Breaking Up Google

It may be time to break Google up. At a minimum, the Justice Department should consider taking up antitrust action against Google again.

The search monopoly impacts almost every part of the Internet, from content creation to email to data collection. Every small change it makes creates far-reaching ripples.

Google takes these actions to drive revenue for its advertising products. Revenue is derived from a wide array of advertising properties, including search, YouTube, ads in products like Gmail, and the far reaching AdWords network.

So what’s the hubbub about? Consider how the company uses data sourced from Google+, Android phones, Chrome browsers, organic searches and soon its sensors (via the Nest acquisition) to customize ads. Contextual and creepy at the same time, Google uses all of the data collected from products to serve the ad beast, which in turn suggests products from paying partners.

In doing so, Google pushes the boundaries of fair data use. Further, whenever it alters its search algorithms, Google creates tidal waves across the media industry, and impacts every single business with an Internet presence. Because of Google’s size, every business owner and media publisher must at a minimum pay attention to these changes, if not yield to them.

Google, The Data Bully

Google Searching
Image by Charles Ovens

Consider how Google pressures sites and companies to provide their data for free. When content owners and publishers say no, Google often replicates the data or it launches a competive product to replicate the creation of that data. This basically tells every data owner to you open their database to Google, or face competition from the Silicon Valley giant. Don’t be evil, indeed.

In many ways, Google’s creation of Google+ sought to replace paid access to Twitter and other social network sites that bar public search crawls. By making Google+ and Google Authorship components of its search algorithm, Google forced Plus upon content publishers and website owners. As a result, Google+ is actively marketed by millions of websites across the globe.

What would happen if the Justice Department acted and demanded that Google pay its competitors, and that Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and LinkedIn social data received equal weight in Google searches?

I’ll tell you what. Most content publishers would stop trying to make Google+ work. A vast majority of those G+ social buttons across the social web would disappear like outdoor Christmas lights retired in the midst of January.

Google+ would collapse. And maybe it should.

In its quest to ensure data quality and drive more revenue, Google consistantly pushes the boundaries of privacy. The list of privacy violations is significant (scroll to the end of this Huffington Post piece). You have to wonder what’s going to happen with data from Glass and Nest.

The search algorithm changes impact every media and business across the world with an Internet presence. You can see the panicked Hummingbird, Penguin and Panda update posts that dominated the marketing and publishing interwebs over the past two years.

Last year Google deployed filtered emails based on keywords and data to create a less spammy email experience. Even Gmail filter changes impacted millions of people and businesses alike. I wonder how many companies have to pay to have their products seen in email ads now? Personally, I’ve had a few emails unnecessarily buried by the new tabs.

With many of these actions, Google forces content creators and site publishers to choose between SEO and smart business. Consider the placement of no follow links in press releases and now guest blogs. Now you can’t transfer Google juice in what should be common sense business activities.

I value organic growth by attracting people to my site more than I care about search algorithms. So I tend to ignore some of the finer points (keyword placement, no follow links on guest blogs I accept, etc.) in favor of a good read, but Google’s changes make me consider each tactic.

Case in Point: Guest Blogs are More than SEO

Guestblog

I read Google Web Spam Leader Matt Cutt‘s arguments last week to eliminate guest blog links from Google’s search algorithm. While I am certain Google sees more blog spam than the average person does, the recommendation to cease guest blogging is a flawed one.

In particular these statements were erroneous: “Back in the day, guest blogging used to be a respectable thing, much like getting a coveted, respected author to write the introduction of your book. It’s not that way any more.”

Though Matt reversed his statement a bit with an amended title and a footnote at the end, this needs to be said loud and clear: Guest blogging is more than SEO.

Guest blogging is an attempt to introduce yourself (or a brand) and garner credibility with new audiences, the virtual road show if you would. In trade, you provide quality content. Even a respected author understands that.

Let me give you some examples:

I wrote a novel call Exodus last year that’s still realtively new. So I guest blogged last Wednesday on To Read, or Not to Read about the possibility of technology destroying us. It was a fun post that delved into post-apocalyptic narration and world building as storytelling devices. It also introduced the book to new audiences.

