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What Google Can Do To Make The Web Less Of A ‘Cesspool’

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imageJim Spanfeller is president and CEO of He is also treasurer of the Online Publishers Association and chairman emeritus of the Interactive Advertising Bureau.

After years of debate about the value of the near monopoly owned by the folks in Redmond, it would appear that this particular discussion is quickly moving south to the Googleplex. And from where I sit, appropriately so.

For some time there have been murmurings about the relative value generated by Google (NSDQ: GOOG) vs. the parasitical nature of its business model. In short, is Google being disproportionally compensated for what is fundamentally other people

74 Responses to “What Google Can Do To Make The Web Less Of A ‘Cesspool’”

  1. Peter summed it up.

    At any time, any content producer can block Google from indexing their content. They can ensure that Google makes no money off of them.

    No one does it because Google provides traffic and viewers which for companies like Forbes results in revenue.

    To the extent that the value derived from letting Google drive traffic is more than if they did not drive traffic, Forbes has nothing to complain about.

    If you don't like a store, don't shop there. If you don't like Google, don't let them index your site. It is in your control.

  2. pb...

    Well Tom you are quite wrong about me not thinking about this, I have spent decades on this very subject since trying to persuade several local newspapers and community orgs to go on line in the late 80's.
    Ok so they did not have a clue what we were on about and at 2500baud it was a pretty limited experience.

    But that's not the point any site can stop a search engine in a matter of minutes why don't you read up on Robots exclusion standard at wikipedia and then tell me why the dodo's do not use that mechanism that takes minutes to set up?

    I suggest its because they derive value from search engine hits and therefor are full of it and these type of stories are a beat up.

    I stopped buying newspapers several years ago but test the waters at least twice a year.
    They have not improved and still show bias, pretend advertisments are news
    They do not publish criticism, when forced to do a retraction they put it in tiny print as far from the front page as possible and on and on…

    The web is not better but I have more choice, and the criticism is open for all to see
    I can tailor the news to what aears that interest me, there are even old media sites that I frequent, to say Google is killing them is rubish,
    they have not evolved they still exist in a 70's time warp setting type!


  3. It is frightening that a man in Mr. Spanfeller's position has such a poor understanding of search. It is more frightening that some of the individuals in this space completely miss the point and agree with this befuddled gentleman. This article specifically attacks Google for forcing companies to "buy their own brand names." This does not happen. It's considered 'black hat" and it will get you banned from Google to buy other companies brands.

    Next, fair use. Google can do more for books, news and articles than any single entity in the world. For those of you who defend Jim's article, can you imagine a world without Google? Can you put the genie back in the bottle? No. It's easy to point at the most successful business in the marketplace and accuse them of wrong doing or a lack of empathy for "the little guy". It's a big target. Google is a search engine. It's job is to find the content you are searching for. It does. No one is being ripped off here.

    This fellow is in a position of leadership with Forbes. He is the freaking past chairman of the IAB and he doesn't have a full understanding of how Google or the Internet works! There is your problem. It's clear that the "professional" content providers are merely trying to make a case that they deserve to appear above the multitude of untrained pee-on hacks that could not possibly produce anything that people, our kind of people (wink, wink), would want to read. Jim, if you are searching for news, you will want to click the "News" link on Google. I am sure that related articles will appear properly in the proper space.

    Finally, Google has a business model that works. Forbes…well let's just say that Forbes along with a lot of other traditional media based companies are still looking for their viable digital business model. It must sting Jim.

  4. re: the $60 million estimate. I am astounded that the Chairman Emeritus of the Internet Advertising Bureau does not seem to precisely understand how Google works or makes money. That's the only way I can fathom that he could believe such ridiculous estimates in which Forbes somehow accounts for 0.5% of Google's revenue.

    But help is on the way. Google can actually help "professionals" like Forbes to create the search engine of their dreams. There's nothing stopping these publications from licensing a search technology, including Google's, and indexing the sites and content of their choice. With the relatively high PageRank popularity of Forbes, et. all Google could actually help these folks to promote their "selective" search engine.

    I've blogged about this more here:

  5. Peter

    Why, if established media consider they, and only they, provide such quality, are their opinions so….well, 1997?

    Don't think Google is treating you fairly?


    Block their spiders from crawling your content.

    Go on. Do it now. We'll soon see who provides who value.

  6. The gem in the piece is where it is mentioned Google makes "$60 million a year" by sending folks to Forbes. So, if this is bad money, will Forbes return the money it made from impressions generated by traffic generated by Google for Forbes?

    Gaming distribution is not a new practice. Distribution guys have done it even on newsstands even before the internet was discovered. Everyone games the system. Being Forbes, they can easily buy a hoarding due to who they are on Times Square and claim to be the world's business content. I don't hear any cries of gaming in that instance. It smells foul only when it does not work your way.

    And seriously, when will they ever stop complaining about unfair use? Just block the crawlers and put a "no-index" on all the pages. But sales will then complain about the hole left in the balance sheet by the missing Google referrals.

