Google’s Secret Garden

I’ve decided that what Google is doing is the Web services-version of AOL’s once-formidable “walled garden” strategy.

In the walled garden, users had to log in and stay within the AOL service—making the challenge for AOL one of constantly adding new features to entice loyal usage, a virtually impossible task when the Web was exploding with new voices—and the wall was slowly torn down by the diversity of destinations a user selected to visit while online.

In Google’s “secret garden” strategy, the company hopes to engage users through a variety of free services that allow it to collect information about individuals in order to better target advertising. The secret is the fact that your explicit relationship with Google, that is the times you search and create an ad-placement opportunity, is orchestrated by all the non-explicit contacts you provide Google to information about you. It slowly extracts your information, building a portfolio of value based on that information and leaving you a ghost of your former private self that is unaware of the deep dependency on Google for access to information.

The danger is that, as the primary enabler of content monetization, Google’s role verges on that of social and intellectual Leviathan, the imperial institution that exerts total power in exchange for bringing and preserving order.

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Did Frist pull a Martha?

It is not without irony that I note Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R—Tennessee) apparently sold all his stock in the company his father founded based on insider information—for what other reason could there be for reversing his long-held position in HCA Inc. when, surprise, the company announced a large decline in patient admissions—on the same day that Martha Stewart, fresh from her insider-trading conviction, took her place alongside The Donald on The Apprentice. Oh, the times we live in. What wonders! And one must wonder if the Bush Justice Department will pursue this oddly timed stock sale as vigorously as it did Martha’s?

The Washington Post has this:

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has maintained for years that his stock holdings in the nation’s largest for-profit hospital chain posed no conflict of interest for a policymaker deeply involved in health care matters. He even received two rulings in the 1990s from the Senate ethics committee that blessed the holding of the stock in blind trusts.

So when Frist decided in June to dump all the stock, and later cited as the reason his desire to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, eyebrows went up among ethics experts and congressional watchdogs. Why did he do it at that time?

Precisely a month later, after the stock was sold, its price tumbled 9 percent when executives in the company — HCA Inc., which was founded by Frist’s father and on whose board Frist’s brother serves — disclosed that hospital admissions of insured patients were lower than expected, depressing profits in the second quarter.

The Frist revelation is bookended by this commentary on how remarkably Martha Stewart has integrated her prison story into the brand that is Martha. (Her claim she has “no idea” what she was convicted of on Letterman is farcical, but pretty much the SOP for life in these times.) My head spins when it tries to hold these contrasting calumnies in context.

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There’s a flu going around and around….

Contrast…

WHO cautious over Indonesia bird flu outbreak – Yahoo! News:

The growing number of people with bird flu-like symptoms in Indonesia does not mean the outbreak is becoming worse, and there is no sign the virus can be passed easily among people, top U.N. health experts said on Thursday.

…with this:

BBC NEWS | Technology | Deadly plague hits Warcraft world:

A deadly virtual plague has broken out in the online game World of Warcraft.

Although limited to only a few of the game’s servers the numbers of characters that have fallen victim is thought to be in the thousands.

Now, can you explain whether life imitates art or is it the other way round?

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GoogleNet: Google on every channel

Google TV Coming – Expect Both GiVo & TVSense:

Spotted via Inside Google, news from Adam Lasnik of a job posting for a product manager for Google TV. Google TV? Yeah, we and others have written before about how TV is going to converge with search. I talked about the Windows Media Center as one part of this earlier this year. TiVo Talks to Google and Yahoo from April provides more examples. The job posting shows Google’s planning to move well ahead with TV plans, both with making more television searchable and getting ads out there, as part of it. Wonder if we’ll be seeing contextually-targeted TVSense-like ads coming, now.

The GoogleNet is not about Wi-Fi, it’s about creating channels for content hosted and delivered by Google with AdSense advertising—remember, Google already offers free storage of video to all comers. Google is not going to be a wireless carrier, instead it’s still all about advertising revenue—the company is not diversifying, it is raising the advertising stakes.

The Wi-Fi network will be mostly virtual, built on security services that connect users through third-party wireless nodes to Googlespace while simultaneously collect information about the user’s interests to better target advertising. After all, Google arch-nemisis, Microsoft, is projecting paid search will grow to $28.8 billion by 2008, a 71.4 percent increase over this year.

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Authors in arms against Google

Boing Boing: Authors Guild sues Google over print program:

The Authors Guild on Tuesday filed a class action lawsuit against search engine Google, alleging that its scanning and digitizing of library books constitutes a “massive” copyright infringement.

Following on my earlier comments about Google’s inability to serve many content owners, here’s more evidence that the GoogleNet strategy may be the proverbial over-reach that shuts down growth. In order for Google to grow at the rate it has in the past, it must constantly open new channels for content and, increasingly, collect content into its world—and that’s a strategy that has always been virtually impossible.

Ever hear of New Lanchester Strategy?

