At one time or another, every company reaches a point where brand love turns to brand disdain. Several years ago, I remember a certain "South Park" character positioning Google in a negative light. I'm sure the exact day or time when exuberance turned to fear for some will be hard to pinpoint.
Lately, I've been fielding a lot of calls about Google; everything from reporters on the beat from various magazines and newspapers on topics such as privacy, data portability, and market dominance to random positioning questions.
Fear is one constant in a world of uncertainties. What I find most interesting are the subsequent follow-up discussions with reporters on why industry experts, advertisers, and pundits seem to be afraid to say anything negative about Google.
I can understand being afraid to say something inaccurate, but afraid to say anything negative? C'mon people, this is the company that does no evil. Let's take a look at two most common forms of the industry's fear of the day.
The quiet angry ones are usually the ones that cause the most damage. I'll steer clear of chronicling the mass murderers and serial killers of our time. Suffice it to say, pent-up rage tends to have harmful side effects.
The quiet fear-givers are filled with rage with no outlet. Their entire business model is built around Google. Lots of people make their living on Google's technology or were inspired by it.
You can call it Google's gift to the world.
I'm talking about the Stine Game Tables of the world. If you take the time to watch Stine's video, you'll see a business inspired by a market opportunity witnessed in Google images. There are quite a few Stine's out there, and I'm not saying the Stine folks fear Google.
It's the successful businesses out there relying on Google's technology that don't have a voice. They live in fear for their future if they don't adhere to Google's ever-changing guidelines. Sure enough, in our age of big government taking over private enterprise, it won't be long before "search as an economic driver" will provide yet another reason for search governance.
I know what you're thinking. The SEO people make their living with search engines and most of them have no problem spouting off about Google. Sure, but most of the mainstream community realizes that SEO people are only serving themselves in this capacity. It's hard to hear the interesting stuff with the cacophony of SEO voices.
Google has too much power. Google has too much influence. We have no negotiating power with terms and conditions, but my CEO wants to publicly declare that Google is our friend! These are only a few of the murmurs I hear whenever the subject comes up in polite company.
Advertisers rarely want to go on record in talking about their issues with Google. They fear their API might get "turned off." They fear they might fall out of favor with Google and lose their status at the advertiser party. They fear their Web sites might get pulled from the index.
Pulled from the index because you said something critical? Really? Are any of these fears rational? Would someone please come forward if you suffered at the hands of Google?
Actions on Words
Academics fear nothing, which is ironic because all but a few of them get paid almost nothing. It seems they're the only people willing and able to challenge Google publicly. Harvard Business School's Ben Edelman is perhaps the most notable in this category.
Then again, academics have the most to gain from recognition in calling out the world's injustices.
At the end of the day, it seems there are no easy answers or solutions to help determine if our fears have a rational foundation. As is often the case, those with the most to lose are the most afraid. While a corporation might declare itself free of evildoing, the problem is, people still run the company and humans are anything but free of evil.