I sold my soul to Google, can I get it back?

For about six months, I've pondered writing this post asking the dreaded Google question. Following yesterday's announcement that the European Union has opened a Google antitrust investigation, I can wait no longer. My life, and perhaps yours, is enmeshed in Google products and services. If there is a devil, a Great Satan of modern technology companies, Google is it. I sold my soul to Google for free services, which are disrupting -- some would say destroying -- businesses that produce valuable content and other intellectual property. In the 1970s, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates warned of the very problem Google is creating today: Making things that are inherently valuable nearly worthless.

The problem is simple: Google's business model is fundamentally about free. Someone else pays to produce content or other valuable intellectual property, around which Google wraps search keywords, adverts and services. The information giant doesn't produce content, but its entire business model is about cannibalizing others' valuable intellectual property. Google's search dominance -- anywhere from 65 percent to 90 percent share, depending on the geography and analyst crunching the numbers -- means that content creators must pay homage to free. The content's base value to the producer is at least the cost of production, but content creators are compelled to give away their stuff for less and often for free. If not, the content becomes invisible to the Internet -- or at least to the majority of people who use Google search and other services.

On my own blog, I write about broader topics than at Betanews. But sometimes there is overlap. In August 2009 I asked: "Can you Charge for News? Ask Google," which I followed up a year ago this Friday at Betanews with "Can there be a free Web if no one makes money?" The August post looked at three organizations -- Advertising Age, GigaOM and Wall Street Journal -- using different paywall mechanisms. While the organizations all charge something, not one puts content behind a true paywall. To do so would prevent Google search bots from indexing the content. In April 2010 I posted to my blog: "The Price You Pay Google for Paywalls," which explains what happens when a site fails to make offerings to the great Google god. The post profiled Reid Reviews, which is nearly invisible to Google search, because the content is behind a paywall.

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What's the saying? If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears, does it make a sound? Does Reid Reviews exist? You wouldn't know from Google search, which indexes just two pages -- home and index. That's the dark secret behind true paywalls and why there is so much talk about them and so few content creators truly adopting them. I wrote in April:

If your business is content and selling online advertising around it, you must pay homage to the great Google algorithm. As was with previous age's deities, the minions must make their sacrifices before the great Google god. To receive its blessings, they must do Google's bidding -- quite literally on keywords -- and give away all their worldly possessions (e.g., content, for free). But can they give to Lord Google and keep something for themselves, too?…Yes and no. For the true worshippers, those willing to make their offerings to the Google god, the answer is yes...For others, paywalls will come at a price, in terms of traffic, pageviews and incoming links.

Heeding Bill Gates' Warning

One year ago this month, I posted "Google's 'Open Definition': Simply brilliant business, but is it evil?" The post contrasted Google and Microsoft worldviews. Microsoft produces valuable intellectual property for which it expects to be paid. Google profits from others' intellectual property, while producing little valuable content of its own. Google uses "open" to describe its business model, but that's a misnomer. I wrote in December 2009:

This so-called open approach fundamentally opposes longstanding principles of intellectual property ownership. Copyrights are a barrier to Google gaining information that it can monetize. Google takes what it gets for free -- but which someone else may have paid to produce -- gives it away for free but with eventual profit motive.

Google free isn't some altruistic openness but a business model, which its search monopoly anchors. Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates laid out a different business, one where people get paid for production, in 1976 "An Open Letter to Software Hobbyists." Gates wrote:

Most of you steal your software...One thing you do do is prevent good software from being written. Who can afford to do professional work for nothing? What hobbyist can put 3-man years into programming, finding all bugs, documenting his product and distribute for free?

Gates' question "Who can afford to do professional work for nothing?" is strangely prescient of today's expanding Google free -- supported by advertising -- business model. The question also defines one of the principles behind Microsoft's worldview -- that people (or the businesses they work for) who create something have a fundamental right to profit from it.

Google defenders argue that the Web free model has in television a precedent -- people consuming content for free supported by advertising. That's no comparison at all. Television content distribution is limited by the number of broadcast networks and cable, IPTV or satellite services delivering the content. Broadcast or cable networks don't receive programming for free, they pay someone to create it. Then there are the fees paid by consumers for non-broadcast distribution, like cable or satellite services. The Web is different because there is so much content available, which dramatically reduces advertising value and for which there is more space than advertising can fill. Additionally, Google's search dominance mandates the distribution of valuable content for little or nothing. The models aren't comparable at all. In fact, free is a flop on TV. So-called free or open TV is so-called public access, and who really watches these channels.

Breaking Google's Contract is Hard

Google's search monopoly wouldn't be a problem if not for its pervasive, and often compelling, supporting free services. Seven years ago, when working as a JupiterResearch analyst, I made the same observation as some of my colleagues and peers from other firms -- that Internet users could easily give up Google by typing in another search engine's Web address. At the time, Google was the US search leader but with nowhere near today's usage share. I warned that without sticky products or services, Google couldn't rely on search because users could so easily switch.

