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GOOGLE MIGHT JUST HAVE THE RIGHT MIX TO DOMINATE THE WEB FOR A WHILE


People have, over the millennia, become more skeptical about human institutions and/or inventions, even when they are supposed to be in place to help us. Cases in point: Political Systems, Legal Systems, Law Enforcement, etc. We are rightly skeptical because as imperfect beings, we seem to always have a built-in bias, or some form of inefficiency waiting to creep into anything we are building.

Now supposed, an invention like the World Wide Web, which to a certain degree, is more independent and efficient than our traditional human institutions, is threatened in one way or another, we are always easily up in arms. Case in point, the current debate on net neutrality, something one will traditionally expect only Techies to be up in arms about, but that is not the case. The outcries some of us have noticed seem to cut across various professional and educational classes. One can’t help but as, what gives? The answer is simple: People are tired of big businesses deciding what they, as consumers, should be spoon fed. The unparalleled explosion of social networking, video and picture sharing sites is a very good example of how consumers want to set the agenda for their web experience and uses.

What does any of this have to do with Google having the right mix to dominate the web? It turns out to be a lot. Before Google’s stocks hovered above $150 (what seems centuries ago today), I use to read more articles in the press that were reminisce of the early days in the mid 1990s when Microsoft and its then fledgling Internet Explorer browser and MSN.com first appeared on the scene. Most of the articles were always how Microsoft didn’t have a clue about the web, because they depend too much on their technology, their PhD people, you have to be a genius to work for them, and how these companies have no human touch to their web offerings. Well, MSN.com started having the famous human touch, and as it grew worldwide, some of its patrons started dropping off – some of us cut down on patronizing the portal for a while there because it became too human, but with very little improvement in content quality. Internet Explorer went on to win the browser wars, and held on to its dominance even through anti-trust trials.

Well, how about Google? Google’s hiring practices, its dependency on statistical data, etc. have all met with ridicule in the press. Consumers however, like using Google because its most important asset, the search technology, has no human factors to worry about. Secondly, Google allows its users to keep scores themselves too through the PageRank system. Granted, some people have misgivings about how the PageRank system handles some sites. Nevertheless, consumers tend not to be too concerned, so far as the human factor doesn’t become the dominant way PageRanks and Google searches are conducted. How many people out there even know that Google has a Directory, courtesy of the Open Directory Project? very few. I don’t think a majority of Google users care that much for it, since it has the human factor, which tends to favor inefficiency, knowingly or not. Don’t get me wrong. Directories and Portals are important on the web, and will continue to be for a very long time. However, Google didn’t make its name as a directory.

However, a site that started out as a directory on the web, and then tries to get into the pure search game, don’t expect web users to judge its new foray on the same fair standard as say Google. It doesn’t matter whether you can prove to have a better search technology or not. The biased judgment thing is just part of being human, and we all do it. Recently, I visited a major directory/portal that seem to have a quite good search technology. Nevertheless, I have always felt eerie in using the directory/portal site’s search technology as much as I use Google’s. My leery feelings about this directory/portal turned search powerhouse took a realistic turn recently. One of my sites that had a top position on this directory/portal, was recently demoted to a secondary position. The reason for the demotion seemed innocent enough – the other sites that were listed higher than mine, were supposed up there due to “site listings by popularity”. I recently visited the directory to see what those popular sites have that mine didn’t have, so as to try and improve on my site. Well, I started noticing that some of these sites not only had lower PageRanks than mine, and the sites’ content wasn’t worthy of their positions on the directory/portal. Let me state this before I go any further: why did I use Google’s PageRank to make my judgment? Because Google’s monthly searches represent at least 51% of all online searches, and its nearest second is only about half that in search traffic. That means, Google will generally give a better estimation of a site’s popularity on the web than any of its rivals. Now, back to our story. I started thinking about the implications of what I just discovered. Namely, how many consumers out there might have abandoned using the Directory/Portal turned search giant because of their suspicions that the human factor, normally induced by financial reasons, might even be in their so-called search Technology?

Web consumers are a very demanding and fickle bunch, and anyone whose site might have been off a couple of days (like mine), will tell how hard it is to get lost customers back. Web consumers are like this for very good reasons – they call the shots and they know it too! They expect good content, and unbiased choices from the websites they visit. One cannot over emphasis the damage one can do to their site(s) if they don’t play by these rules. Remember the 1990s when some folks designed their site(s) in a way that trapped visitors, or ISPs that supposedly shielded their clients from the dangers of the web, by giving them only One out of every Thousand choices for web searches? Where are these companies now? Most imploded on themselves, or if they hung on to survive the Dot Com meltdown, major changes had to be made.

For now, some of us expect Google’s dominance on the web to last for a while, because they don’t seem to be making the same mistakes. When it comes to betting on the so-called human touch-intensive websites and Technology-Intensive websites, my bet is always on the Technology nerds.

Liambee Kundu-Swem, an editor with BusinessJeeves.com, is also a trained Economist and Computer Programmer.

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