Then last Thursday I blogged about the coming Zombie Content Apocalypse on Copyblogger. Copyblogger is one of the top blogs in my business. It is always a great opportunity to offer a guest by-line there.

In both cases I delivered unique content to the sites. I believe the original content was useful and interesting to those communities. As a result, I gained a few new followers and contacts from these efforts.

If you told me I would be penalized by Google before I drafted the posts, it wouldn’t have stopped me. Guest blogs and articles remain a strong tactic. That is true with or without Google’s blessing.

This type of situation seems to happen with Google monthly, if not more frequently. And that is the problem with the Internet giant. Small moves create massive waves when you have all the power.

Google Is Threesome

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So how should Google be broken up? Personally, I think Google should be broken up into three companies to create a fairer Internet ecosystem.

The first is the search engine itself as a stand-alone product. When tied to other content elements on the Internet, Google search achieves insurmountable economies of scale. Google tends to leverage search, its various sepearate content mechanisms, and its software (Chrome and Android) for unfair advantages, most notably data mining and the weighting of Google+ in its search algorithm.

The second company would be software products, from Gmail to Android. Also included in this second company would be YouTube, Chrome, Feedburner, and other application elements. In many ways, search is search, and company x is content. We will call this company Google2.

Google3 would be comprised of the hardware companies. Glass, Motorola and Nest would be form Google3. Why seperate these companies from the group? Google clearly uses data to its advantage. Creating and acquiring new devices to capture data seems to be an evolving pattern here, and one that leads to a slippery slope. Separation creates a forced check and balance.

So there you have it, my vision for a safer Internet sans the Google Empire. Much like AT&T, the Baby Bells, and Lucent Technologies in the post telecom divestiture era, the three Google companies would all be very powerful in their own right.

Google Pays to Avoid Trust Busting

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Like other big business lobbies, Google will likely avoid action or penalities for leveraging all of its business powers. Google pays to make sure its agenda is at the forefront of DC legislators’ and administrators’ minds. There are too many dollars at stake.

Washington, DC is a town built on special interest dollars. We all know this; the money involved is a central problem in today’s political gridlock.

Google was the largest tech lobbying company in DC in 2013 with $14 million spent. Ironically, this is a significant decrease over the prior year when Google faced antitrust action.

Though Google may be too powerful, it would take significant public outcry for Washington to act. Google knows the game and plays the system on every corner. We will have to continue dealing with Google’s data manipulation and Internet tactics.

It could be worse. While often overbearing in its moves, at least Google realizes that it can only grow by committing to better search, less spam, and useful information and data products. While I advocate for Google’s breakup, I’d much rather see this management team operating with these economies of scale as opposed to Facebook’s executives. That would be dangerous indeed.

What do you think? Should the government break Google up? Is the company too powerful?

Featured image via The Digital Reader. Capitol Building photo taken by me.

The Return of the Blog Roll

keep it rolling
Image by Rod Senna

Surely you have seen the many studies, articles and posts (see Gini’s take) — including a couple on this blog — over the past few months about corporate blogging’s decline. In thinking about the matter, I decided to reverse my personal decision to exclude a blog roll here.

The best way to support blogging is to highlight your favorite reads as often as possible. While I do this every hour during the business day on Twitter, these blogs seem to get shared the most on my feed. Of course, there are many great blogs out there, so feel free to add them in the comments. And you can always visit my blog roll on the first column to the right.

Here are the blogs:

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Blog Against the Machine

Heavy Industry

They say that professional blogging is a dying social marketing tool. The University of Massachusetts revealed a 25% drop in the number of corporate blogs in the Inc. 500 (from 50% of the general surveyed population to 37%).The next generation of trade media — team and professional “blogs” — have risen to the fore and dominated their various niches. Lost in the dust are the individual and small business bloggers who can’t create enough content to compete effectively against the content machines.

