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How Quickly We Forget: Google's Competitors Falsely Claim Google Dominates Because It Was 'First'

from the history-lesson dept

Well, the second part of the Senate’s anti-Google hearings have wrapped up, and like the first part, they seemed pretty misguided. It was a lot of repeating things about how Google is big. There were some reasonable points that do bear more scrutiny, concerning some of Google’s business dealings with partners, but, on the whole, people seemed to be making a big deal out of nothing.

For example, one Senator continually quizzed WSGR lawyer Susan Creighton over whether or not Google “scraped” content. Creighton seemed to stumble over the question, but the proper answer is of course it does, because that’s how search engines work. Yelp’s CEO Jeremy Stoppelman complained about Google taking the same content it indexed for search, and then using it elsewhere. But no one mentioned the basic concept of fair use. If it’s a problem for Google to scrape and use content — as was implied repeatedly in the hearing — doesn’t that make any search engine illegal?

But, the most ridiculous testimony came from Thomas Barnett, a lawyer for Covington & Burling, who was representing a bunch of Google competitors who put together an operation called FairSearch. When asked about whether or not Google was a monopoly player, Barnett flat out lied, claiming that Google is dominant and can’t be unseated “because it got there first.”


I know they say that the history books are written by the winners, but this seems like a case where the history books are being revised by the losers. Anyone who was actually paying attention when Google came on the scene thought Google was a joke. The search engine market was locked up and there was no room for competition. We had Altavista, Lycos, Inktomi, Excite and a few others as well. People thought Google was a crazy idea. Who would possibly enter the search market — especially since Yahoo really seemed to have the market wrapped up (without its own search engine, but partnering with Altavista and Inktomi, before later partnering with Google)? It was a dead business.

Google wasn’t first. It was seriously late to the party.

And that’s really the point that’s important here. Markets that look locked up in the tech/internet world very rarely stay locked up for long. Five years ago, MySpace absolutely dominated the social networking space. Where are they today? Ten years ago, Yahoo was the dominant destination site. Fifteen years ago AOL was how people got on the internet. Fifteen years ago, Netscape was how you surfed the web. All of these players were dominant with huge market share. How are they all doing today? Which one needed government regulation to break their hold on the market? Things change. Markets change. Rewriting history and bitching about Google because it’s big misses the point. If Google does bad things, there are hundreds of entrepreneurs out there just waiting to take parts of the market away from the company.

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Companies: altavista, excite, fairsearch, google, inktomi, lycos, yahoo

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Comments on “How Quickly We Forget: Google's Competitors Falsely Claim Google Dominates Because It Was 'First'”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Don't forget

The lawyers want a search engine ran by lawyers. They want their search engine to be profitable. Since lawyers make terrible engineers, in order for them to make any money, they need the government to grant them monopoly power.

How else are lawyers going to get paid? Will someone please think of the lawyer!!!!

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Don't forget

It can, but often the advantage is insignificant. Over my years in the software biz, I’ve seen many independent research reports [citation needed] indicating in the vast majority of cases, being the first to produce a new product is a bad thing and leads to going out of business (there’s even an old saw about this: the pioneers get all the arrows). The sweet position is to be the second or third one to market.

The reason is pretty simple: it takes significant resources and effort to bring something truly new to market. The second-comers don’t have to expend much of that effort and can instead put the effort into making the thing better.

As Mike frequently says, and he’s 100% correct in this, it’s all about the execution, not the idea. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Good execution is rare and difficult.

:Lobo Santo (profile) says:

Yes But

“…but this seems like a case where the history books are being revised by the losers.

I like that, and will likely re-use it somewhere in the future.

There’s no point in being upset–the shadow puppets are just reading their scripts, playing their roles.

Just ask yourself the standard crime investigation questions:
Who has the opportunity?
Who stands to benefit?
Who has the money?

These are generally easy to pull apart–you can start & end with “follow the money” as the other questions will be answered in answering only that one. Or, more succinctly: It was never about “justice” or fairness or any of the other ballyhoo they’re going to trot out.

Jeffhole (profile) says:

god damnit...

Whether or not it’s the area in which they do the most suing, having lawyers give testimony on the search industry is like me writing a story on my dogs opinions on the current state of research in the field of particle physics. Yeah, they went to college. Yeah, they work a lot. Yeah, they generate a lot of paper. None of that means they know what in the fuck they’re talking about.

This week on will it blend: lawyers. Result: yes.

Chosen Reject (profile) says:

Re: god damnit...

This week on will it blend: lawyers.