    Think about it. Today is not something that happened overnight, it has taken years. What has any of these guys done other than to carp constantly. Where have they innovated. They allowed this to happen to themselves.

  7. Carlos

    I do agree that people risking their lives in the field should be destinguishable from other people posting an opinion about that very same person… Point being that this original content claim has some validity. Currently, google has no way of addressing this, or letting users see for themselves the differences between these types of media.

    I don't understand how markets wouldn't fix this on their own. The implication in this article is that people are trying to find professionally generated content, but are somehow unable to find it or are being misled to other places. If this was true, why wouldn't some other search engine be able to address these consumer demands? I do not believe that google is a monopoly, people have choices that they are willing to use if they were better than google. Are people being forced to use google? Would they not use a 'better' alternative?

  8. Hire a good Search Engine Optimization specialist and it will solve all of the problems you've addressed. What's that? A search engine optimization specialist is a professional who understands Google's algorithm and knows what type of content will rank and what to do to make your content rank.

    In days of old, after a writer would create a piece of content, an editor would read it and make sure it is appealing to the public, free of errors, the right length, etc.

    For major sources of "paid" content to survive in today's environment, they need a search engine optimization specialist to read their content and make sure it is congruent with search engine algorithms.

    Google is like a library. An SEO specialist is a Google librarian.

    If you hire them, your content will show up where it needs to be and you will succeed. If you don't, you will fail.

    Res Ipsa loquitor

  9. I am appalled that an educated journalist could write an article that displays such a poor understanding of fair use, search, and the internet. Shockingly poor 'analysis'.

  10. Someday the people at Forbes will figure out search. Maybe. In the meantime, their hubris ("our most prized journalistic institutions.") is good for everyone else who has a clue.

  11. The take away that I get from what Jim is saying is that search creates no demand. I turned down a sales job at Google a few years ago (whish i had those options now) because i couldn't get over the fact that paid search is digital yellow pages. It is great if you know what you are looking for. However, If you dont know you need a product or service, you will never go search for it. Display advertising (online or offline) creates that demand, i dont think anyone would argue with that. Google now takes credit for that demand (search) that was created by the advertiser through the branded content channel and other marketing efforts from the advertiser. Couple that with users using search as their browser and you have created a mafia type scenario where Google goes to an advetiser and essentially says pay me for your brand name on search or i will break you store windows by selling your brand to someone else. Even though that advertiser has spent millions creating thta demand…..That is illegal in most parts of the world, why is it ok online?

  12. @pb: Lets face it they stuffed up their gravy train and are now behaving like petulant children.

    No, pb. They're just asking to be paid their rightful share of revenue.

    People like you, who criticize the media for not being "innovative enough" need to wake up to the reality that the news organizations generate a lot of content, it's expensive to create that content, and companies like Google are leeches. What is Google contributing to the news? Nothing! They merely index what other people create, and then they consume the advertising revenue that results.

    You think this is fair? Of course it's not fair. Google should be sharing revenue with the organizations that provide it with content. But, no, Google is a greedy corporation (note: they recently removed the "Do not be evil" provision from their company charter — probably because they already violated that tenet with this kind of behavior) that wants to maximize their revenue on the backs of others.

    Worse, they want to enlist your help as a member of the Internet community to villify the same people that provide news content. Who else is going to step into the breech and provide content when newspapers and media companies fold? Bloggers? You're kidding yourself. Bloggers similarly feed on the work of the AP, UPI, and other news organizations. They're not pounding the pavement investigating so-called boring crimes and stories that newspapers and TV cover. They provide commentary. Big difference.

    You criticize the media's agenda. I agree with you on that. The media is often biased. But, on the whole, there are a lot of stories that blanket the political spectrum, and those stories would not be possible, if the media were to disintegrate into chaos. Government without oversight would be a horrible thing.

    Think about it. You haven't thought this through.

  13. To those of you who think that Google's appropriation of headlines as "snippets" falls under Fair Use provisions of copyright law, you're wrong. Fair Use is a narrowly written provision in copyright law which limits usage to educational/non-profit purposes and primarily excerpted/abbreviated content. Who in their right mind thinks that Google's use of news headlines falls under "educational/non-profit purposes"? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? This assertion is ridiculous to the extreme. Google is a business enterprise that receives advertising revenue for traffic. The news snippets create traffic revenue for Google. So, it's not Fair Use.

    Quite frankly, I'm a bit shocked that Google has taken the position that its use of snippets falls under Fair Use. Because that argument is DOA in a court of law. No judge is going to agree with that ridiculous interpretation. Google is going to have to pay content providers. It's that simple. Otherwise, it's going to get its head handed to it in court.

  14. In all kinds of business, there's always a two way relationship. One needs to give while the other one needs to take or vice versa. No one can survive by just relying on himself. Same with this situation, google needs users when it comes to revenue generation to be operative, as well as users need google when it comes to service.

  15. pb...