Now Google has those sticky products and services, and it has rapidly expanded into new markets, like phone operating systems and Web browsers. Wherever Google goes, free follows. For example, Microsoft licenses Windows Phone 7 for a fee, while Google's Android is available for free. Sure Google collects fees for keyword bids or advertising, but bundled with free search and other services. Google deserves praise for making search sticky, in part by wrapping so many supporting services around it. But is the approach evil, or at least disruptive?

I'm astounded by just how many Google products or services that I use, and ask: How many and which Google services do you use? That's a question for comments. Please respond and generate some debate about Google. What do I use:

  • Chrome
  • Gmail
  • Google Alerts
  • Google Analytics
  • Google Blog Search
  • Google Books
  • Google Buzz
  • Google Checkout
  • Google Docs
  • Google Goggles
  • Google Earth
  • Google Maps
  • Google News
  • Google Reader
  • Google Search
  • Google Talk
  • Google Voice
  • Google Webmaster Tools
  • YouTube

Until June, when I switched to iPhone 4, Google's Nexus One was my smartphone. So I used Android, and even more Google products and services, just a few months ago. My wife still uses Nexus One, and she loves it. This is a staggering list of Google products and services. From one perspective, Google's success selling me -- and many other Internet users -- testifies to software/services development and distribution excellence. But behind it all is the free economy of search and creating products and services that stick Google users to the search monopoly. I'm here to confess that I've sold my soul to Google, but I want it back.

In the folklore of selling souls the to devil, the contract is seven years. If I count Gmail as the starting point of my first Google non-search product then seven years would be sometime in Spring 2011. I'm baffled seeing where I could replace all the Google stuff used today with something as good for less. What's cheaper than free? But my goal is to cut back something. Facebook is one option that is more attractive because of the new messaging service and some of the search and supporting services provided by Microsoft. But I wonder: Is the devil you know better than the one you don't? Content going into Facebook doesn't easily come out. I could, or you, trade one devil for another.

Bottom line: As I asserted in February, "Google is a dangerous monopoly -- more than Microsoft ever was." The post is a good primer for understanding why the European Union is investigating Google. But that investigation may miss the broader context beyond the search monopoly -- how Google's free worldview and business approach is fundamentally changing the value of content and other intellectual property produced at cost. I'll end with this question: Should people be paid for things they produce?

Quick reminder, I am on sabbatical for most of December as I work on a book project. Posting will be considerably lighter than usual.

68 Responses to I sold my soul to Google, can I get it back?

  1. rafaelluik says:

    The only Google products I use are Translator and Maps - and Search sometimes because in Brazil Yahoo! and Bing's index unfortunately isn'tas good as Google...
    For the rest that I need I have Opera, Yahoo!, Facebook, Twitter, etc...

    • ck_at_work says:

      I completely agre with_jaz_ and other guess. what a biased article! It is YOUR OWN opinion. And what ever apple or anyother company u talking about can be more eveil. I think there are so many people who are try8ing to blame Google and get in CHEAP publicity. U dont like it.. dont use it. end of the story. No one has forced u to use it. And u are no one to force/tell any one. I highly respect google as any other company. And as all people/company has ups and downs so does google.

      I LOVE GOOGLE <3 (sometimes apple as well cz of my iPhone ;) )

      • ck_at_work says:

        Did u just try and say that facebook can be an option for gmail.! :o dont worry no one read that.. haha.. but still, i like the way u put all these jokes in the article!

        And if u say Google is bad then for sure u would have to consider Apple, Facebook, Twitter.. guess what I heard that twitter sells our personal data.. errr.. I should give a more catchy title.. bla bla sells my soul! wow!

  2. _jaz_ says:

    Great... The Apple evangelist calling Google "the devil"... You should see a doctor. Soon.

  3. alexinlondon says:

    I'll assume you realise the irony of writing this on a page that exists without a subscription fee but does carry adverts via the Google network and skip to another question.

    With the work around Youtube with regards to music/video copyright and continuing expansion of Adsense partners payments ($1.52 billion in the third quarter of 2010, http://investor.google.com/earnings/2010/Q3_google_earnings.html) do you really believe they are creating an environment where people aren't paid for their content?

  4. skapig says:

    I've wondered why the Google fanatics fail to see the fault in putting all of their eggs in one basket. Since it's just about all web-based and free, Google can make changes on a whim that can completely screw you over. Sure you idolize the company now, but what happens when Google reevaluates its definition of "evil" to something less desirable?

    You also have to keep in mind, that behind the scenes Google is collecting tons of data on you with each of the services you consume and mining it for profit. The more services you consume, the more dots they can connect.

