Back in 2004, Gary Stein
suggested that Yahoo hire an
ombudsman, a sort of impartial referee to handle disputes involving
advertising programs. I thought it was a great idea. Today, Steve Bryant over at
eWeek’s Google Watch
calls for Google to do the same thing. Again, great idea — let’s see the
search engines all start hiring ombudsmen, in the way that many newspapers and
others have done.
At a newspaper, the ombudsman is someone who the readers can appeal to if
they feel a paper has been unfair or had a problem with coverage. The ombudsman
investigates the complaint and reports back to the readers. As an insider, they
have more access than an external investigator. But as the ombudsman, their
responsibility is to represent the readers, not the organization.
Google’s had a series of problems recently, as Bryant points out. Was Amazon
knocked out on a search for its own domain name, or was it a glitch? Is
Wikipedia Watch being deliberately
downranked for a search on its own name, as founder Daniel Brandt
or is it another glitch?
An ombudsman is the sort of person who could investigate these things and
report back. In fact, Google probably would need to employ a team of ombudsmen,
given the many charges people point at it, often unfounded but still which need
to be addressed.
Nor is Google the only one that should consider this. I don’t agree with
Bryant that Google is the closest thing we have to a Pope on the internet. But
the idea of it being a paper of record is more true. But Google’s not the only
paper of record. Yahoo, MSN and Ask are all important papers, as well. I’d like
to see them all establish ombudsmen.
At the very least, it will help take the pressure off the informal ombudsmen
we already have — Matt Cutts,
Jeremy Zawodny and other search
employees that often step up to do informal public relations and examinations of
concerns. I don’t want those bloggers to go away, but it would be nice to have
an official person that searchers and publishers could feel are supposed to be
looking into concerns.
Google must temper its power or law makers will over at The Guardian has
Jack Schofield talking about the idea of an ombudsman, as well.