    Old media is panicking, this is just the latest beatup by a list of old media like murdock,
    It would take less than a minute to block google from your websites so why don't you do it?
    I will have to answer that with another question how much does old media make from google sending them web users?

    Lets face it they stuffed up their gravy train and are now behaving like petulant children.

    For years you have abused old media with your often undeclared political agendas, pushed products / politicians / agendas disguised as news, vilified your opponents with little accountability.

    It it you who have devalued your own brands and undermined prized journalistic institutions

    wake up and smell the roses old media dodo.

  16. Was posted by: Jenkins….

    "Few people know the web and the web business model, both from a content and advertising perspective better than Spanfeller

    Mr Jenkins,

    That is not the case. Truly.


  17. jenkins

    If Jim Spanfeller was a great Internet person he'd be working for a serious Internet company instead of working for a old media company that is partially owned by private equity. I'm not buying what you are selling my friend!

  18. kidcroesus

    There is no doubt in my mind that Google has been the primary cause of the rapid destruction of the economic model for premium content both in print and online: 1. Google radically lowered barriers to entry in the publishing world thereby enabling all kinds of content creators to monetize long-tail searches and flood the market with content and 2. Through Adsense, Google has developed a far more measurable and effective means of marketing to consumers than print, branding, or online display advertising. There is a third cause: the display ad networks with their reach and data driven targeting outperform premium publishers at a tenth of the cost. Jim and the premium publishers can only blame themselves for the third one, since they enabled the ad networks to succeed through short term greed.

    But it is still presumptuous to suggest that Google should change their algorithm to preserve the disrupted business model of premium/professional content. If consumers prefer a premium search algorithm or feel Google is inadequate, competitors like Microsoft could begin to compete with Google. And if said premium algorithm started to get even a little traction, Google could potentially respond by creating a filter or algorithm that provides similar functionality.

    But I also think that Google could be vulnerable here…because much of their revenue comes from non premium publishers who run adsense.

  19. Oddly enough, I go to frequently, and, and the like – and I *never* use Google to get there! Seems like Mr. Spanfeller is condemning his errant flock for their bovinity – they get a browser (doh! – probably IE, with it's default settings..) never alter anything, and believe that the way to get to a site is to type the URL or the search term into the 'big thingie' in the middle! It is amazing to me how many users persist in this misconception, but try it – ask your pa, or grandma, how they find stuff on the Intertubes. I'll bet you'll be amazed at how many people believe that the default Google (or MSN) search form is in fact the browser's address bar.

    If you are more interested in repeat visitors than one-shots (I would imagine your advertisers would be, wouldn't you, Mr Spanfeller?) perhaps your programmers could come up with a clever way to discover where the user originated *on his browser*. Perhaps a high-tech thing, like a survey! And perhaps you could design a fix!

    Or perhaps, like some of the more creative investors out there, you could own a piece of a fix, much as is owned by O'Reilly, and Mitch Kapor (among others.) So much more Forbes-like than whining..

  20. jenkins

    Jim Spanfeller seems to be prone to oral malfunctions. He might want to take a harder look at if he wants to clean up the online cesspools.

  21. The horse has bolted and isn't coming home. Brands will in future be defined and affirmed socially. The good news is that content providers who learn how to be profitably portable (kindle, article banks, tailoring etc.) will survive and Google's relevance will gradually erode.

    My search activity is down by 75% this last year in favour of canvassing opinion across my social networks. Unless Google buys Facebook and/ or Twitter, which would be a horrible thought, I suspect it's growth curve is flattening.

    In terms of Forbes, I know how they could stop getting mad and get even. But that would cost….

  22. nathanr

    By Jim's calculation, if you figure Google has been indexing Forbe's news content for 5 years making $5MM, $10MM, $20MM, $30MM and $40MM from Forbes content– they owe Forbes about $110MM; however, I don't think that the retro-active payment solution is viable but Jim's 3 recommendations seem to be reasonable asks for Google, at a minimum as the beginning of a dialogue.

    It is worth noting that Yahoo & MSN have been successfully collaborating with content partners, making money, supporting the partners media ambitions and creatively solving for user demands. Both MSN & Yahoo refer measurable & agreed upon traffic. Last I checked, Yahoo! Finance was still a larger business than Google Finance — they have a strong & long relationship with Forbes.

    <I guess John is accustomed to reading the ridiculous things that come before premium, established, well-written content and doesn't see the value of editorially produced content…>

  23. Jim,

    I am a fan of Forbes, have read it for years and you guys bought my first professional magazine article.

    That said, could you please spell out what Google features violate fair use? If you want them to stop, you have to be specific. I hear media companies complain about this all the time, but I can't get a straight answer on what exactly you want Google to stop doing.

  24. Deepak


    "After years of debate about the value of the near monopoly owned by the folks in Redmond, it would appear that this particular discussion is quickly moving south to the Googleplex. And_from_where_I_sit, appropriately so."

    No need to read any further…

  25. invitedmedia

    i clicked through comment hoping to ask "who the f is this guy who wrote this thing?" … but the previous comment seems to sum it up better.