Nick Carr has a post on his Rough Type blog in which he whips up a typical sort of doomsday scenario about Google’s use of a policy called “First Click Free.” In a nutshell, this allows publishers to serve up different content to people who arrive through a Google search than they would get if they just arrived the regular way. This is bad, Nick says, because it “strengthens the advantage that [Google’s] dominance of search provides,” and thereby contributes to what he calls the “centripetal force” that Google exerts on the Web, pulling content into itself like a black hole.

To be fair to Nick, the bulk of his argument actually comes from Phillip Lenssen of Google Blogoscoped, who wrote about the First Click Free policy earlier today. Among other things, Phil said that this policy — which, as Google blogger Matt Cutts notes in a comment on Nick’s post, has actually been around for several months now — could result in more sites putting their content behind pay walls (since they could then show Google users the paid content using the First Click Free policy). As a result, he says, it could help cement Google’s dominance because it would give users of the search engine access that others wouldn’t have.

I must admit that when I first read Phil’s post, I agreed with him that Google’s new approach was potentially not a good thing. After all, it’s exactly the same approach that the search engine has repeatedly penalized sites for in the past, i.e. serving up one page to the Google-bot and another to regular surfers. But the more I thought about it, the more I started to reconsider. And the first thing I thought of was how well the First Click Free approach works for Google News, which has had the same policy for over a year now. At globeandmail.com, for example, you get free access if you come through a Google News link, whereas you might otherwise hit a pay wall.

As Matt Cutts notes in his comment, there’s nothing preventing publishers and websites from providing exactly the same service to anyone who comes in via search, whether it’s through Google or not. There’s nothing proprietary about it, nothing restrictive or exclusive. In fact, publishers would be dumb not to extend the same policy to anyone who arrives from a search engine. It’s an easy way to give someone a sample of what you’re offering to entice them to pay. I think Nick was just looking for a nice, fat stick to beat Google with, and First Click Free seemed to fit the bill.

About the author

Mathew 2430 posts

I'm a Toronto-based senior writer with Fortune magazine, and my favorite things to write about are social technology, media and the evolution of online behavior

9 Responses to “Nick Carr is wrong on Google – again”
  1. I won't debate the merits of this tactic. I have little love for pay sites.

    But I have to say to all the Google haters that the problem with Google's dominance is not how evil Google is. It's that they are so utterly and completely without competition. That's the problem.

    It seems, counter-intuitively, that by focusing on delivering value to their users AOT generating revenue, Google has both cornered the market on search AND made more money than Voldemort.

    Microsoft had to strong-arm manufacturers and buy/kill competitors to achieve this level of dominance. Google just does search better than anybody else.

    Someday, uber-geeks and the VC that support them are going to wake up to the fact that beating Google means out-Googling Google. Not pissing and moaning. Not “serving the shareholders.” It means doing a better job at the task at hand.

    But that day is not today.

  2. I mention this because I'm a pedant, but for many sites “the usual way” is via a Google search. That is, Google search is the #1 referrer for most of the sites for which I see stats.

  3. […] Ingram disagrees with Nick and takes quite a different stance: As Matt Cutts notes in his comment, there’s nothing […]

  4. What if I wanted to develop my own, personal search engine? And run it on my own desktop?

    Would the publishers open their First Click indices to me? Or would they only open them to large players, such as Google, MS and Yahoo?

    I suspect that they would not open their indices to me.

    And if that's the case, then it's not a question about Google vs. Microsoft, because they're both “big guys”. It's a question of big guys vs. little guys. And if this is an option that is only available to the big guys, then it is not very net neutral.

  5. Should I stop using the word “cool” as an affirmative? Must I only use it to indicate temperature?

    Language is alive. Usage masters now accept “data” as singular. Infinitive verbs can now be split by a single adverb.

    You may dislike the usage, but it is, in fact, idiomatic and entirely reflective of the polarized society in which I live (USA).

    So don't hate the player. Hate the game.

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