Is Google getting too big for the good of the internet?
There’s a lot of anxiety/anger/fear about Rupert Murdoch’s proposed takeover of BSkyB. Daily, commentators pour forth to point out that that would mean that he would own The Times, The Sun, The News of the World, Sky News, MySpace, BSkyB, Fox News and Australia. Which is an awful lot of influence for one man to have.
Now because everyone’s impeccably right-on these days, Murdoch’s right-wing politics mean that this gives us the screaming heebie-jeebies. But meanwhile, away from the traditional media, Google has snaffled up YouTube, Blogger, Urchin, Doubleclick, Feedburner and more besides – either directly or more tangentially (for example, Google have a 5% stake in AOL. And AOL just bought the Huffington Post).
And now, according to speculation in the press, Twitter is the next target for acquisition.
Is it time for a little pause for thought here? If Google were to acquire Twitter (and let’s face it, they’ve got the spare cash on the kitchen table, along with the keys to a totally sweet Lamborghini or two) they would own:
- The internet’s biggest index of content
- The internet’s biggest search engine
- The largest online text ads program
- The largest online display ads program
- The biggest source of video content
- The biggest source of traffic and data analysis for millions of websites
- The third biggest email provider
- The only player in the real time sphere
- The second biggest blogging platform
- Most of the traffic that most internet businesses rely on
- The biggest mapping software
- The 43rd largest social networking site in the Ukraine.
And to all that, you can add the vast spool of user data, business information, phone numbers and DNA that Google have been squirrelling away every time you search for a new pair of trousers, pound of mince or Russian amputee bride.
20 years ago, Bill Gates thought the world wide web was too open and free and beyond his control. That his vision of an alternative, closed-system “Microsoft web” failed still rises alternative chuckles at his naivety and contempt for his anti-competitive ideas. And yet here we are, supine to Google as they blithely buy the internet – blinded by the whole “do no evil” thing, which is about as deep as the copywriting on Innocent smoothies, when you think about it.
Consolidation is, according to the gospel of business evolution, a great and natural thing – leading to ever greated efficiency and niceness. Yet on the other hand, it gave us British Leyland, AOL’s “takeover” of Time Warner, GM and the banking crisis. And Google are a proper business, with terms and conditions and everything. Run afoul their “quality guidelines” and bing! You’re off the internet, buddy.
The point is not that Google are inherently bad, but that when things get “too big to fail” then sense has left the room. It puts entire infrastructures and industries at risk. Right now, it looks like we’re heading for an unholy face-off between Murdoch, Microsoft and Google (all them fluttering their eyelashes at Zuckerberg) for, well… the future, basically.
I kind of hope nobody wins.