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  • Is Google the Next Microsoft?

    May 21st, 2007

    Consider today’s conventional wisdom. Microsoft is the bad guy, a huge, lumbering beast that has trampled on lesser companies in order to attain and enforce its PC monopoly. More to the point, lots of people agree. They tolerate Microsoft and regard it as an 800-pound gorilla they must deal with whether they like it or not.

    There are, of course, the good guys, such as Apple and Google. They are here to save us from Microsoft’s hegemony, to pave the way for a wide open future where you have choices about which computers, operating systems and search engines to choose from.

    If you side with the good guys, you will be appropriately protected from Microsoft’s monopolistic ways.

    In the real world, of course, there are many shades of gray between these two extremes. Indeed Microsoft isn’t all bad, nor can you say that Apple and Google are always good.

    Take that scandal involving those backdated stock options over at Apple. The only people to possibly benefit from granting those options and engaging in monkey-business with the dates are the recipients. You didn’t benefit, and I certainly didn’t either, nor, in fact, did Apple’s stockholders. The most logical reason to engage in all this skulduggery was greed, and it’s good that the SEC has dealt with it, more or less. True, there may be some who feel that the two alleged guilty parties, the former CFO and chief legal eagle at Apple, were just scapegoats. But they had to save Steve Jobs at all costs.

    But that’s all the attention Apple gets for now. My main target this day is Google. Indeed, everything is coming up roses for the world’s number one search engine. As Microsoft and Yahoo struggle to gain market share, Google seems unstoppable.

    In fact, many tech writers believe that Google fully intends to topple Microsoft as the biggest software maker on the planet. Sure, right now Google’s software is unfinished, and mostly free, except for some modestly priced business-related packages, but consider the future. Microsoft has no hope of creating such online magic.

    This may be true, of course, but it’s not the problem. You see, Google isn’t necessarily the squeaky clean White Knight some portray it as being. There are a few pieces of dirty linen that need to be aired and addressed.

    One of those annoying issues is click fraud. In case you haven’t heard, here’s the deal: Google makes billions on click-through ads, in which they are paid by the advertisers when someone clicks on them on Google’s site or on countless sites where Google’s ads are carried, such as The Mac Night Owl and all my other sites.

    The problem is that a certain percentage of these clicks are fraudulent, made in part by competitors who simply want to raise someone’s ad bill. Now both Google and Yahoo claim that their system duly considers fake clicks, and they don’t charge the advertisers for them. Outsiders claim that the figures are far higher than estimated, but don’t rock the boat, lest the balance sheets at Google and Yahoo suffer big time.

    True or not? I have no idea, but I do see some odd behavior in the way Google counts the impressions or page views of the ads placed on this site and others, and I’ve shared some basic information with a number of my colleagues. To be blunt, there appears to be a fair amount of apparent undercounting going on. Now we actually get paid for actual click-throughs, not hits, but if the total number of impressions aren’t being reflected in their stats, it stands to reason that clicks might not be fully counted either.

    Yes, I’ve asked Google about their strange counting methods. In fact, I had several phone conversations with their support people a few years back, but they never seemed to be able to explain why the page views reflected in my Web logs don’t match their concept of impressions. Yes, I still run the Google banners, since even a small amount of extra income is better than nothing.

    But I wish I knew what’s really going on here. It could very well be that Google is using a different methodology for its measurements that’s equally valid, although they seem unable to explain it in a way that makes any sense to me. Maybe it’s all my fault, but I doubt it.

    It may even be that the click fraud controversy will be resolved in favor of the search engines, and that there is no trickery or deception going on. That would be an encouraging outcome. I’d rather not think that Google is no better than Microsoft, but I suppose time will tell.



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