Google helps newspapers, period.

As the newspaper industry has grown weaker and weaker, there has been a steady stream of articles and blog posts blaming Google for some or all of this decline. I’m not going to link to them all, because there are simply too many, and they are easy enough to find. The standard allegation is that the search engine, and other similar engines such as Yahoo and MSN, hijack readers by aggregating content, and then monetize those eyeballs by posting ads near the content. Newspapers get traffic, but Google critics argue that this traffic is essentially worthless — or at least can’t make up for the value that Google has siphoned off.

One of the most recent articles to take this tack appeared in the Guardian and quoted Sly Bailey, the chief executive office of newspaper publisher Trinity Mirror. Among other things, Ms. Bailey said that:

“By creating gargantuan national newspaper websites designed to harness users by the tens of millions, by performing well on search engines like Google, we have eroded the value of news. News has become ubiquitous. Completely commoditised. Without value to anyone.”

This argument is almost too absurd to be taken seriously. In a nutshell, Ms. Bailey is claiming that by expanding their readership and making it easier for people to find their content, newspapers have shot themselves in the foot, and should do their best to avoid being found by new readers. It’s particularly ironic that the Mirror CEO is making these comments in a story in The Guardian, which has built up an impressive readership outside the UK thanks to its excellent content.

(read the rest of this post at the Nieman Journalism Lab)

Captain Caucasian and the Google Trends game

So how can a band get some positive attention in these multi-platform, attention-deficit times we live in? You could try what Captain Caucasian and the Raging Idiots did: they asked their fans to make them the most searched-for term on Google, and it seems to have worked, if only briefly. Captain Caucasian was the top Google Trend search term for part of Friday, until it was finally overcome by other important topics, such as GM’s stock price and pictures of Angelina Jolie breast-feeding. Some sites tried their best to suck in traffic by mentioning several topics at once, like the site with the headline “Captain Caucasian on the W magazine cover?”

This kind of Google-gaming isn’t new. It even has its own name: it’s known as “Google-bombing.” In most cases, it consists of people trying to rig the search engine so that the number one result for the term “miserable failure” is a photo of President George Bush (for example), by mentioning and linking those things in as many blog posts as possible. In the case of Captain Caucasian, the lead singer of the band happens to be a DJ in Austin, Texas who goes by the name Bobby Bones, and he mentioned his desire to be the number one search on the radio. Apparently some fans heard his plea.

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How many searches has Google done?

Google’s birthday is coming up — although it’s not clear exactly which one, or when it will actually occur, for a whole pile of reasons — and it occurred to me that the company must have done an awful lot of searches by now. After all, the most recent estimates I’ve seen are that Google processes more than 2 billion searches a day, although I have no way of knowing whether that’s true. So I started looking around for numbers and did some back-of-the-envelope calculations.

Here’s what I came up with (please keep in mind that I am an English major). If anyone can shed any further light on this — or fix the math — I’d appreciate it. Obviously, I had to make assumptions about what the average number of searches was during a year, based in some cases on nothing but a single number for that year, and I’m sure there are numerous other gaps of logic as well. Feel free to let fly with the suggestions, but try and remain civil.

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RushmoreDrive = Dumb idea

Not sure why the Los Angeles Times is writing about RushmoreDrive, the “black” search engine owned by Barry Diller’s IAC conglomerate, considering it originally launched back in April sometime. Maybe it was a slow news day today. In any case, it’s worth pointing out again what a bad idea this is — in my opinion at least. I’m not black, obviously, so I’m sure some people might argue that I don’t really deserve to have an opinion on the subject, but I feel compelled to write about it regardless. Do we really need racially-segregated search engines? Even after reading RushmoreDrive founder Johnny Taylor’s rationale for the service, I just don’t see what compelling purpose this serves.

Is it really that huge an inconvenience if someone searches for the word “Whitney” and gets something that is allegedly “white” like a museum of art, and what they were really searching for — Whitney Houston — is in fourth place? (Let’s ignore for the moment the possibility that they might actually search for “Whitney Houston” in the first place, or that they might even be looking for the Whitney Museum of Art) Do we really need a dedicated search engine so that black people can get results from “soul food” sites like chitterlings.com higher up than they might be in a “white” search engine? (I am not making these examples up, by the way — these are Johnny Taylor’s examples).

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I hope Cuil isn’t an “epic fail”

If you’re a Web geek, the biggest news today is the launch of Cuil.com, a new search engine with a strange Irish name (which is pronounced “cool”) and what it claims is a really big, er… index. The topic has been dominating Techmeme for the better part of the day, with the official Cuil launch post only recently taking over the top spot from Mike Arrington’s TechCrunch post about it. Everyone has an opinion about the company, from the size of their index to their (allegedly) dumb name, or the earth-shattering revelation that they are going to have a tough time competing with a little outfit called Google (gee — ya think?)

On Twitter, the Web 2.0 water-cooler, most of the discussion has revolved around the ways in which the new search service sucks — or rather, is an “epic fail,” as the kids like to say. Searching for the company’s own name doesn’t turn up the search engine’s website (Doh!), and searching for other common terms or names either doesn’t turn up anything, or a small number of inadequate and/or stupid results. The site is down. The whole Irish legend about Finn and the salmon of knowledge is weird. There’s no way it can compete against Google — and so on.

At the risk of being seen as not critical enough, I’m going to throw a vote out there for Cuil. I think the service sounds like an interesting alternative to Google, or Yahoo or MSN for that matter — not that I ever use those services, of course. I don’t particularly care about the size of Cuil’s index (insert double entendre here). But I am interested in having alternatives for search. For me, it’s about finding what I want quickly, and the reality is that Google continues to be littered with poor quality results. If Cuil can solve that problem, then I hope they stick around.