Tyler the Tech Guy

18

Author: Tyler Kearn

Many of us rely on Google for all of our Web search needs. But what if Google no longer had all of the answers? Recent negotiations between Microsoft and News Corp. may threaten Google’s perceived control of the Internet.

The news broke late last month that Rupert Murdoch, head of News Corp., the largest media conglomerate in the world, controlling entities such as the Wall Street Journal and Fox, is considering de-listing his news assets from Google’s search results at Microsoft’s prompting.

Microsoft has entered into discussions with News Corp. to pay an undisclosed amount of money in exchange for Murdoch’s company, making its news content only searchable with Microsoft’s Bing search engine.

If the deal happens, then the Wall Street Journal, Fox and News Corp.’s numerous international newspapers could not be found through Google search or any other non-Microsoft search engine. If News Corp. does make this deal with Microsoft, other news sources and content distributors could potentially follow, and search engines would be bidding against each other to list a distributor’s content.

There is no doubt that the de-listing of important news sources from Google is a bad thing for Internet users. People do not go to search engines like Google because they are looking for specific sources of content – they go because they are looking for the answer to their question or for a specific item of information.

It will be hard for people to get used to having to go to one search engine for some content sources, and another for others, and it will be easy to forget which search engine has what.

This division of information also contradicts the definition of a search engine: a comprehensive means to search the Web. As a society, we lose a useful tool if search engines become segregated.

However, it does seem that Google maintains a de facto monopoly in the search engine market. Nielsen media statistics from June 2009 show that Google controls 66 percent of the U.S. search engine market share, followed by Yahoo with 16 percent and Bing with eight percent. Google’s share of the market is increasing over time as well.

The way the Web is set up seems poised to keep Google on top. Google is one of the most dominant search engines, so Web site creators often optimize their sites for Google’s search algorithm to increase the chances that their sites will be discovered. This keeps Google’s search algorithm the most relevant, helping Google give users the best search results.

Microsoft has been spending millions of dollars promoting Bing in an attempt to get users to switch to their search engine, but so far the ads have been relatively ineffective. Microsoft is desperate to find some way to actually make headway against Google. It could be that a deal like the one with News Corp. is the only way for Microsoft – or any company – to bring some serious competition to the search engine market.

In addition to making Microsoft’s Bing relevant, deals like the News Corp. proposal could also be a saving grace for newspapers and other media outlets. So far, newspapers and the media have been unable to find a way to profitably monetize their content online.

Newspapers are failing and going out of business largely because they are forced to give their content away for free online, and the revenues from Web ads are insignificant compared to revenues from print ads and subscriptions.

If newspapers received money in exchange for being listed on search engines, it could help increase the profitability of their Web publications and keep them afloat.

Whether the Bing-News Corp. deal – or another deal like it – will happen or not is uncertain. But, if it does, it could change the Web dramatically. Is it worth undermining the effectiveness and utility of search engines in order to help failing media and give Google some actual competition? Probably not. But this allocation of news might occur whether we wish it or not.

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