    • jakartatech says:

      So whats your problem with Google collecting money? Does it heart your wallet? Did anybody make a step on your front door trying to sell you anything because Google told him to do so? Stay away from the Internet I would say this way nobody would collect you personal data...

  5. lucianct says:

    google is the least of the problems. facebook has a lot more power and information so it's more dangerous than google.

    • DaveN says:

      Ok but the fact that one is bad doesn't make it acceptable for the other to be bad. "Facebook is worse" doesn't make Google any less evil.

      I hate it that we are going to have to rely on the government to protect us from these two privacy hating giants.

  6. mshulman says:

    Google could close its doors tomorrow and I wouldn't blink an eye.

    There's no reason not to own your own domain and have your own personal email these days. Domains are cheap and so is the hosting (if you can't find it for free).

    Out of everything you listed above Joe, I use perhaps a couple but they are easily replaced.

    • DaveN says:

      I agree. I use Google Alerts and YouTube. I use Google Search and Maps as my second choice, if I can't find what I want on Bing.

      I'm a tin foil hat wearing paranoid, and Google creeps me out with their secretive data accumulation and retention policies. I can't get past the idea that someday, if they fall on hard times, Google might start selling my health related searches to my insurance company. And they've already proven that they'll give up data one hoped was confidential to the govenrment, law enforcement, etc. (Not that plenty of other companies aren't guilty of this as well).

  7. wbaileynzl says:

    Your problem is the same using your iPhone they take a share of everything you do to. Only it cost you more. Damed which ever way you go someone is making money from you.

  8. SnoBrdr says:

    How could you sell it to Google?

    You sold it a long time ago to that Devil Jobs.

  9. RejZoR says:

    Who cares. I can't imagine life without GMail, Calendar and Youtube. Can live without other stuff but not these.

  10. OneToOne says:

    I am in a minority obviously, but I've never relied on Google products. No Gmail, rarely use Google search. Don't know why, it just never came to be - used Yahoo for search for years, then Bing. Still have a 11-year-old Hotmail account, which is more than enough for me with its vast SkyDrive storage. Always used proper office productivity software, so never looked into Google Docs.

    Google is definitely not a serious monopoly. In text ads - yes, maybe, if we stretch the meaning of monopoly to the limit. Google's position in the technology world is far from cemented, it is not very successful in markets outside of its core model.

    Microsoft, that started as a small Unix and dev tools shop, got a hold of the following markets in a course of about ten years - the PC market, productivity software market, networking, and database management systems. In the next five years they've got the technology world completely by the balls, which led to the demise of Novell, serious damage to IBM, serious damage to the proprietary Unix world (and ironically the popularity of Linux), and the rise of the Intel x86 architecture as the mainstay of pretty much of all computing, including servers, in the coming decade.

    I see nothing on this scale from Google. As some said, Google can cease to exist tomorrow, and I would not notice.

  11. bigsexy022870 says:

    My homepage on any browser is google. But thats where it ends. I guess some might need or want there other services, but I don't. My hotmail account dates back to god knows when, since the begining i think. Sure google is out there in every fashion and form. Hard to escape to be sure. But it's not like it's paid stuff. So if you worry about getting your soul back I would imagine it would be from microsoft. None of us can really escape microsoft. And that's mostly a paid platform, depending on the service. I don't have a problem with microsoft, but google has never costed me anything to use. And i don't have to use it. Google.com is by far the best search engine in my opinion. The page loads fast and i like the results.

    Regarding "should people be paid for things they produce". Yes they should. However long time ago when the internet was young "FREE EVERYTHING" became the montra. It worked in the begining but became unfeasable and colapsed many companies. Problem was many people still wanted free and wouldnt except anything else. Which is why google is so popular. The real problem was that the users became spoiled and would insist on free, even if it meant giving up massive personal information. The downside is a massive base of users where created who since then expect free. It's been hard making those people think different. Cause if you look hard enough you can find just about anything free. Sure it may not all be as good, but cheap people will be happy anyways. Pirating is so popular because of this free idea. Sure pirating has been arround long b4 the internet, but the internet made everything easier. Google has done well with it's free model. Many others have not. Google has a atvantage many others dont. They are big and make so much money from ads that they can afford to make free products. People at google ARE getting paid, other companies offer free and hope for a payoff that never happens and end up bankrupt. Sure it's not fair, but google didn't create the free idea, they just are really good at it.

    • jakartatech says:

      @bigsexy... "My homepage on any browser is google. But thats where it ends." So your telling me you never read pages on the web without Google Ads? Think before you write zero-based-thoughts!

      • testmenot says:

        I don't. It's called content control. I only see what I want to see. Adblock Plus, No Script, HOSTS file, PeerBlock, IPFilter, firewalls, browser settings, etc. You have choices.

      • bigsexy022870 says:

        I sgree with testmenot. Fact is i think the topic is not that google is everywhere but that some people choice to eat up all google has to offer. Gmail talk and voice and the many other services we can choice to use. The topic was about choice Jakartatech. Besides even if i didnt use adblock plus i still would never click a add. They have never made money from me that way.

