An Open Letter to Google

Dear Google,

I’m sorry to have to tell you this so bluntly, but you are pissing me off.
You’ve stated for years that your mantra, your top priority, was to “Do No Harm.”  Perhaps it is time to revisit that mantra in light of your recent behavior.  Let’s revisit, shall we, the products you’ve killed off recently:

  • Buzz
  • Wave
  • Friend Connect
  • Translate
  • Labs
  • Listen

And as of today, you can add Feedburner to that list when many bloggers woke up and discovered that their subscribers had disappeared completely.  Yes, I know.  You had dropped hints that you would no longer be supporting Feedburner in October, but it still came as a surprise to find that the benign neglect with which you had been treating Feedburner had morphed into outright destruction.

I have to wonder at how the decisions are being made at the company when you kill off so many products, some only a very short time after they were launched and heralded (by you) as the best thing ever.  Some tech pundits commend you for quickly and ruthlessly killing off products if they don’t catch on.  I can see that.  However, it makes me wonder at your overall strategy because such frenetic behavior suggests a business model of “throw it at the wall and see if it sticks.”   And the problem is that almost nothing sticks.

I understand that innovation is a must and drives you.  I know that the social media revolution caught you off guard and  you raced to keep up and stay relevant by developing Buzz and Wave.  The problem was that they sucked.  Did you learn from those mistakes?  No, because you gave us Google Plus.  I don’t care what any of the big tech names say, Google Plus is a graveyard.  It’s one social network too many.  It’s another place I have to remember to go and there is no one there.  I won’t abandon it completely, however, because it is favored so highly by you in your search results; that’s why I go there at all to occasionally link to a post.  I only want the search ranking love.

But killing off Feedburner?  Seriously, Google, that was really dumb.  Why would you do that?  A lot of bloggers use Feedburner.  It was possibly the one acquisition you had made that had an audience and was primed to grow.  Unlike some of your dubious innovations, Feedburner had potential and legs.  I personally have used Feedburner for 3.5 years for both my work and personal blogs.

Granted, I can almost count on two hands the number of followers I have, so moving to another option won’t be a huge burden for me like it will for many other bloggers.  I wonder, though, at your logic.  You are willingly sending users of one of your products to competitors; some of those competitors charge a fee, meaning that they will make money off of your decision.  I would go so far as to argue that Feedburner was one of your most popular and used products, so you can see why I’m questioning your decision-making ability lately.  Surely you aren’t feeling some sort of step-parent antipathy towards a product you acquired but didn’t develop?

In theory, Google, I would say that you have strayed too far from your search roots and should focus on it, your core competency.  However, I’m a little miffed at what you are doing with search lately too.

By day, I’m a web developer who dips my large big toe into marketing.  Therefore, I’ve been dealing with the hoops you have required us to jump through to rank highly for years.  Must use title and keyword metadata tags! Never mind. Inbound links are king! Cue link farms.  Make sure the anchor text of  your inbound links is descriptive and relevant, which is almost impossible when you aren’t the one building the link.  Maybe if you were buying the link, but no, no, that’s forbidden and a sure method of getting yourself blacklisted.

We web developers have danced to your alluring tune for years, constantly tweaking our content, our page names, our header tags, our site structure, everything.  And we dread the email from a coworker wondering why we aren’t on the first page of results like XYZ company, suspecting that the only constant, sure-fire way of being there is to spend a lot of money.

You’ve been busy.  This year you announced major changes to your search algorithm, causing webmasters everywhere to quake in their shoes, especially when these changes were accompanied by finger wags.  These updates were cutely named “Penguin” and “Panda” although I like to think of them more like “Barracuda” and “Wolverine.”

On the surface, those updates sound great.  You’ve stated that your goal with them is to improve search results and focus on the content being served up, desiring to make sure only the best, most relevant content is presented to the searcher. What could possibly be wrong with that, you ask?

My objection is that I don’t think it’s your place to judge and score content.  I don’t know if I trust a bunch of software engineers to be able to decide what good content is, let alone write an algorithm that does so.  Who are  you, Google, to tell me what good content is?  Who are  you, Google, to reduce the subjectivity and emotion of a riveting blog post to an unknown rubric and a series of If-Then statements? You think you can know how I think and what my preferences are by how I surf and on what I click, but I don’t think you can.  Maybe at a surface level, but not at any meaningful level.  Maybe one day you’ll get there, but that day is not now.

I’ve been dancing around it, but Google, the bottom line is that I don’t trust you and your motivations.  Back in the day, it was noble and necessary of you to step in and figure out how to organize the zillions of web pages proliferating madly.  It needed to be done, and you brought order to chaos.  And I don’t object to how you kept refining your search algorithms because it should be the goal of a useful search tool to serve up the most relevant content possible.

My problem is that I feel like along the way, your search methodology deviated from being user-centered to being Google-centered. Search works how you think it should work.  Webmasters must design sites according to the rules you deliver from on high.  When we fret, you tell us loftily not to worry about search-engine optimization, that good content will win the day.  But we know that’s not true, don’t we?    You know why?  Because you need to make a profit, and what better way than to game the system so that those who buy ads get the most prominence.  My fear is that your ultimate goal is to create a network in which we aren’t able to leave.  We have only the choices you give us.

But maybe I shouldn’t worry.  After all, is anyone else?  We’re happy to use your search engine.  “Google” has become a verb after all.  Do we ever stop to think about what is going on behind the scenes to influence the results we see?  When we search page after page of results, not exactly finding what we want, yet feeling that it must be out there somewhere, do we wonder if maybe you are playing by your rules and no one else’s?  Perhaps, but it’s often fleeting.  We don’t have time to ponder the results not found and what your motivations might be, so we end up using you time after time.

Do no harm indeed.

Oh, and as a librarian, I’m also pissed at you for indexing all of those books and not following appropriate copyright laws.  I’m also pissed at you for making people think that librarians are obsolete now that we have you when I’d argue that we need librarians more than ever to determine if the crap you deem quality content is in fact good.

So, Google, this user is pissed.  It’s been building for years and needed an outlet.  I just don’t understand you and your business model.  Maybe you need to return to your roots.

Do no harm indeed.

Update

March 13, 2013 Google announced that Google Reader would end in July 2013.  The Internet gasped and the backlash was immediate.  I am dumbfounded by what I candidly say is a stupid decision.  Google Reader is used and beloved by millions.  It makes no sense.  Then again, very little that Google does these days makes any sense.  The techies are saying that Google Reader’s death reflects how RSS never really caught on with users.  However, they ignore the fact that bloggers, while perhaps not understanding the purpose or usefulness of RSS, depending on Google Reader to organize and read the sites they enjoyed. So yeah, Google.  Awesome move to kill something that is popular and more importantly used for the services that languish because no one wants to use them.

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9 comments

  1. Use Bing. Microsoft’s main business isn’t ads – Google’s is. So many people think that they are Google’s customers – but they’re not. We are the product, not the customer. We absolutely do not use Google, or any of their products besides Gmail for spam-type email, in this house because of their business model.

  2. Dude. WORD. I wish I had something more eloquent today, but you stole all the words above! Even if I didn’t understand a LOT of the “technicial” stuff… and here I thought I was a super savvy blogger!

    I did NOT know Translate was kaput. How will I send Xmas cards to Germany now?!?! HOW???

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