Since it began as a search engine back in the late nineties, Google has transformed in to a multi-faceted online business offering a whole range of services. Where once Google was a pure search engine, it has become something much more than that. And, one could argue, something much more sinister…
By expanding in to areas beyond web search, Google is increasing its stranglehold on the web and replacing many other services out there, for better or worse. One of the newest services Google is offering is Google Domains.
While Google has been an officially recognised domain registrar for 10 years, it has not actively offered domain registration services to the public. Google Domains changes that and will allow people and businesses to use Google for domain registration services, as well as a range of associated services such as email and domain management.
The news that the giant Mountain View company has set its sights on yet another online vertical has already impacted the share value of some the companies it will now be competing with.
Google Domains will also offer integration with a number of popular web content management systems such as Shopify and Wix, allowing users to easily build and launch a website.
Speaking of content management systems, a rumour has been circulating that Google is working on its own CMS, initially aimed at media companies, that would integrate a number of features that are currently handled by different platforms.
Beginning in 2013 Google started talks with some big publishers about offering software to help manage content and advertising in a holistic way, multiple sources said.
This unconfirmed Google CMS would allow news publishers to integrate their editorial platform with their (Google-powered) advertising system, and offer a number of additional features that are very interesting for news websites such as paywall support, a content recommendation engine, and commerce features.
The CMS is rumoured to be “past the whiteboard phase” and is in actual development. So far however, no one has seen a demo or screenshot.
Google Runs Everything
If we take the rumour seriously for a moment, and imagine that CMS would eventually integrate with Google Domains, we are looking at a scenario where Google has complete and unlimited access to websites’ internet presence.
With a Google-provided domain with Google-powered ancillary services running on a Google CMS, the Mountain View company will quite literally own your entire internet stack – from the hardware layer all the way up to the actual content you serve your users. This will give Google unprecedented levels of insight, and it will not need any form of semantic markup to determine the meaning and value of your content.
Setting aside the questionable decision to run your website on a platform supplied by a company notorious for killing off popular services, the more pertinent question is: What are the risks in giving Google this amount of leverage?
Google as the End Destination
The answer to that should be obvious, as we already see it happening. Google is not satisfied to serve as a gateway to the wider web. No, Google wants to become the end destination, so it can gather more data on user behaviour and preferences and use that to enhance its ad revenues.
Take the increasing power of the Knowledge Graph, where more and more we see search queries provided with direct answers rather than sending users on to third party websites where the information is scraped from.
Everything from instructions on how to poach eggs to the cost of botox treatment to how to reset your iphone, Google will now provide the answer straight in its SERPs. A Google spokesperson, speaking to Search Engine Land, says this type of Knowledge Graph result will help users decide whether or not the source page is worth visiting:
“We started experimenting with this in early June. We hope it draws attention to webpages that provide a useful series of steps to help people complete their task. In these cases we focus attention on the snippet because it’s likely to be more helpful for deciding whether the webpage is going to be the most useful for the task.”
Yes the snippet will be so helpful in fact that it’s highly unlikely users will waste another click to visit the source website. Not coincidentally, Google finds it perfectly fine to show an ad above its own Knowledge Graph result, so that it can capitalise on the SERP itself.
It’s hard to see these Knowledge Graph entries as anything other than content theft, where Google scrapes publishers’ original content and serves it on its own platforms to earn ad revenue. The attribution link is there purely to mollify any outrage.
Google World Wide Web Domination
What this will all eventually lead to is obvious: a world wide web that is almost completely dominated by Google. Not satisfied with being synonymous with web search, Google wants to become synonymous with almost everything you do online.
Except perhaps social – so far Google has, failed to crack that nut.
Should We Care?
The interesting conundrum is, of course, whether or not we should care about all of this. After all, Google seems to be a pretty decent company overall, trying its best not to be too much of an evil corporation (with varying degrees of success). Should we not welcome this dominance from a company that seems to genuinely care about its users?
I can see the case for simply accepting Google’s growing power. It’s an easy choice, made simple by Google’s powerful brand and ‘good guy’ image. We can just enjoy the benefits, however advertising-funded, that Google grants our daily internet lives.
Yes We Should
But such a ‘meh’ attitude is a very shortsighted perspective, and one that is incredibly dangerous. The old cliché “power corrupts” is no less true for Google, and we already see how the company is increasingly adopting a careless attitude towards the damage it is causing to businesses, inadvertently or otherwise, in its quest to grow shareholder value.
How long until Google is simply too big to care about the little guys, until profit maximisation becomes the only true driving force behind everything that Google does? One could argue Google already stopped caring about the rival services in travel, local, and finance that it is competing with, blind to the damage it is causing.
Single Point of Failure
Moreover, giving one company such profoundly pervasive access to our online presence also means there is only a single point of failure when it comes to protecting our information.
One court order from a US government agency or, as the PRISM scandal showed, a single instance of agency/company collaboration, and all your information is freely available to unaccountable government parties.
For news publishers especially this should be very worrying. If Google has total and complete access to your editorial content, any information contained in a draft of a news piece that was edited out before publication would still be saved somewhere in Google’s data centres. This could for example be the name of a confidential news source, and with one wave of a secret court order a law enforcement agency would have that info.
This doesn’t even have to be a US agency – after all, the intelligence ties between the US and some of its western allies like the UK, with much more restrictive laws on free speech, are quite close.
The Death of The Free Web
Lastly, with one company enjoying such an immense amount of control over the world wide web, it is almost guaranteed to stifle innovation and erode the chaotic freedom that the internet was founded on. It is precisely this free spirit of innovation that has driven the internet to become such a powerful force for change in the world.
With one company at the helm, we can be sure the internet will stagnate and only grow in the direction Google wants it to grow. Barriers to entry will be steep and any genuinely interesting service that crops up will simply be bought over or pushed out.
We will stop having a free and open web, and instead it’ll be a corporate and proprietary internet that governs its users and forces us to use it in specific ways that benefit Google.
In other words, Google will shape the internet as Microsoft Windows shaped personal computing.
And that thought should terrify you.