  12. IT advisor says:

    The Paywall: News was always free. Well, you had to pay for a newspaper, but that fee didn't even cover the cost of printing and distribution. You were not paying for the news itself. Advertising paid for the news.

    Newspaper proprietors such as Rupert Murdoch has been stung because the old newspaper monopolies have been smashed, not because news is free. It's harder to make money because there are more players. It has nothing to do with free.

    • bigsexy022870 says:

      Not more players, more free players. Newspapers are dead because of cable news and the internet. Which since we all live in a world with access to cable and the internet makes paying for the news old fashioned. Why would i waste time on a newspaper writen maybe 12 hours ago or longer when i can watch or read about it as it happens. CNN killed the newspaper. So blame ted turner. He started the downfall of the newspaper.

      I personally dont see the point in newspapers anymore. Let them die. The news industry has to just except the new way we get ours news and learn to make it profitable or die.

  13. dougau says:

    In a time of rising unemployment, medical, food, and energy cost all Americans should have to pay a sh!t load of money for things they can now get for free. Is that what your saying Joe? Poor, poor companies like Microsoft and Apple, they deserve so much more of our cash don't they?

    • AnthonySPT says:

      At least Microsoft and Apple pay their US taxes... Go look up Google and notice that with Americans starving, they are paying nothing in taxes to the USA even though the revenue comes from the USA.

      Google also outsources a lot of jobs that keep Americans unemployed so they can save a few bucks.

      • rcutnik says:

        Anthony fanboy... do you really think that Microsoft and Apple do not outsource? They keep all in house? Seriously? :)

      • dougau says:

        @ Anthony; Those Apple iPhones, iPods, and iPads outsourced to what amounts to Chinese slave labor are really something aren't they?

  14. RollDatKernelMyBrotha says:

    I want Google to continue to succeed; I'd like for them to enter new markets, not just search, just to shake up the competition. This forces continued innovation, and it's good for everyone involved. IMO, I think Google/YouTube helped the internet evolve faster, become better, and pushed adoption for faster internet speeds more so than the other players.

    In my twisted world, I WANT Google to become an ISP provider (for landlines and wireless phones); With Google internet access plans and prices that would put massive FEAR into existing carriers. (That is of course if browsing/privacy concerns are properly addressed)

    http://blogs.broughturner.com/2009/04/googles-peering-and-caching-strategy.html

    • AnthonySPT says:

      Really? How does Google force competition?

      They take technology and use it for their own needs. They don't create competition on anything BUT search and advertising schemes.

      Name one product that Google designed the technology behind?

      Android - nope. Something they built on the hardwork and backs of Linux designers and JAVA designers.

      YouTube - nope. Something they bought after it was successful, and they have only messed it up by smothering it with ads.

      GoogleDocs - nope. Again something they created based on existing work that they turned into an Ad mining service so that they can see what you do and get better Ad revenue.

      And we could go on and on and on.

      I'm serious, name one thing Google built beyond a search engine and ways to maximize ad revnues...

      • RollDatKernelMyBrotha says:

        "They take technology and use it for their own needs."

        Exactly.

        As far products built from scratch/acquired/modified etc, it's how Google takes those things, executes a plan and creates a Google ecosystem around it. But hey I want Google to succeed because it simply makes Microsoft products/Microsoft ecosystem better. It forces Microsoft to have an alternative and incentive to out-innovate Google, Google Maps, Google Mail, and Google Docs, Android OS. I don't think Bing, OfficeWebApps and WindowsMobile7 would have gotten serious attention sooner until Google, Google Apps, Android OS posed threats to Microsoft.

  15. jimp says:

    Why do you think Google is free? Sure, they give away their services, but you, the Google user, pay with all your internet secrets. The Google business model (and I thought this was widely known) is to parse all your input, analyze, store it and then sell it to advertisers. So think about all the things you typed into Google services over the years -- search, docs, mail, etc. Now imagine Google parsing all this information and building a profile about you that they use to sell advertising. The real value in Google is getting you to give them all your personal information and interests, so Google has to provide a FREE service to entice YOU to voluntarily (and, it seems, enthusiastically) give up your valuable personal information.

    There ain't no free lunch -- never was, never will be! Am I paranoid? No, just a computer security engineer.

    I do use a few Google services, but I rotate among different providers, e.g., search, news and maps. I also erase cookies periodically. Since I use the internet, I know I can't escape information collection, but I try to minimize it.

    • gawd21 says:

      I don't call it Google.spyware for nothing!

    • dougau says:

      @ jimp "the Google user, pay with all your internet secrets."?

      Secrets Like 98% of internet users have watched porn at least once and the other 2% lied about it? Gasp!!

