Don't Be (The) Evil (Giant)

My mother once won the Women of Enterprise Award from Avon and the Small Business Administration. 1,300 people turned out at the Waldorf=Astoria for the prize-giving, at which they showed a movie of her life: as a small child growing up in the depths of World War II, as a young lady struggling to make ends meet, as a bereaved mother recovering from the loss of her first-born daughter, as a single parent taking the brave step to launch her own company.

I remember being really impressed by the woman in that movie (not having made the connection that it was just my mom, after all). I was even more impressed by her opening line when she got up to speak: "When I was a little girl growing up in Argentina," she said, "it was always my dream to go to America. And be a movie star. And win an Oscar. I never dreamed that one day I would win the Avon Oscar for starring in the soap opera of my life."

My mother had a wonderful story. It didn't need embellishing. But some stories do.



One of the critical ways in which we communicate, grow, learn, and build relationships is through storytelling. And what makes a great story? A hero (usually the underdog), a villain (often the evil giant), and a quest to overcome great odds for an impossible dream.

This clichéd plotline explains something I've noticed in the nearly two years I've been writing this column: We're not happy unless Google is doing battle.

Whether we're talking about Eurekster, Ask, ChaCha, or Wolfram Alpha, we spill a great deal of virtual ink agonizing over whether the upstart can represent a genuine threat to the search giant (and generally concluding that it can't). We scrutinize and agonize over Bing, Yahoo, and even Twitter -- could tweets finally be the behemoth's undoing? Could it really be that simple?

Frankly, when it comes to Google, our schadenfreude knows no bounds. (Don't feel badly if you had to look it up; I only know what it means thanks to Alan Shore on "Boston Legal.") And yet the vast majority of us are addicted to the big G. Why aren't we more on its side?

The truth is that a story just isn't interesting if there's no tension. And if the tension is so minimal as to be barely even noticeable, well, we'll just emphasize it a bit.

This is what news programs do when they're reporting on something "controversial." Even if 99% of the population believes one way, they'll give the dissenter equal time. They argue that it's for fairness or balance, but really it's because it makes a better story if there's a battle.

An alien receiving RSS feeds of tech news would wonder how Google is still standing with so many Google-killers trying to topple it. (Quick nod to the latest attempt, Yebol.) They would ask why, with so many search engines that are smarter, that are more semantic, that spend more money on advertising (or, in fact, any money at all on advertising), Google still leads 3:1 over its nearest competitor. They would probably have a hard time understanding, because they'd only be getting the story, not the reality.

The reality is that Google is a giant, but not an evil one. They've simply served the needs of their market better than anyone else. And, as much as a close race would be more interesting, for the moment they're miles ahead.

There's no such thing as happily ever after. But Google is certainly happy right now.

9 comments about "Don't Be (The) Evil (Giant)".
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  1. Rick Short from INDIUM CORPORATION, August 4, 2009 at 9:59 a.m.

    EXCELLENT commentary! Thank you for saying so well that which I have been thinking. I could have never put it so eloquently.

  2. Clive Swanepoel from ZebraHost, August 4, 2009 at 10:25 a.m.

    I think that Google may be in the process of becoming the "Evil Giant" There I have said it! More and more we hear the stories of their arrogance and poor customer service.

    Here is an example. We have been using AdWords since the beginning. Recently our account was suspended "due to submissions of ads that promote Google Money Tree or ads that promote a misrepresented affiliation with Google."

    We replied stating that we have never submitted ads that even mention Google. Furthermore we don't even know what Google Money Tree is. We asked for further explanation as to what may have caused them to believe otherwise. Here is the response:

    "Thank you for your email. I understand you believe that you have never submitted any ads promoting Google Money Tree. As mentioned in my previous email, your Google AdWords account has been suspended due to submissions of ads that promote Google Money Tree or ads that promote a misrepresented affiliation with Google. We are unable to revoke your account
    suspension, and we will not accept advertisements from you in the future.

    Please note that our support team is unable to help you with this issue, and we ask that you do not contact them about this matter..."

    So that's it - they cancel the account. Don't give details why and refuse to entertain any further discussion.

    This is the kind of arrogance that marks the begining of the slippery slope. We are only one account. There are many others. We now use Bing and take every opportunity to evangalize Bing.

  3. John Jainschigg from World2Worlds, Inc., August 4, 2009 at 11:35 a.m.

    I enjoyed reading this piece, and approve your general project of de-hyping "the Google Problem" (so much like 'the Microsoft Problem' in some respects). But I differ with you at the end, where you suggest that Google is in the catbird seat by grace of having served the needs of the market better than others.

    Initially, this was certainly true: Google figured out how to present reasonably good search via a one-line interface and associate that search with search-term auctions, ad-placement and relevant analytics through simple UIs that marketers could understand. But for a long time now, their success has grown more because of success-breeds-success factors than because of innovation. This seems to be true both at the level of analyzing their corporate investor and partner networks (cf. <a href="">this blog post</a>) and at the level of customers and the general public. Substantially, they're big and (largely) trusted because ... they're big and largely trusted; and because, given limits of human mental bandwidth and attention, most folks don't have mental space for more than one search solution, either as customer or user.

    The "battle" (if, as you properly qualify, such exists), is not between Google and other search providers, some of whom arguably provide comparable functionality (which is equivalent to saying that Marcal tissues provide functionality comparable to Kleenex). It's between Google -- and in a larger sense, _the idea of Google_ -- and all other advertising paradigms.

