The Google Shaped Web
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The Google Shaped Web

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Slides from my talk at SAScon 2014 about Google, cats, and parasites.

Slides from my talk at SAScon 2014 about Google, cats, and parasites.

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  • Let’s start at the beginning, when web search first arrived
  • There was a symbiotic relationship between search engines and the web. Websites would let SEs scrape their content, and in return the SEs would send traffic to the websites. But that changed…
  • Over time, Google has corrupted that social contract, and is not increasingly keeping the traffic it is supposed to send to the wider web…
  • So how did we get here? Well, Google is the first really dominant search engine in the western world. Because everyone wants to rank high in Google and get all that juicy traffic, we will do whatever we can to please Google and follow their guidelines and recommendations. Google has realised that having this army of webmasters following its every whim can be quite useful…
  • Absolute power.
  • So, what is Google doing with this incredible amount of influence over the world wide web?
  • Google makes a lot of recommendations about how websites should be built and structured, and the technology that should underpin every website. Google also makes very clear with it doesn’t like – things it doesn’t want you to implement.
  • Most of Google’s recommendations and guidelines are in fact good for User Experience. There’s no denying that, overall, many of Google’s recommendations make for a better web.

    But there are also a number of recommendations that help no one but Google itself. Things that make it easier for Google to crawl and index the web. And these recommendations, we see more and more of them.
  • Take these highlighted recommendations. They have nothing to do with improved UX, and everything to do with making Google’s crawlers and indexers run a bit quicker, a bit more efficient. Saving Google CPU cycles every time it crawls and indexes a website, which on the exa scale Google operates at, translates in to a lot of energy savings….
  • But these recommendations, intended to help Google, have an unfortunate side effect. It means that instead of Google adapting to the way the web is evolving, Google is in fact restricting the evolution of the web. Google’s enormous influence on the web means that websites will try to conform to Google’s framework, and that results in a web that is shaped how Google wants it. The Google-Shaped Web.
  • But, that’s not the end of it…
  • Does anyone know what this is? Didn’t think so… This is a parasite, a very small lifeform that depends on host bodies to survive and reproduce. This particular parasite is called Toxoplasma Gondii.
  • Toxoplasma Gondii is a very interesting parasite. This is a bit of science-y goobledygook, so let’s put it in layman’s terms.
  • Toxoplasma Gondii infects a host body, primarily rodents like rats and mice. When it has infected a host, it will settle in the host body’s brain, and subtly alter the rodent’s behaviour. Rats and mice that are infected by Toxoplasma Gondii will become more active, less social, and more likely to take risks and explore open areas. This of course leads to a higher risk of being eaten by cats – which is exactly what the parasite wants, because it can only reproduce in the body of a cat.
  • Ring any bells?
  • Google is the cat here, and the recommendations it makes in its webmaster guidelines and Matt Cutts videos are the parasites that it uses to infect us. When we are infected by Google’s parasitical recommendations, we will alter our behaviour – i.e. our websites – to conform to Google’s wishes and make our information more accessible, easier to crawl and index and for Google to make sense of. And this in turn fuels Google’s ecosystem, enabling Google to take over profitable niches and grow its profits.
  • If for example you run a baseball statistics website, you have now been made more or less obsolete. You worked hard for years to built that exhaustive database of statistics and metrics, and Google decides it wants to keep the traffic it’s sending you, and voila… you’re fucked.
  • Imagine you’re IMDB. How pissed off are you now?
  • Or a hotel booking site. You’ve worked for years to build relationships with hotel chains, getting good deals for your users and helping facilitate the growth of the tourism industry. Then Google enters your niche, and bye bye profit.
  • Or this one – Google showing its own credit card comparison engine right in its search results.
  • And this one really grinds my gears – people looking for an insurance comparison site, in this case Moneysupermarket – and this is a BRANDED search term, people actively looking for the Moneysupermarket website. And Google decides, no, you don’t want to go to MSM, you want to stay here and use MY insurance comparison system instead… Well fuck you very much, Google.

    Fortunately it looks like this is now being investigated by the UK regulators, so hopefully we see this change in the very near future. We can hope, though with Google’s increasingly large lobbying budget, don’t get your hopes up too much.
  • Google is a great artist. It will first copy you, and then steal from you. And you’re just left behind with the scraps.
  • This is really going to cheer you up…. Or not. As it turns out, the Toxoplasma Gondii parasite does not restrict itself to rodents and cats. No, it also infects humans. In fact, if you own a cat, or have ever owned a cat, you are very likely infected by the toxoplasma gondii parasite. In some areas of the western world, 80% of adult humans have been infected with Toxoplasma Gondii. And just like it alters the behaviour of rodents, it also alters the behaviour of humans, in small and subtle ways.

    It is probably in your brain, influencing your thoughts, changing your behaviour in very subtle but measurable ways….
  • This is exactly what Google has done with the web. Google the parasite has infected us and has altered our behaviour to favour Google itself in the long run.
  • So that Google the cat can eat us.
  • Thank you.