  16. SAbramson1027 says:

    Looking at the pictures and everything Joe Wilcox talks about his real article should be:

    "I sold my soul to Twinkies and endless rants, can I get it back?"

  17. extremely well says:

    Google is extremely evil. Just look at their [url=http://gizmodo.com/5669971/googles-shady-tax-evasion-practices-screw-the-government-and-you-out-of-31-billion]tax evasion tactics[/url]. That money needs to come back into the country and not only because Google stole it from us, but also to level the playing field. I can't wait for the day I could AFFORD to stop using all the google stuff I currently use. Switching out of Gmail/Google Voice will cost a ton of money. Switching out of Android will cost a ton of money (down to the cost of time wasted not using various integrated google services).

    Google knows nothing about giving away without seeing a monetary return -- giving to someone who really needs something but will never pay you back. That's why I'll always lean towards supporting the company that was started by the [url=http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/11/29/the-giving-pledge-warren-_n_789255.html]saintly Bill Gates[/url]. Taken into account Bill Gates's philanthropy and Google's tax-robbery, at least 50% of the money you spend on Microsoft's products comes back to the neediest in society. At least one ancient faith considers this as you becoming "a messenger of a good deed".

  18. BCTech says:

    Yeesh, more Wilcox FUD. Your alternative to Google's services, the vast majority of which offer good import *and* export support so you can easily migrate, is to move to Facebook where it's a lot harder (by your own admission) to get things out? And what services does FB actually replace of Google's? Photos maybe? Email, with their new unified communications platform? Maybe, but I wouldn't trust them any more than Google, realistically a lot less. They have in fact shown themselves to be much more readily "evil" than Google. And iPhone is your solution to being on a "less evil" platform? Really? There's more control, less ability to migrate away, less customizability, less personalization. The device itself is less yours than most - if not all - Android devices. Really Joe, your arguments aren't even self-consistent, much less *logical*.

    As for "free" being such an issue, apparently you forget that this is not a new business model, it's been around for more than 100 years. Newspapers, magazines, radio, TV, all are based in part or in whole on "free". This is just a new delivery model for free, and one that just happens to be more efficient, customizable, powerful, etc. Yes, the advertising gets smarter as the systems get smarter, but that may not be such a bad thing. If you care to read a bit more of what I've said on this topic take a look at this thread on Donation Coder:
    http://www.donationcoder.com/Forums/bb/index.php?topic=22600.msg224591#msg224591

  19. lokster says:

    A lot of blah-blah-blah. But what are you suggesting, Wilcox?
    People "lock" to Google products not because Google is evil, but because Google knows how to make products people find useful. They are free, widely available, and with good integration.
    Personally, I use several google products on daily basis: Search, Reader, Gmail.
    They are essential for me, but I don't have problems switching to other alternatives.
    If Google "falls" (hypothetically) some day, I will have no problem. As long, as I'm not forced to use Bing, or some other lame Microsoft "service".

  20. jackamus says:

    Let's make this simple, Betanews Killer. Don't use them. You have choices. Use other options if you feel you sold your soul, (if you have one) to the devil. You have choice. Exercise that choice. Just like with anything. You can't call them the devil if you chose to use their services. No one is making you. Now, go write your book. Stop the slaughter of Betanews. Thanks! ;-)

  21. evan2k says:

    Joe you are basically right, but why do you concentrate on Google? Because of Market share? All search engines just about do the same thing...

  22. rrode74 says:

    I have checked out all of Google's products or most of them. I did use them for search and I did use their email for a short time. I will watch a video on Youtube, but I dont have an account.

    Bing is better, for me at least. The interface on Gmail makes it looks like the Craig's List of email. I am no fan of conversation view and for the longest time Gmail did not give you the option. I guess after many compaints they caved. Google Docs are a joke.

    Always have had a hotmail account and after this summers massive upgrade to hotmail, its hands down better than gmail. Skydrive with 25gigs of space, Active Sync support, file/photo sharing in Skydrive, Office Web apps, no mailbox size limit all tied together, makes Google products look like a gagle of disjointed, craigs list UI, beta products.

    Add to all of that, the privacy stance of Google and I wont touch their products anymore.

    • shallot says:

      I couldn't have said it better.

      I don't know what MS really does with data, nobody knows, but at the least they are lying like Google, whose policy is "No evil" and then do everything with more than a hint of evilness...

  23. bdavis2 says:

    I think this guy use to write for the Inquirer or Globe. How about some tech news and quit the crybaby hype.

  24. IT advisor says:

    If Google didn't come along, Microsoft would have extended its desktop monopoly into mobile and phones.

    Would that have been better?

    • shallot says:

      Look at that this way...

      With desktops, your data stayed with you....now your data is mine...thanks to Google...

    • RollDatKernelMyBrotha says:

      If Microsoft didn't come along, Google prolly wouldn't have ever existed.