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GoogleNet: A classic case of over-reaching

A few weeks back, Rob Greenlee, Dana Greenlee and I were talking about the rumors of a Google WiFi network. This was based on Om Malik’s posting and Business 2.0 article, suggesting that Google wants to give free WiFi to everyone in America.

Now comes the news that Google WiFi is right around the corner. But I think the network services bids Google has asked for, which would support a massive media play, is not part of the WiFi play—at least, not the main part. As I explained on Webtalk, I think the company will help organize access to free-access WiFi nodes while maintaining some key free nodes of its own. The Google WiFi Secure Access client, a VPN client that allows users to drill through the wild Internet to secure services from Google and facilitated by Google, suggests I am right—it is not simply a matter of offering lots of wireless connectivity, but creating portals into a GoogleSpace full of content it intends to monetize.

Google’s business depends on collecting and indexing as much information as possible, but it has increasingly found paths that require it controls information, which has brought the company into conflict with potential partners. The switched terabit network Google is seeking to assemble is the cure for that conflict, because it can offer not just indexing, but storage and delivery of, content for libraries, publishers, television networks, movie studios, and anyone else, effectively lowering the cost of taking content digital (“We’ll host everything for you, place ads using our auction system, and you get the incremental revenue. It’s all upside if you partner with Google!”)

Danny Sullivan raises a question about the “Why?” behind the network investment that I think casts the issue as too one-sided:

Perhaps, but as I’ve said before, Google doesn’t need either Web Accelerator or Google Secure Access for this. It already has millions of installed copies of the Google Toolbar that, when advanced features are switched on, gives it plenty of data about browsing habits of surfers — and data is has had access to for years.

Both Web Accelerator and Google Secure Access could add to that data, but they are giant, bandwidth intensive ways to get what can be gained more easily through other methods.

Google will never be satisfied with the amount of data it collects about users, because it is the key to raising CPC revenues. Better targeting of ads increases click-through rates and, consequently, Google’s revenues. When a Gigabyte of throughput is selling for pennies, “bandwidth-intensive” becomes a non-problem and the challenge falls squarely into Google’s core competence: Managing large volumes of data.

So, why do I say this is over-reaching? Google has run into customer concerns about privacy in the past, and the WiFi application comes with a grant of access to log some personal data, a clear privacy issue. Likewise, there is a point at which simply being found will not be good enough for content owners, they’ll want more of the revenue generated and will seek to fracture the Google-powered channel. There is a point where one company simply cannot play fair broker for a vast number of partners and Google will find itself being played against other channels by content creators who want a larger piece of the pie.

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And this is makes Newark more or less attractive as a tourist destination?

news @ nature.com – Lab loses trio of plague mice – Risk to public is thought negligible.:

Three mice infected with the bacteria that cause bubonic plague have gone missing from a laboratory in Newark, New Jersey. Authorities have launched a search for the animals and an investigation into how they might have escaped. But researchers are quick to add that the mice, even if they are on the loose, pose little risk to the public.

As though Newark would be any more dangerous with three plague-carrying mice on the loose.

The notable thing about the story is that plague research is supposed to take place in high-security labs and scientists aren’t even sure the mice escaped.

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How do you spin? Watch Rupert.

FT.com / US / Clinton summit – Blair ‘shocked’ over BBC Katrina coverage:

Tony Blair was shocked by the BBC’s coverage of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans, describing it as “full of hatred of America”, Rupert Murdoch, chairman and chief executive of News Corporation, revealed on Friday night.

“I probably shouldn’t be telling you this,” the media tycoon chuckled, before recounting his conversation with Mr Blair.

This from the chairman and controlling stockholder in Fox News?

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Incompetence, watchword of the era

Lack of Cohesion Bedevils Recovery:

Three weeks after Hurricane Katrina struck, red tape and poor planning have left thousands of evacuees without basic services, according to local and state officials, public policy experts and survivors themselves.

Hundreds of thousands of people from New Orleans and Gulf Coast communities have fled, sometimes to neighboring states and beyond, moving in with friends and family or into shelters, public housing and hotels funded by the Red Cross. With little guidance from federal and state governments — and no single person or entity in charge of the overall operation — cities and counties have been left on their own to find survivors homes, schools, jobs and health care. A patchwork of policies has resulted, causing relief agencies to sometimes work at cross-purposes.

Americans deserve better.

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Seriously, words aren’t action

A Wimp on Genocide – New York Times:

It’s been a year since Mr. Bush – ahead of other world leaders, and to his credit – acknowledged that genocide was unfolding in Darfur. But since then he has used that finding of genocide not to spur action but to substitute for it. Mr. Bush’s position in the U.N. negotiations got little attention.

But in effect the United States successfully blocked language in the declaration saying that countries have an “obligation” to respond to genocide. In the end the declaration was diluted to say that “We are prepared to take collective action … on a case by case basis” to prevent genocide.

Same old Bush Administration. Do better or resign.

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