  4. Steve Baldwin from Didit, August 4, 2009 at 11:40 a.m.

    The problem is that giants rarely start out evil. It's the fact that they are able to acquire unchecked power that makes them evil. As the famed industry analyst Cyndi Lauper noted years ago, "Money Changes Everything." Absolute power corrupts - this is a law of life that's as immutable as gravity.

    I've worked in this (&#)%*) industry for 15 years now. The flip side of our schadenfreude is our worship of juvenile billionaires. They rise, usually out of luck or caprice, not tech savvy, on wild arcs, before flaming out and entering Conference Hall/Angry Blogger Purgatory (how many "coulda been a contender" types have you had to endure recently? They bore me to tears.

    When you've got people who haven't earned their success (merely stepped in you know what) and become drunk with power (remember those dotcom guys who had cocktails named after them?), and begin to behave like the worst kinds of high school bullies, of course we welcome their noisy, messy demise. We wouldn't be human if we didn't welcome their destruction and humiliation.

    And we're never, never disappointed, because these guys always crash, right on time.

    Well - most of them...

  5. Lorna Lyle from TMC, August 4, 2009 at 12:29 p.m.

    While Google may not be an "evil" giant, it can't readily be described as "benevolent." I have learned of other situations like what Clive described, where accounts are closed without explanation.

    The lack of Google's transparency for bidding on keyword ads is what I find wrong. This drives up the cost of keyword search, and can make Google burn through paid search ad budgets of small businesses and start-ups. Factor in click fraud and you can see why it makes sense to find alternatives to paid search advertising. offers excellent alternatives -- Channels and Global Online Communities -- that achieve high organic ranking at a cost that can be far less that what in-demand keywords might fetch.

    So maybe it's better to step around the giant than fight it.

  6. Britta Meyer from Loomia, August 4, 2009 at 3:14 p.m.

    Kaila- As much as i enjoyed your mother's story of success, i can't quite agree with your conclusion.

    First of all, Google has done a fantastic job creating a superior search engine, building loyalty to the point of ingrained user behavior, monetizing and diversifying their offerings, which by now might seriously challenge everything from search and the ad networks, to ad serving, video, phones, app suites and enterprise software. Yes, impressive.

    But since you mentioned it, I actually used to work for Eurekster, a true innovator in social search and the first to launch universal search results and a custom search engine anybody could put on their site or blog.

    It took Google (and other search providers, to be fair, though they are less impactful) about 6 months to offer similar functionality, and i can't help but think that their capabilities to innovate reside with the tiny start-ups that have great ideas and bring them to market, but would rarely ever be able to compete with the big players when it comes to market share. Read Charles Knight's for plenty of great search companies out there. (I applaud Twitter for having been able to beat the odds thus far.)

    To add to Clive's earlier point, Google obviously controls its index, so if they decide not to index a domain it has huge ramifications on that domain (your customers can't find you). Unlike the email industry, which is somewhat regulated, so as a marketer you usually know the rules and the best practices, and you know how to engage, should you do encounter a block or problem with an ISP, there is little insight or established processes in search.

    Given how important SEO is for businesses, a monopoly like Google only leaves us to hope that they will stand by their much publicized philosophy of "do no evil".

  7. Stuart Long, August 4, 2009 at 4:13 p.m.

    Anyone who defines Google as an evil giant is getting Google all wrong. Bumbling giant is more like it. The Google billboard campaign is a good example of how search engines and search marketing can fail. If you are selling an exceptional product that people are not looking for Google can’t help you. Search marketing is useless without curiosity and without need.

    Because scant few office managers are searching for alternatives to Microsoft Office; Google has no choice but to advertise on billboards where on the go Microsoft Office users will surely take notice. Google’s billboards exhibit visual bumbling (they resemble online search ads) and may make the term “billboard blindness” popular around creative agency water coolers.

    The recent outpouring of news stories about Google reading peoples personal email in order to serve them relevant advertising makes the bumbling giant appear desperate for ways to serve ads.

    Go ahead and cling to your favorite search brand if their bumbling appeals to you. People are beginning to notice that Google has a pathetic side. Could the timing of Bing’s introduction have been any better?

  8. Kaila Colbin from Boma Global, August 5, 2009 at 6:27 a.m.

    Hey everyone,

    Thanks for all your kind comments. I find people's reactions to Google (are they evil? are they benevolent? should they be stopped?) tend to be as reflective of our own worldviews than of Google itself.

    For example, more than one of you suggest that Google doesn't actually serve the needs of the market better than others -- that it's momentum, not innovation, that is largely responsible for Google's current success.

    So here is my question to you: what evidence do we have that innovation is a market need? That, as you suggest, it's a greater need than comfort or consistency?

    From where I sit, we don't have any. Precisely the opposite, in fact. The market continues to reward companies that serve its needs, including its need to not have to learn new technologies or re-solve problems it already believes solved.

    Be sure to tune in next week for more... :-)

  9. Britta Meyer from Loomia, August 5, 2009 at 1:23 p.m.


    You asked: "...what evidence do we have that innovation is a market need? That, as you suggest, it's a greater need than comfort or consistency?

    From where I sit, we don't have any. Precisely the opposite, in fact. The market continues to reward companies that serve its needs, including its need to not have to learn new technologies or re-solve problems it already believes solved."

    I'd say innovation is absolutely a market need, and I'd argue that no company will succeed long-term if it stopped to innovate, as innovation is all about anticipating and addressing the needs of tomorrow's market. That's why competition is so important. Only in a monopoly can a market player afford to not innovate and to disregard the changing needs of the market.

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