      • extremely well says:

        Microsoft "gave up" on controlling hardware+software which was different than IBM back then, and Apple even today. Someone else would have done the same thing eventually (within a few short years IMHO). There's no way in hell even today we would have been stuck to the OS coming only from our hardware manufacturer. Even routers and smartphones today have their "hardware software" (firmware/ROMs) modified, with or without permission. The evolution of computers would have happened virtually identically to what it is today, just with different names/players/winners+losers.

        Specifically, though, Google would have existed in similar-enough form, or alternatively Google would have been the first to separate hardware from OS software. Someone, maybe not Google, would have seen the same opportunities to make money from relatively non-intrusive ads on their free or low cost services/products.

  25. jc_lvngstn says:

    "If there is a devil, a Great Satan of modern technology companies, Google is it. "

    Did Steve tell you to say that? Microsoft and Google's evil pale compared to Antipope Jobs.

  26. LincKraker says:

    Joe Wilcox. The wonderful fantastic opinionated Joe Wilcox. If Joe can do one thing really REALLY well it's upsetting groups of people for no other reason then to upset them off. I looked back on the most recent articles written by Good Ole Joe and I found a theme. Joe LOVES controversy. What does that mean to the readers? Take whatever opinions you learn from the articles you read with a bag a salt. Joe doesn't report news. He writes opinions.

    http://www.betanews.com/joewilcox This is the list of the most recently written 30 articles by Mr. Wilcox. What do all 30 of these have in common? Every article is critical about what I'm calling "Joe's Big Four". Apple, Microsoft, Linux, and Google. Oh, and there is one article that mentions Firefox but it also talks about Apple and Google.

    Joe is a good writer. I'm not disputing that. But, I would love to read something he wrote that wasn't written to start a comment war.

    Joe please write your next article about something that contains facts and possibly about something other than Microsoft, Apple, Linux, or Google.

    • joewilcox says:

      @LincKraker My objective is to get people to think, Lincoln. Also, Betanews readership is rather opinionated, otherwise there wouldn't be comments or comment battles. Topics and tone are broader on my own blog at joewilcox.com than here.

      For Betanews readership, Apple, Microsoft, Linux and Google are important topics. When I branch out to posts like this one -- http://www.betanews.com/joewilcox/article/Can-there-be-a-free-Web-if-no-one-makes-money/1259882572 -- there is little response by every measure. It's the wrong topic for Betanews readership, or at least with me writing it. I've experimented with different styles and topics, but consistently readers respond most to the aforementioned topics.

      As for this post, look again at the structure. The first two sections put forth, as I have done previously, that Google operates by a different worldview than the most companies its business model is disrupting. Either you buy into Google's worldview -- that basically everything should be free -- or not. Microsoft has a different worldview -- that intellectual property belongs to the creator, who has right to charge for it. I personally have mixed feelings about both worldviews.

      The last section shows that I use a whole lot of Google services, as do many other people. If the services weren't valuable, I wouldn't use them. Value isn't determined by whether or not a product is free or fee but what it means to you. Google is a hugely successful company for a reason.

      But behind that success is the antitrust question I wrote about in February. Is Google leveraging its search dominance to gain unfair competitive advantage -- not just search but to dominate new markets? Fairness is another philosophical topic for debate. European antitrust enforcers use a different definition of fairness (harm to competitors) than their US counterparts (harm to consumers).

      I believe strongly in discussion and debate as means of sifting through philosophical, cultural and business topics as means of better understanding them. Yes, I write provocatively so that people will think and discuss.

  27. shallot says:

    For a paid "writer", you are a moron to have sold your soul to Google for its free services...

    JW, there's no such thing as a free lunch !

  28. lonechicken says:

    Earlier this year, as an experiment, I "fasted" for 2 months on the non-Google path. Avoiding GMail was easy, because that was my #3 or #4 email account. Most of the other services as well, because there are alternatives. Even the search itself wasn't that hard to avoid. Truthfully, the results of the other search engines aren't much different. What are unavoidable were Youtube and my phone.

    I got an original Droid when it came out, I'm not going to stop using it. And there are no real alternative to Youtube from a volume standpoint. Sure there funnyordie, hulu, other video upload sites, but youtube has the shear numbers.

    Coming back to the fold, I still use google search the majority of the time, but I definitely mix in Bing a lot more than any alternative search before. *Shrug*

    • gawd21 says:

      I have a Droid, and use it often, it is rooted and I have it set to kill most crap, I use Google.spyware search for a lot - well, Bing just doesn't ever work for me. I really don't care that much for Google.spyware, but it has it's points. I have about 20+ email accounts, so my gmail account is only used for my phone, for the Market, and nothing else. I hate Google.spyware, yet I do enjoy much of their work. I don't mind them getting pointless, to me it is pointless, information from me, and I will use only the apps, and other options that I am not really concerned about someone recording or keeping track of. It doesn't bother me that they may make a few dollars from the info that they get from my use, it isn't like I use it for anything secure, that is why I have a secure site and email accounts.