AAHH!! Where are the US Marshall’s now? Please stop this insanity. First it’s the corrupt, now it’s the lawyers. What’s next, patriots and tyrants?

The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.

Oh. Curse you Thomas Jefferson!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Because to many there were no smartphones and MP3 players before the iPod and iPhone. That’s not fact, but perception. Also keep in mind that to many, Google *was* their first (and in their mind, the first) browser. Makes sense that the lawyers would use this to their advantage. Doesn’t make it accurate or factual, but I see where they’re going there.

Chosen Reject (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Doh, The is what I meant. Not Teh.

Also, he states that Google is quickly becoming a monopoly in mobile operating systems. Where the heck is the O Rly owl on this one? I like Android, and it’s market share is certainly increasing, but to say it’s quickly becoming a monopoly in mobile operating systems, along with his other doozy about Google being first, it’s obvious this guy either doesn’t have a clue, or is willing to lie through his teeth. Neither option looks good. Maybe he’s there as the court jester.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

(If you’re allergic to RMS’s point of view, then stop reading now and do your own research.)

?Is Android really free software?? by Richard Stallman, September 19, 2011:

Google has complied with the requirements of the GNU General Public License for Linux, but the Apache license on the rest of Android does not require source release. Google has said it will never publish the source code of Android 3.0 (aside from Linux), even though executables have been released to the public. Android 3.1 source code is also being withheld. Thus, Android 3, apart from Linux, is non-free software, pure and simple.

umb231 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

err. I could be wrong, but if I remember correctly, android 2.1 2.2 and 2.3 are all freely available, and Google has said ice cream sandwich (2.4 or 4.0, depending on what they number it) will be freely available too. So taking 3.0/3.1 (which google specifically said was an exception to the rule) only and claiming Android as a whole is not free is misleading at best.
There’s more issues to it as google has certain apps it requires on the phone to be associated with Google, and most wireless providers are requiring phone manufacturers be compliant with google’s association because they want google’s apps. But that’s not google dictating on it’s own.

Jay (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: I think this should explain it perfectly...

“Sorry but umm… why is mozilla evil now?”

Because they have bigger balls than Google. And you know what happens when you get “bigness”. Everyone’s looking to take you down a peg.

It doesn’t matter that it’s non profit. It doesn’t matter if they happen to be a great browser that I use after SRWare Iron.

No, they’re evil because everyone knows it’s popular. Suck on that, Netscape!

Marah Marie (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Because Firefox is so bloated. Last night my copy was using 1.4GB of RAM on three tabs (I screencapped it doing so for posterity): one was on a tech article and two were on Dreamwidth. I only have 2GB of RAM to give for my browser, I mean my country, I mean to run all of my Windows. I mean seriously, *that’s* just plain evil. I don’t know what’s happened to Firefox but it’s getting harder and harder to run on less than a bajillion gigs of RAM.

But as for evil otherwise? I’m not sure why anyone would say so. So they partner with Google – I’m not sure if that’s evil, but if it is, you can always switch search engines.

WysiWyg (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

I did what you said, despite it going against every fiber in my body.

2 hours later and it’s now up to a staggering 300 mb. Admittedly, the fact that I now have 4+2 tabs open might have something to do with it.

You do use the latest (stable) version right? ‘Cause I remember there being a major bug a couple of versions ago.

Mike42 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I used HotBot, then AltaVista, then Dogpile. Each had the flaw of being quickly skewed by people gaming their algorithims. Now, after many years, Google is being skewed as well. I can rarely find a valid link for my coding issues, and that normally spells the end of an engine.
It’s funny to see this hearing now that Google is about to lose it’s search edge. Maybe they’ll “tweak” the engine again…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Bah, you kids and your newfangled search engines! In MY day, we found out about websites by buying books of URLs from the bookstore! We hand-typed addresses into Netscape Navigator, and we were glad for it!

(Seriously, back in the dialup days I had this phone book-sized book of websites. I used AltaVista later, but eventually I got sick of how cluttered their main page was, same as everyone else that used them. Then one day I heard about a new search engine called “Google”…)


Re: Not the same thing at all.

So? We’re conflating Google and Microsoft now are we?

Have you used an alternative to Windows or Office today?

I can do that in 2 seconds with Google.

It’s simply not the same thing. Google offers a commodity product using open standards and platform agnostic interfaces. You can defect to another search engine right now before I am done with this post and then defect to yet another before I am done with it.

Google doesn’t have the same kind of vendorlock.

Microsoft is Hotel California.