Transcript

  • 1. The Google-shaped Web POLEMIC D I G I T A L A Tale of Cats & Parasites Barry Adams Polemic Digital June 2014
  • 2. POLEMIC D I G I T A L About Barry Adams • Freelance SEO consultant  Polemic Digital (July 2014) • Dutch (yes, really) • Twitter ranter: @badams • Lecturer on SEO & Digital Strategy • Editor & blogger for StateofDigital.com • Also blogs at PolemicDigital.com
  • 3. POLEMIC D I G I T A L In The Beginning...
  • 4. Web Search’s Symbiotic Contract “We scrape your content, you get free traffic.” POLEMIC D I G I T A L Source: http://xxtremorxx.deviantart.com/
  • 5. POLEMIC D I G I T A L Google’s Version “We scrape your content and if we like it enough, we’ll keep your traffic too.” Source: http://revafallarts.deviantart.com/
  • 6. POLEMIC D I G I T A L How did we get here...? • Google was the first truly dominant search engine • As a result, webmasters do whatever they can to get in to Google’s good graces • Google realises that this can be used to its advantage...
  • 7. POLEMIC D I G I T A L “Power corrupts. Absolute power... is kind of neat.” - Donald Regan, US Chief of Staff, 1987
  • 8. POLEMIC D I G I T A L WWGD –What Would Google Do?
  • 9. POLEMIC D I G I T A L Google recommendations Stuff Google likes:  Optimised titles & meta  Unique, plain text content  Human-readable URLs  Responsive websites  XML sitemaps  Structured data  Nofollowed links  Disavow files  SSL  ... Stuff Google dislikes: × Bog-standard content × Shockwave Flash × Content embedded in images × Active link acquisition × Separate mobile sites × Unrestricted linking × Content in (iPhone) apps × More than 3 ads on a page × Spam (whatever Google says it is) × ...
  • 10. POLEMIC D I G I T A L UX vs GX User Experience <> Google Experience • Most of Google’s recommendations are good for UX too • But some are purely for the benefit of Google • And these latter ones are becoming more frequent
  • 11. POLEMIC D I G I T A L Google decrees Stuff Google likes:  Optimised titles & meta  Unique, plain text content  Human-readable URLs  Responsive websites  XML sitemaps  Structured data  Nofollowed links  Disavow files  SSL  ... Stuff Google dislikes: × Bog-standard content × Shockwave Flash × Content embedded in images × Active link acquisition × Separate mobile sites × Unrestricted linking × Content in (iPhone) apps × More than 3 ads on a page × Spam (whatever Google says it is) × ...
  • 12. POLEMIC D I G I T A L The inevitable end result... Rather than Google adapting to the way the web is evolving... ... the web is evolving the way Google wants. The free & open World Wide Web is becoming the restricted Google-Shaped Web.
  • 13. POLEMIC D I G I T A L Wait, It Gets Worse
  • 14. POLEMIC D I G I T A L First, a biology lesson
  • 15. POLEMIC D I G I T A L Toxoplasma Gondii “A convincing body of evidence now exists to indicate that the ubiquitous protozoan Toxoplasma gondii can cause permanent behavioral changes in its host...” “Such behavioral alterations appear to be the product of strong selective pressures for the parasite to enhance transmission from its intermediate host reservoir, primarily rodent, to its feline definitive host...” Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2526137/
  • 16. POLEMIC D I G I T A L In layman’s terms 1. Toxoplasma gondii infects a rodent and alters the host’s brain patterns & behaviour; 2. The rodent becomes more active and prone to exploring open areas; 3. As a result of this behaviour, the likelihood of the rodent being eaten by a cat increases; 4. When a cat eats the infected rodent, Toxoplasma gondii infects the cat – its definitive host.
  • 17. POLEMIC D I G I T A L Sound familiar?
  • 18. POLEMIC D I G I T A L Google has infected the web • Google is both parasite and cat;  Google’s recommendations are memes it uses to infect us • We are altering our behaviour to make our information more easily accessible to Google • This enables Google to prey on our business models and take over profitable niches
  • 19. POLEMIC D I G I T A L
  • 20. POLEMIC D I G I T A L
  • 21. POLEMIC D I G I T A L
  • 22. POLEMIC D I G I T A L
  • 23. POLEMIC D I G I T A L
  • 24. POLEMIC D I G I T A L “Good artists copy. Great artists steal.” - Pablo Picasso
  • 25. POLEMIC D I G I T A L To end on a cheerful note... “Toxoplasma gondii is the most common protozoan parasite in developed nations. Up to 80% of the population may be infected, depending on eating habits and exposure to cats.” “When infected human adults were compared with uninfected adults on personality questionnaires or on a panel of behavioral tests, several differences were found.” Source: http://schizophreniabulletin.oxfordjournals.org/content/33/3/757.full
  • 26. POLEMIC D I G I T A L
  • 27. POLEMIC D I G I T A L
  • 28. POLEMIC D I G I T A L Thank You barry@polemicdigital.com www.polemicdigital.com twitter.com/badams