      Just my two cents.

  29. kcisobderf says:

    "Who can afford to do professional work for nothing? What hobbyist can put 3-man years into programming, finding all bugs, documenting his product and distribute for free?"

    Linux kernel, anyone?

    Bill Gates found a niche for his expensive software in business - which strives to reduce uncertainty and needs someone to yell at when something breaks.

    Once upon a time you had to pound gold leaf onto lambskin to make illustrated books, or chisel into stone tablets, in order that your content gets distributed. Now any moron with a Dell can spew into the blogosphere. Of course content is cheap! Only authors, artists, scientists, and engineers make any real content. Everyone else just throws it around. Google is no different.

    If content creators(Intellectual property owner is too generous.) want a paywall, let them put up an index page with some goodies and then a big button to pay for the rest. Google will find the page and then it's up to the *users* to decide whether they want to go further. Google has no other blame or responsibility here. Or do like indie bands have figured out; give the music away and then sell concerts and merchandise.

    NOTHING is inherently valuable if no one wants to pay for it.

    • computershack says:

      "Linux Kernel anyone?"

      I'm glad you brought up Linux. Power management on Linux is an excellent example of why doing things for free isn't always good . As its done for free it is done at a time schedule and priority schedule the writers choose as they're not being paid so don't have to listen and as a result power management gets shoved on the back burner. Linux power management is so far behind Windows and Mac OSX its beyond a joke. Stick Linux on any laptop and you've instantly got a 20%+ loss in battery life.

      And then there's bugs. How many major data losing show stopping bugs in the Bugtraq have gone out in Ubuntu releases because the unpaid developers couldn't be arsed to sort them in time for the release?

      And back to Google, if you've got a problem and are using the free service, their response is "Meh, its free - we might get around to it but then again we might not."

  30. Nischi says:

    Very interesting read. I'm currently studying business design for my master's degree which is very much about what you are saying. Google is in a sense very much changing the landscape as we call it, the landscape of business, it's not necessarily because they have a greater product(as you also stated you could easily swap your current Google products for equally good ones), but rather it's about their Core Competences. Core concepts are something that gives value to the customers, it's also something that you could expand to different markets without problem, like good customers service or good relationships with your neighboring companies, and once you have it, you need to make the most of it.
    It is my thinking that Google has indeed very successful Core Competences. However that does not make them evil in any sense, they are what we call Prime Movers. Prime Movers are companies which has a winning Core Competence and is so good at using it that they are literary changing the landscape, one example of that could be a more efficient way of handling, transporting and selling goods such as IKEA implemented, or Tetrapak who came up with a completely new design of various food packagings such as milk cartons, which not only had an impact on the food, but also the food producing companies various factories and their processes, but it didn't end there, the logistics changed and even it even made an impact on the layout of the stores where the customers will come and browse.
    Something that is closely connected with the concept of Prime Movers is the vacuum principle, which is in short, that when a new set of rules are set for the market someone will step up, and if it isn't you, it will be someone else (as in companies and entities, not individuals).
    Reconfigure, or be re-configured is something we often say, which is very much what is happening here, Google has started a train moving as the Prime Mover, and the others can't but follow(i.e. be re-configured), but there will come to a point probably where there are new emerges, with new ideas, and new winning Core Competencies which will perhaps make them Prime Movers and force others to be re-configured or try to come up with something new themselves in order to reconfigure in order to stay alive.

    I'm not sure all this makes any sense, but I just read the preamble of this article the other day, and later on had a very interesting lecture about it, so I just thought I could share some of the thoughts I had :)

  31. rcutnik says:

    Let me understand this well... Joe is saying, like any old man (including myself) that "old times were better" and that's it? I was right you were wrong thing? All this page for that?

    Nice pointless article with a lot of comments. That's it!

    Bring something useful, Joe.

  32. josephhorgan says:

    I don't understand the plaint here. Google doesn't provide content? That's like saying Ebay doesn't provide products for sale or auction.

    As a small business owner, I rely on Google for inexpensive advertising, significantly less than most other forms of advertising (paper & online), and I get a better return on my advertising dollar than any other form of advertising save the free word-of-mouth. In other words, Google may or may not produce content, but it produces value for me. And I'm one of millions who happily pays Google to provide all those free aggregates of data.

    BTW, for my business, I also use for my business: Gmail; Google Voice; Calendar; android phone (which conveniently and freely gives me a product that helps keep me and my data synced no matter where I am. Making an appointment on the spot and having it shared across multiple platforms is extremely valuable to me, and to my wife, who is able to know where and when I am because I can share my calendar with her, which helps us coordinate our personal lives); Picasa (storing and sharing photos online); Groups (stylistically, I prefer Google Groups to Yahoo Groups). And more. For example, I am able to use Google Earth to map out product or service penetration into a geographic market, allowing me to better target advertising & promotion.

