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Tim Peter Thinks

Tim Peter

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January 11, 2012

Google is not Evil. They just appear to be.

January 11, 2012 | By | No Comments

Is Google EvilGoogle is making lots of news this week and not all of it is for the right reasons. First, they introduced their Search, plus Your World enhancement (hereafter referred to as Search Plus because Danny Sullivan is a genius), incorporating social results more fully into the company’s search results pages. Twitter hates it, while Matt Cutts thinks it’s magical.

Me? I’m ambivalent. This has been a long time coming and, while I don’t think it’s going away anytime soon, I also think it’s incomplete, if for no other reason that so much of the social content that makes Search Plus attractive comes only from Google+. Maybe as Google+ use grows, Search Plus will become more valuable to consumers. But it’s way too soon to suggest how it’s going to affect business (though I plan to take a couple of guesses next week).

Speaking of the business impacts of Google+ growth, Matt McGee takes a long look at the growth of [Not Provided] as a referring keyword from Google. As I noted in the comments, the more folks log into G+, the bigger potential business impact.

What these two stories have in common is both present Google in a less-than-glowing light. In the first, Google appears to promote its social service ahead of alternatives such as Twitter and Facebook. In the second, Google offers its paid search customers benefits unavailable to those who don’t pay.

But are either of these “evil”?

You could easily argue that they’re not.

Now, before you get out the torches and pitchforks to storm my castle, hear me out for a second. If you made moves that benefited your bottom line and stuck it to your competitors, do those moves make you evil? Of course not.

So why isn’t that true for Google? Shouldn’t they get the same opportunity as you? (Ignoring for a moment any antitrust issues, of which I expect Google to face plenty pending the outcome of this year’s elections).

Actually, here’s the problem. Google’s stated mission is to “…organize the world‘s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” All the world’s information, universally accessible. Not just the information available on Google’s services and not just to people who pay them.

From that perspective it sure looks like they’re compromising their core mission some. That may not be evil. But if you sacrifice your values to boost profits, eventually you’ll end up with neither.


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Tim Peter & Associates helps companies from startups to the Fortune 500 use the web to reach more customers, more effectively every day. Take a look and see how we can help you.

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Tim Peter

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September 22, 2011

What Google vs. FairSearch.org and the US Senate Means to You

September 22, 2011 | By | No Comments

Google vs. competitionWell, it finally happened. Yesterday, Google and members of “industry watchdog” FairSearch.org testified before the Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights subcommittee of the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary. (The subcommittee could sure use some lessons in naming from that watchdog group, couldn’t they?) Search Engine Land has an excellent recap and also live-blogged Google chairman Eric Schmidt’s and the rebuttal testimony.

I put “watchdog group” above in quotes because, despite raising some excellent questions about Google’s practices, FairSearch was founded by Google competitors such as Microsoft, Expedia, TripAdvisor, Travelocity and Kayak (the latter three feel threatened by Google’s purchase of ITA Software and subsequent Flight Search product launch. I should also point out that I use Google AdSense for some of the ads displayed on this blog and conduct business on behalf of some clients with TripAdvisor, Expedia and other FairSearch sponsors—standard disclosures apply).

In any case, as Chris Sherman from Search Engine Land writes about a recent FairSearch study:

“Fairsearch.org has released findings from a new study that raises serious and important issues about Google, its influence on searcher behavior and whether the search giant’s actions are deliberately hindering competition. Unfortunately, the study results are tainted by flawed methodology and a blatant anti-Google bias, implicitly favoring the agendas of the companies that sponsored the research.”

The article concludes:

“Like most consumer watchdog groups, Fairsearch.org deserves credit for raising awareness on important issues that cry out for rational discussion. Unfortunately, the organization’s apparent single-minded goal to cripple Google, coupled with its disingenuous argument that this hobbling will be good for consumers (rather than helping the interests of its own patron companies) make it a source most people should eye with considerable skepticism.” [Emphasis mine]

I think the Search Engine Land folks are right. Some of Google’s practices are worth looking into. For instance, their approach to review sites isn’t entirely fair to those sources, no matter the benefit to consumers. I’m just not sure that government is well positioned to regulate such a dynamic market. After listening to some of the questions yesterday—and ridiculous pandering for broadband by several senators—I’m not sure our elected officials remotely understand the market they’re investigating. And the actions of FairSearch are, to quote Search Engine Land, as well as my friends Robert Cole and Henry Harteveldt, disingenuous at best.

Long term, increased access to information—whether provided by Google or others—creates increased price transparency for consumers. As I have noted for some time, Google’s antitrust trouble was inevitable. One company with that much power can harm the industry—and potentially your business. Which is why, I’ve also offered recommendations on what you should do about Google’s antitrust worries, including how to grow your business in a world without Google.

I’m not suggesting that we’re there yet.

But, given the lack of understanding of displayed by members of Congress (including, in a couple of cases, what looked like obvious bias against Big G), and Google’s less-than-stellar transparency in its responses, nothing would surprise me. It’s time you’re ready no matter what happens.


