Jeff Jarvis has posted a characteristically insightful piece on Google and its capacity to “commodify” everything, to turn it into units of potential economic value which all look the same in the stripped down flatness of the Google results page:
Google certainly has done the same thing with online advertising. It’s doing that on this very page (half the time; the other half, Yahoo’s doing it) and it’s doing that with the big guys, too. And we all take it because, yes, we want the money. With AdSense, Google has commodified the content and brands of online content. It turns our pages into opportunities to play its advertising Match Game, placing ads on pages not on the basis of brand, context, content, environment, engagement, or trust – all the things advertisers supposedly care about and pay a premium for – but on the basis of the simple and perhaps coincidental occurrence of a word.
Of course, when you’re seeing the commodification of things at this level you start asking yourself: where will the premium services be which break this commodification down? Jeff rightly points to the likes of indeed.com as examples of emerging “vertical searches” which focus down on a particular area. That’s one way to go (though if I were in that business I’d be forever worried that one day the big Google beast was going to cast its glance towards my business and snaffle that up too).
So here’s a couple of thoughts:
When will those being commodified say “enough”? Is it even possible anymore to envisage content and service providers “opting out” of Google because the commodification is actively damaging to them? Might the commodification go so far that digital media actually starts to retreat back behind its walls to try and create some value for itself again? I’m not saying this is desirable or even possible, mind. I just think it’s interesting that the question isn’t being asked. Who will be the first to say “hey, Google, don’t index me.”
Second thought. I’ve seen some pretty messianic stuff on Google in the last few days, including John Battelle’s piece in the Guardian today, in which it’s suggested that the only limit on Google’s potential economic value is the gross domestic product of the entire planet. Hmm. Is no-one thinking that, at some point, Google’s power to commodify becomes so immense and so central to the way human beings interact with digital media, and with each other via digital media, that someone in some government somewhere starts asking some questions? Or a smaller example: if enough trade starts going through Google to have a significant impact on the world economy, aren’t those secret-sauce algorithms going to have to come out in the open a little more? Might Google become the archetypal victim of its own success?