In the marketing sector we have strong professional trade media plays from Hubspot, MarketingProfs and Copyblogger. Individual blogs like Jason Falls’ Social Media Explorer have augmented the individual voice with guest posts, providing daily or near daily offerings to remain competitive. In the nonprofit sector, I helped start a similar professional team blog, Inspiring Generosity.

Most individual bloggers — blogs like this one, which feature, one, two, maybe even three posts a week — simply cannot command the traffic to generate competitive market attention in the face of these machines. They don’t cover breaking news like these more professional outlets. Responding to the news cycle requires a dedication to blogging. Most people with jobs that are tied to other activities beyond social simply cannot afford to spend the time necessary to compete.

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Copyblogger Brian Clark on Authenticity, Klout and Google+

Sobconers Brat Pack
From left to right: Shannon Paul, Brian Clark, Jason Falls, Zena Weist, Derek Halpern

Most of you already know the top-ranked blog Copyblogger. Founder Brian Clark started the company as a blog in 2006, and has expanded it to become a media company that helps businesses grow through social media and online marketing.

A mainstay in the sector, Brian is also active in relevant conversations. After Jennifer Leggio’s Forbes piece on authenticity ran last month, we began discussing some of the articles points, and have no expanded our conversation into a full-on interview. Special thanks to Brian for his insights on authenticity, Klout and Google+

Authenticity

Q: Why is authenticity preached, but not really wanted by the crowd in major social media marketing and business efforts?

BC: This is a matter of perspective. People do want authenticity, but they want what’s authentic to them. People want to connect with people they relate to, not to corporate speak or talking points. And yet, they also might not want to know your bathroom habits, or your political views, or enjoy your salty language, depending on the context.

The rallying cry of authenticity in social media has given people who consider themselves marketers to put their egos first and the desires of the people they communicate with second. This is the antithesis of good marketing, or even simply being a human being that others react favorably to.

Good marketing, good business, and being a good person, in my view, are all about putting yourself second and focusing on others first. When you do that, you have to speak to people in a way that’s appropriate to them, or they’re not going to listen.

When they listen and are influenced by you, however, a magical thing happens — you end up getting what you want after all. And it’s a win for everyone.

The other issue is one of context. We act differently in different situations: you’re different around your mother or at church than you are at a reunion with your college buddies. Both are the “real” you, and yet you behave differently due to changes in context.

The context of social media marketing requires you to decide which aspect of you is most appropriate for the audience. And again, I firmly advocate putting what your audience wants ahead of your own desire for “self-expression” or whatever. But only if you want to succeed, of course.

Q: Given that, what is your personal approach to authenticity on Copyblogger and your social networks?

BC: First and foremost, we put valuable content ahead of individual personalities. This is a fundamental key to why we’ve succeeded at turning a blog into a software business.

Also, due to the nature of being marketers teaching other marketers, we’re exceptionally transparent about the fact that we “practice what we preach.” In other words, rather than trying to pretend, we make a point of letting the audience know we’re doing to them what we’re teaching them, both as a demonstration that it works, but also because to do otherwise would be exceptionally bogus (a.k.a. inauthentic).

On social networks, I’m basically me. I’ve got a goofball and irreverent sense of humor that’s combined with a focus on sharing content — both ours and from others — that helps people achieve their goals.

That said, I filter myself in a few ways. This comes back to context. Just because a relatively large group of people desire to learn more about copywriting, content creation, online marketing and related topics, doesn’t mean they’re all similar in other ways. In fact, they are a radically diverse group of people.

So, in “real” life, I tend to use fairly colorful language. I have opinions about religion and politics and other volatile topics, just like anyone.

Online, I generally avoid cursing or discussing other “off topic” areas that provoke controversy. And I truly mean generally. I often slip up because (surprise) I’m a real human being just like anyone else.

Maybe it’s because I was raised in the southern United States, but I try to avoid those things because it’s not professional or polite. In other words, if you don’t know what will offend someone, it’s appropriate to avoid certain behaviors and topics. And when you have 155,000 blog subscribers and 92,000 Twitter followers (find Brian on Twitter), it’s really easy to offend people without really trying.

Every once in a while I’ll say whatever comes to mind. I call these Twitter purges. Some leave, a lot think it’s funny.