Are you getting enough value out of your small business website? Want to make sure your business makes the most of the local, mobile, social web? thinks helps you understand how to grow your business via the web, every day. Get more than just news. Get understanding. Add thinks to your feed reader today.

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And while you’re at it, don’t forget to follow Tim on Twitter.

Tim Peter & Associates helps companies from startups to the Fortune 500 use the web to reach more customers, more effectively every day. Take a look and see how we can help you.

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Tim Peter

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April 11, 2011

Tim Peter

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April 11, 2011

Google, ITA and the coming antitrust war

April 11, 2011 | By | No Comments

Oh. Yeah. This is kind of a big deal. The New York Times reports on Google gaining clearance from the US Dept. of Justice to buy ITA. An association backed by Google’s competitors notes,

“Google is heralding it as some win, when in fact the scrutiny is just beginning,” said Patrick C. Lynch, the former Rhode Island attorney general, on a call with reporters arranged by FairSearch. “It’s not going to be just the Department of Justice. It’s going to come from all sides.”

If you remember the Microsoft antitrust investigations of the late ’90′s, this feels eerily familiar. I looked at Google’s potential for antitrust violations a couple of years ago and offered some tips on how to prepare for a Google antitrust investigation. Search Engine Land would like to see the parties compete more effectively. But I think that now might be a good time to start planning for any eventual fallout, because this story — government approval of the Google/ITA deal notwithstanding — is far from over.



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Tim Peter

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December 3, 2010

When online marketing meets government regulation and, um, good wine? (Small Business E-Commerce Link Digest – December 3, 2010)

December 3, 2010 | By | No Comments

We here on the thinks team are always looking out for your best interests. And as the weather starts to turn nasty (to say nothing of the attitude among folks in the mall), I thought you’d appreciate some great weekend reading to keep you warm, dry, and safe from angry holiday shoppers.

So, light a fire in the hearth, pour yourself a glass of your favorite beverage (might I suggest a nice Zinfandel or one of Gary Vaynerchuk’s recommendations) and curl up with this week’s fine links:

Alright, Big Thinkers. Stay out of trouble this weekend. Know your limits and all that. And try not to spend your whole weekend reading on the computer. I mean, sheesh, don’t you have some holiday shopping to do?



Are you getting enough value out of your small business website? Want to make sure your business makes the most of the local, mobile, social web? thinks helps you understand how to grow your business via the web, every day. Get more than just news. Get understanding. Add thinks to your feed reader today.

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Tim Peter

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September 9, 2008

What every small business needs to know about Google's antitrust investigation

September 9, 2008 | By | No Comments

Google's potential antitrust investigation raises serious questions for your businessJust as Google announces it’s working to sell TV ads for NBC Universal, the Wall Street Journal reports the U.S. Justice Department has hired a lawyer to investigate Google for antitrust violations in its advertising business. We’re not going to examine the merits of the case itself. Instead, we’re going to look at what such an investigation means to you and your business.

Whether the case has merit or not – and at this point, calling it a “case” is premature – doesn’t matter. Companies under investigation – or post-investigation sanction – by the U.S. government inevitably lose focus. The Microsoft-DOJ battle of a decade ago, and its aftermath, shows what happens after companies go through these sorts of distractions. Not only did Microsoft’s product introductions lag during the immediate period following the case, young competitors suddenly found the will to enter markets Microsoft once ruled. What happened as a result? Microsoft, while still a massive player in the technology space, isn’t the immovable object/irresistable force it once was: Google is. Or is it only coincidental both the antitrust action against Microsoft and Google celebrate tenth anniversaries this year? For that matter, Microsoft itself emerged as a dominant player in the aftermath of the U.S. antitrust case against IBM of the 1970′s.

Google may already be showing heightened concerns of government action. The company has announced several changes to its privacy practices in just the last few days (here and here), potentially to deflate government concerns about harm to consumers. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the government is swayed by arguments like Nick Carr’s,

“…Google collects more data on consumers’ needs and behavior and can tailor its ads more precisely, strengthening its competitive advantage and further increasing its income …[Even its beta products increase this effect] by generating advertising revenue and producing valuable data on customer behavior.”

Why should you care?

Small, niche-focused businesses will always need search for a chunk of their business. It’s inevitable. As customers increasingly turn to search as their first source to find what they’re looking for, your business’ results will depend, in some part, on search. Unfortunately, due to its dominance in the search space, when Google sneezes, thousands of small businesses catch cold. The question is, is it time for you to get a flu shot?

Yes. And no.

Even if this thing turns into a real case, and a real distraction for Google, alternative search engines likely will fill the void. As noted above, these actions usually result in new players coming on the scene. So, continue to make sure your company’s site shows up in search results. But, also consider how much of your business should come from search (see Mike Moran’s thoughts, too). And how much search comes from Google. If all your eggs are in Google’s basket, it’s time to get some other baskets, too.



Are you getting enough value out of your small business website? Want to make sure your business makes the most of the local, mobile, social web? thinks helps you understand how to grow your business via the web, every day. Get more than just news. Get understanding. Add thinks to your feed reader today.

Or subscribe via email.

And while you’re at it, don’t forget to follow Tim on Twitter.