    On the android, I use navigate to get me to clients' addresses. I look forward to getting a ride there in a Google-enhanced car (and, while I may not like the advertising in the windsheild/screen, I will be able to work while getting there, so getting there won't be a total waste of worktime).

    In short, Google provides value to me as a small business owner, and it provides valuable data freely. What's not to like?

    • shallot says:

      Guess you don't value your privacy !

      • josephhorgan says:

        I value my privacy, but not to the point of paranoia. I'm just not that important.

        Neither Google nor Microsoft et al. is out to get me. Google isn't interested in me or my business as a person, but as a factor in an algorithm that allows them to better direct advertising to me and/or from me. The narrowcasting of advertising is only different by degrees from advertising in the magazines I read (Linux Journal, EWeek, Bloomberg Businessweek).

  33. Cweb says:

    If their services were mediocre, I would agree with you, however Google makes some great products.
    Gmail - by far the best web based email service (and I prefer it to Outlook)
    Docs - much better than Microsoft's web offering as far as collaboration goes.
    Maps - just seems to work, whereas Mapquest and others always sent me the wrong direction
    Search - it's my default, and I have no reason to change. some can equal but no one can beat it.
    And then you have really cool stuff like Earth, Chrome, and Voice which you could live without but are becoming useful tools for so many now.

    All in all I have to say if there was a better product that was not free, I would look there, but right now Google has the best products and free or not, that's what counts.

  34. testmenot says:

    I do not like Google's actions. So I do not use their search engines or any of their branded products or "services" at all. In fact, I have google.com and a bunch of other google-owned domain names completely blocked from my systems.

    The problem is that they keep on buying up so many companies that it is nearly impossible to use a service without being exposed to them (many websites use google services without notifying the user). As such, I fully support government action into breaking them up and preventing them from consuming other companies.

  35. shicaca says:

    I don't agree that it's odd to me and quite possibly even wrong if others aren't getting paid for their work, however.

    I use Google's products, and love it. I've never met a phone that is more intuitive or nice to use, and that includes iPhone in ANY flavor, Windows phone (haven't played w/ the new one yet), Palm, and Blackberry.

    This being said, however, does NOT mean I'm going to change my practices. I love google search. It's tons better IMHO than yahoo. I was a huge fan of Yahoo back in the day, but they lost their grip on me with non-innovation and annoying over complex design. I don't need a search engine that I have to search on the search engine's page where the hell I need to go for e-mail. It seemed like I did it every time, too! To hell with that. Google simplicity and beauty.

    I will use Google until they close their doors. The reason behind this is that their stuff just works. Their products at this point are ANYTHING but perfect, but out of all 'freebies' they're the best. If they decide later on down the line that gmail should be a pay-for type of item, I would still stick with them. If they decided to make their calendar something a bit extra, well money would go to that too. These are the two essential "I can not live without" services. Chrome is nice, but not essential.... and Firefox did what I needed it to, but was just a bit slow. I already pay for my phone ($200 on purchase of my phone, and my monthly contract) so they're already getting a cut of that in some way-shape-or-form. I *do* use google voice for voice transcriptions because I believe this to be a natural and obligatory upgrade that SHOULD be free (included in the $90/month I pay for a cell phone with a whopping 450 anytime minutes). I do have to say, though that this is the start of the "necessities that aren't really a necessity" as I would switch back to Verizon VM in a heartbeat. The prompting annoy the hell out of me and being able to listen to VM in the middle of Wifi-only zones is REALLY nice, but again ... NOT ESSENTIAL.

    To Joe: I don't really, still after reading your article, understand why you're ditching something that works ... other than the fact that you just became a person to pad the pockets of one of the most greedy men alive (Steve Jobs) by buying an iPhone. It just works! ..... except when ATT's network is being sh*t. Good luck with your iPhone. Hopefully they're still putting upgrades into your network. I, however, and hoping for good luck with 4G on V soon :)

  36. Julia N Assange says:

    Joe,
    I sold mine to the Devil, and what a hoot it is. Google got nuthin' on this dude!

  37. mtelesha says:

    Choice is the issue. Openess is a principle.

    Choice is still evident for every product is there anything listed as Google's that is the number one product? GMail is number three email behind Yahoo Mail and Live Mail. MS Office and Open Office have more numbers then Google Docs. Buzz LOL that stinker is in the bottom of the pile. The only number one thing they have is search and youtube and you tube is still losing money.

    Google could be replaced as fast as MySpace was replaced by FaceBook. That's the way it should be.

    Quoting Bill Gates for his 1970's anti-free letter for making things worhtless made him billions how did that help the end user?

    Closed proprietary formats and software is still the devil. I like the choices that Google allows. As opposed to your pro-iPhone stance in terms of being freed from the devil. Talk about going from the pan into the fire.

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