There is something called competition law. Basically, companies are not allowed to use their dominant position in one market to offset fair competion in another. A good example is when Microsoft bundled Internet Explorer together with Windows, using their dominant position in operating systems to take over the market for web browsers as well. Killing Netscape.
So what's the problem with Google? According to the article in New York Times:
"Increasingly /.../ Google presents links to its own services, like maps, Youtube videos, local business results and product search listings. Executives argue that providing these easily accessible results clearly benefits users. Rivals claim that this is self-serving, and that Google promotes its content even though there may be better material elsewhere." (my bolded italics)Sad to say, I have to agree. Don't get me wrong - I love Google. Google has enabled me - and millions like me - to build a business on the internet. Without Google I wouldn't exist. Google provides the infrastructure in almost every aspect of my business. But - it is becoming more and more of a real *issue* for us web developers, and for the healthy competition on the internet, that Google is promoting more and more of it's own content in the search results. Let me give you a few examples from my own business - then judge for yourself.
One of the websites that I run is called Sushikartan.se. If you are a sushi-eater in Sweden, you might have used it. It's sort of the top-of-mind sushi website here, with user-generated sushi listings, reviews and pictures from sushi places.
Let's look at Google, and what the search results currently look like when you search for "sushi Stockholm".
As you see, Google pushes it's own map to the top of the search results. And then, below the Google map, there are two results for Sushikartan.se.
To begin with, why does my website, Sushikartan, score well on Google? Mostly because people like the website and link to it from their blogs. It gets a lot of love, basically. The same logic, however, does not apply to Google's own map: It's at the top of the search results not because the content is so good - but because Google decided to put it there.
If you work for Google, you could argue that the Google map is better and benefits users more - and that self-promotion at the top of the search results is justified. So is that true in this case? I don't think so. I'll give you the facts and you judge for yourself. Let's compare the result on Google Maps with the result on Sushikartan, from four different perspectives:
1. Result page:
- Google Maps: If you click on the link to Google Maps you come to this page. I think most users would agree that the selection of sushi places is sort of confusing. It does not give you a lot of clues as to where to go.
- Sushikartan: If you click on the link to Sushikartan you get an alfabetical list of all sushi places in town. You can also order the listings according to the places that have gotten the best reviews. The list is based on many thousand reviews, and it *really* shows you the best sushi places in town.
- Google Maps: Google has user reviews, but there are very few. Most sushi places on Google Maps have not been reviewed at all. A well known place like Roppongi has only 2 reviews on Google Maps.
- Sushikartan: The average suhi bar has at least 10 reviews. A popular place like Roppongi has 57 reviews on Sushikartan.se - almost 30 times as many as on Google Maps.
- Google Maps: About two thirds of all sushi places in Stockholm are missing completely. It's hard to say why, exactly.
- On Sushikartan there are almost three times as many sushi places as on Google Maps.
On Sushikartan.se a search within the same area gives 49 results.
You probably agree that this is sort of a problem for Google Maps? But - there's more.
4. Erraneous listings
- On Google Maps, for a search around Odenplan, almost 50% of the listings that do appear are plain wrong. Places are listed on the wrong address - like postal address instead of visiting address. Places that have closed, or changed name or owner long ago, still appear. If you go to Street View, you can see some of these errors by yourself. Here are just a few of the errors for this small sample search:
Solna Sushi? That's probably the postal address.
As you can see, that's a bakery, not a sushi place.
That is not a sushi restaurant.
That place is a sushi restaurant. But it's been called Esa Sushi for the last two years. Before that there was a café there.
- On Sushikartan, the listings are updated continously by the users, and the results are around 99% correct.
An what about the Google Map at the top of the search results? I think you would agree that the Google Maps is promoted at the top of the search results not because it is better - but because it is Google.
For a service like mine, though, it's hard to compete with the company that is supplying the infrastructure.
What's more: If you search for sushi in your mobile phone, the results are even more skewed in Googles favour. All the "local results" below point directly to Googles own business listings.
Simply, there's no way for Sushikartan to compete here, even though Sushikartan has a great mobile version, and a bunch of iPhone Apps, too.
As I said before, I think Google is fantastic in almost all aspects. In this case though, I think Google is over-using it's dominant position.
In USA, Google was recently in talks about buying Yelp, the leading local business review website. Personally, I thought that would have been a really bad idea. I was almost losing my faith when I heard about it. When the deal didn't go through, I was happy. A deal like that would effectively have killed the competition in the US for local business review websites.
The thing I love about Google is that it gives raison d'etre to many millions of small, diverse content producers all over the world. But when Google step by step is taking ownership over the content in the search results - it's effectively killing many of those wonderful small markets that is once helped create.
I hope someone at Google is reading this. (@Matt Cutts, @Stina Honkamaa)
If you ask me, Google should avoid owning content - and instead focus their energy on creating even better ways to find, make sense, and organize. Stay true to the motto: "Organizing the world's information" - and stay away from "Owning the world's information".
In the case of local business reviews, there's an opportunity for Google to do what it does best: To aggregate, organize, and make searchable all the worlds local content. Not a lot of companies can do that - Google can. Instead of owning content, Google can encourage content producers to supply the listings with geographical meta tags so that Google can make all sorts of "semantic" sense out of it and put together a killer search function. And I would guess that's where the real money is, too.
To put it short: Innovate in search, don't imitate in content.