After seeing recommendations on Twitter from Clay Shirky and others, I was expecting a tour de force from author and former Harvard Business Review editor Nick Carr, but I confess that I found his post on Google as middleman — and its effect on newspapers — disappointing. Not just because the middleman comparison is one that has been made repeatedly over the past couple of years, and therefore doesn’t really add much to the conversation, but also because I think he is wrong. Or rather, I think that his description has some merit, but the lessons he draws are flawed, and ultimately unhelpful for newspapers (I would have put these thoughts into a comment, but Nick says he has disabled comments because they are too distracting).
Is Google a “middleman made of software,” as Nick describes it? In many ways, yes. And as he points out, entities that act as middlemen in a market typically act in their own interest. But what about his third point, in which he says:
The broader the span of the middleman’s control over the exchanges that take place in a market, the greater the middleman’s power and the lesser the power of the suppliers.
I think there’s a fundamental misunderstanding here. The broader the control that Google has over the exchanges that take place in a market, the greater its power — but that power doesn’t lessen the power of Google’s suppliers. If anything, in fact, it amplifies it. Does Google indexing my website, and providing a link to it when someone searches for my name, lessen the power that I have over my content? If you think of power as control over who sees the content and where, then yes. But in reality, it provides me with far more reach than I could otherwise achieve on my own, by exposing that content to people.
(read the rest of this post at the Nieman Journalism Lab blog)