I call it sanity preservation. ;-)

Mostly though, I genuinely love to teach. If I tried to fake that, not only would I be inauthentic and miserable, but Copyblogger (and every other business I started that preceded it) would have failed. This is something you cannot fake, at least not for long and not well.

Klout and Google+

Q: Klout is back in the news with a retooled algorithm that’s caused some controversy. What do you think of Klout gene, and influence metrics like it?

BC: I think metrics like Klout are useful as a beginning point. Our Scribe software incorporates Klout scores as a starting point to build relationships with relevant influencers, but it’s the beginning of the journey, not the destination.

That said, too many people are focusing on boosting their Klout scores (i.e their egos) instead of helping others. It’s in the latter realm where true influence is created and practiced, regardless of some numerical score.

Q: It’s been a four plus months since Google+ launched. You and I chat there periodically. What do you think of its future?

BC: I’m bullish on Google+, mainly because I love it over there (follow Brian on Google+ here). But it’s also hard to ignore the practical applications as a content producer. Google is moving more to site usage and sharing data for search rankings, and Plus is a direct feed of relevancy and value. If you’re creating great content, you can’t afford not to make a bet on Google+, because you’ll be scrambling later like the initial Twitter doubters.

Nine Guest Posts on Social Media

Geoff Livingston & The Fifth Estate

Due to the late release of Welcome to the Fifth Estate, the opportunity to coincide the book with last Spring’s speaking engagements was lost. In lieu of a book tour, it seemed appropriate to go on a blog tour.

The following nine blog posts are Fifth Estate themed social media pieces about different subject threads in the book. Thank you Adam, Jason, Jesse, Danny, Allyson, Gini, Frank, Team Mashable and Brian for the opportunities.

This ends the guest blog tour, though there is more great Fifth Estate stuff coming!

8 Substantive Blogs to Read

behind the eight ball
Image by Ed Schipul

Getting tired of the same old, same old? Here are eight blogs that seem to deliver great marketing, media and communication content day-in, day-out without getting stuck in the echo chamber’s pedantic chatter. While just a few of the many strong blogs out there, they deliver regular delightful reads.

Danny Brown’s Social Media Marketing Blog – A strong read almost every post, Danny always makes you think. He keeps it real, and focuses on real strategy, nor is he one for chasing butterflies… Unless chasing butterflies is your dream. Perhaps that’s why this blog works so well, it’s relentlessly focused but always with personal passion and a can-do dreamer’s attitude.

Katya’s Nonprofit Marketing Blog – An everyday staple, and one of the industry’s long-standing bright minds. Katya’s general focus is nonprofit, but make no bones about it, she is a marketing blogger. Read Katya for insights into branding, simplicity, and tactical execution.

MobileActive – If you are into mobile, this blog shows some of the world’s most incredible case studies of how internet capable phones are being used to change the world. These case studies should inspire ideas and concepts of possible uses.

Copywrite, Ink. – Rich Becker’s always thoughtful blog uses metaphors and case studies to illustrate his points. Another blogger who has low tolerance for a social media pop ethos, Rich takes an educator’s approach to illustrating his points and does so very effectively.

Spin Sucks – Gini Dietrich’s content machine turns out quite a few goodies during the week. Gini isn’t one to tolerate a lot of bubble-esque BS. She also covers the basics pretty well, and features some strong guest bloggers. Spin Sucks is a worthy add to anyone’s reader.

Photofocus – If you enjoy creating visual media with cameras, this blog is for you. A staple of daily posts advises on the latest trends, tips and techniques in the digital era of photography.

Copyblogger -Sometimes formulaic, but always well written, and chock full of good tips on — you guessed it — writing. This top ranked marketing blog stays above the echo chamber fray with its prescient content, new media savoir faire, and focus on business writing.

Problogger – Content marketing was made professional by problogger. OK, maybe not, but this long-running content marketing site offers regular, pragamatic advice on how to make a blog work for your organization. In tandem with Copyblogger, the blogs provide a great one-two punch.

What blogs would you add to the mix?