Self-driving cars: Google’s greatest act of obfuscation?

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It’s remarkable how few journalists understand Google’s business and how what it does or doesn’t do affects massive volumes of commerce around the globe.

If I were running the New York Times I would keep half-a-dozen journalists focused on Google 24/7 because it’s that important.

Instead, we get very little real coverage of Google and what goes on beneath the hood, because the mainstream media doesn’t know much about Google at all. It’s easier to write about self-driving cars than to delve into the complexities of Google’s business.

And Google loves to point people to its self-driving cars, because it’s a red herring that has nothing to do with its business except to keep the prying eyes of media distracted and focused away from its core activities.

Eric Schmidt, chairman and former CEO of Google, is a little like Google’s self-driving car — designed to take attention away from the rest of Google. We never hear anything insightful or revealing about Google from Schmidt because he’s not that plugged into the company, his job is to act as a lightning rod and keep others from digging into the business practices of the search giant.

You’ll notice that Schmidt’s forthcoming book The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business is co-authored with Jared Cohen, director of Google Ideas, to provide some ideas about the future. Even then, I wonder if it will be worth buying when I read an excerpt such as this:

Soon everyone on Earth will be connected. With billions more people set to join the virtual world in the next few years, the boon in digital connectivity will bring to the physical world enormous gains in productivity, health, education, and quality of life.

By 2025, the majority of the world’s population will, in one generation, have gone from having virtually no access to unfiltered information to having almost unlimited access to all of the world’s information through its largest ungoverned space — the Internet.

As this space grows larger our understanding of nearly every aspect of life will change, from the minutia of our daily lives to more fundamental questions about identity, relationships and even our own security.

It reads like a high school essay cribbed from old copies of Wired magazine.

For a taste of the complexity of Google’s world, and everyone that’s trying to make money in that world, take a look at this infographic from SEOBook attempting to explain the many different strategies that Google uses when updating its search algorithm.

Google’s goal is to confuse search engine optimization (SEO) efforts and to uncover aggressive SEO techniques through delaying, or obfuscating results from SEO changes being made.

By making it harder to link a change in a web site with the resulting change in search rank, Google believes it can fight SEO and clean up its search rankings.

Unfortunately, it also means that a lot of legitimate online businesses can lose rank overnight and lose revenues for no fault of theirs but due to clumsy algorithm changes that favour big brands and big business.

The past couple of years of algorithm changes have been very hard on small online businesses, and forums are full of heart breaking stories of decimated revenues and job cuts.

This comes at a time when Washington DC is looking to Silicon Valley and “innovation” as helping jumpstart a deeply troubled economy and create millions of new jobs. That’s not going to happen and Google is a good example of why that won’t happen — if you understand its business — which few journalists do.

This infographic is not easy to follow unless you are in the business of search engine marketing. However, it does give outsiders a view of the territory that nearly every online business has to deal with on a constant basis — trying to keep up with algorithm changes that can sink or swim your business, without warning, and often like an act of god, without rhyme or reason.

Google Obfuscates

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This article by Tom Foremski originally appeared on Silicon Valley Watcher and is republished with permission.

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