June 10th, 2006

Popping the Google Hype Bubble


Seth Jayson at Motley Fool takes a scalpel to Google’s soft underbelly with a fascinating deconstruction of Google’s business model, the effect it’s had on the web, and the prospects for the future — or lack thereof. Some of the my favorite passages:

Whether or not you believe that the junk sites out there peddling AdSense ads are honest commerce or capitalizing on large-scale click fraud, there’s little doubt in my mind that we’ve got Google to thank for it. There’s simply no reason for people to set up these sites if they can’t skim dough via third-hand revenue sharing enabled by Google’s business model. With Yahoo! and others set to get in on the same gig, I don’t think we’ll see this trend abate.

Moreover, targeted, structured data behind the scenes will be the new source of high-worth information, which means that businesses will be a lot more interested in the user-generated recommendations that Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX) and eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY) offer their millions of customers. That’ll be a lot more useful than what Google knows about 5,000 boy-crazy girls on MySpace or Blogspot who’ve been trading reviews on Justin’s latest single.

With AdSense providing so much of Google’s revenue, I don’t think Big Goo is in any hurry to flip over the rock and show everyone out there what’s underneath. And that’s where those stock sales come back in. Why do insiders continue to drop all those billions if the sky’s the limit? Diversification? Ha! Go ahead, pull the other one.

Take a hard look at this problem, and a hard look at those insider sales, and then ask yourself why on Earth Google is spending time on doodads that no one needs, like an online spreadsheet. I think the answer is “because it needs news that looks like the future.”

Read the whole article — it’s mind expanding. Even if you’re not a big fan of “house of cards,” “things are not as they seem” theories like I am, this is a facinating piece of analysis.

Read it and remember — the hype machine is all around you.

  • Well, that was a very interesting article. And I'd bet that the mainstream press really doesn't get the problem very well. I'm sure they'll be getting around to covering this, though, as the problem worsens. I think Seth Jayson does a very good job of describing the problem. The worth of his conclusions? That's hard to predict. He could be right on.

    Maybe net neutrality is not such a good thing.

    What effect would a change from net neutrality to some other system affect scam sites? Would that improve Google search results at the expense of their short-term revenue? Is Google different now that it's listed on Wall Street?

    I noticed that Google is in favor of net neutrality enough to go to Washington to argue for it.

  • Sidney

    I agree with Brian. My perception, as an advertiser spending non-trivial amounts on Google AdWords and AdSense, is that the ROI is decreasing. We are starting to look seriously at alternatives, and allocate more of our online budget away from Google. In 3-5 years, the landscape may yet be different.

  • I predict within a decade that Google, unlike a Googlezon behemoth, while still being a major player in search, will be a less imposing figure in advertising as new technologies and business models make it clear that Google's PPC system isn't worth it given the click fraud and sham AdSense splogs.

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