft, the possibility is always there.

Now many people in the book business may not think what Google does is terribly important to them. Froogle/Google Product Search is a secondary source of internet sales today, well behind sites such as Amazon, Abebooks, and Alibris. Think again. Online selling is all about search, and Google is all about search. This is the first company to take Microsoft head on at anything and crush them. They will become increasingly important for finding books in the future. Google will make the rules. The rest of us need to understand their rules so we can effectively play by them.

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