Anonymous Coward says:

I was watching the hearing on C-Span


One thing that really upset me is the fact that they threw all this data at Google without giving Google the opportunity to pre study the data. How can you expect Google to respond to data, statistics, and studies it has not even had the chance to read?

That’s not how court hearings work. Both parties are allowed the opportunity to study the evidence. Why is this senate meeting so different?

and I seem to somewhat understand Google’s responses, but they seem to have flue over the senators head.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota) needs to be voted out of office ASAP!!! Her main focus during this anti trust meeting was on intellectual property and the need to enforce copy protection laws. Can you imagine that? An anti-trust meeting focusing on the the need to enforce a government established monopoly. It’s OK to accuse Google of anti-trust violations for doing absolutely nothing wrong, but it’s not OK to question the century long monopolies that the government wrongfully establishes.

Vote this person out of office. Any politician who’s primary focus is not to fix IP law in the right direction needs to be put on a voter black list and voted out of office ASAP!!! Unbelievable.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

And what bothers me about the whole underlying assumption behind this whole hearing is the idea that someone is entitled to a high Google search ranking.

The hearing talks about a loss in ranking as “costing” a business money. Their ranking went down, it just cost them x dollars. The underlying assumption is that the business is entitled to such a high ranking to begin with.

No one is even entitled a spot on Google’s search engine. It’s Google’s search engine, they can promote or ignore whoever they want. If Google wants to promote their own brands, I see nothing wrong with that. For years, other companies like Disney have done cross promotion on television, theme parks, radio, etc… and the government never did much (is it that these other companies provide/have provided politicians with more in campaign contributions?). Google doesn’t even have access to creating its own television programs and broadcasting them on cable channels, radio, and broadcasted television stations, so they can hardly be even considered cross promoting. Yet we have big media companies that control a huge promotion of all of these information delivery platforms, it costs the consumer a lot (the U.S. offers inferior Internet access at higher prices than most other countries thanks to the government establishment of monopoly power) yet the government does absolutely nothing about that.

Why is it when Google suddenly promotes its own brand, it’s a big deal?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

The hearing talks about a loss in ranking as “costing” a business money. Their ranking went down, it just cost them x dollars. The underlying assumption is that the business is entitled to such a high ranking to begin with.

That bothered me, too. But for a different reason.

A few senators hearing at that hearing, Klobuchar, in particular, seemed rather upset that Google wasn’t providing ?certainty? to businesses. The underlying presupposition is that Google is supposed to work for businesses.

And I was thinking ?But what about users?? Apparently not important to Klobuchar.

That is, a few senators seemed all upset that Google wasn’t screwing the voters over hard enough.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

It’s not Gogle’s, or the governments, job to provide for job security (ie: certainty). This isn’t communism/socialism. A system where governments act to provide for certainty/job security is a system destined to fail. Companies need to know that if they don’t provide for consumers, they will fail. When a government provides for job security, then companies are freer not to innovate and not to provide consumers with a better product at a cheaper price.

Anonymous Coward says:

What is funny is if you were actually around for the “start of the internet” you would understand that Google was in fact “first”.

Google was the first to actually cache a page in a manner that the cached page could be accessed. Google was the first to scrape images, to scrape and sort news stories, and so on.

The differences in the way Google obtained, stored, and manipulated both data (page content) and images was unique. They were literally first.

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Are you talking about the start of the internet being the WWW, or ARPANET?

Google was NOT the first to cache (or actually index) pages, Google was definitely not the first to index images and create thumbnails from them, and google was definitely not the first to index, sort (which is part of indexing) or so called ‘scrape’ news items.

The only main thing Google did first was the process of Ranking pages based on how many other pages linked back to them, they looked at the many to many relationships that each unique page had compared to the whole. That was the unique, and using database relational theory and models the most efficient normalisation, point that Google brought to the market.

They might be the first in the way they manipulated data, but that’s like saying Toyota was the first to come up with the slogan “Oh what a feeling”, it doesn’t mean anything in the context of what the question was.

They are stating that Google was the first Search Engine, and I suspect so are you.

Gopher, Archie, Wandex, and the major precursor to Google et.al and what we equate indexing/crawling to today, ‘Webcrawler’ disagree.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Indexing isn’t a new game. What Google did that changed the game was two fold: actually fully caching the pages, and scraping the content off of those pages for further indexing.

The scraping of news items, the scraping of image content was new and unique in that it wasn’t the original intention of a search engine, but rather an outcrop of the unique way the Google collected and cached content.

A fed B that fed C and so on.

Gopher, Archie, and so many others were mostly “human made indexes” (think early Yahoo, example). You submitted your pages to them, and then they “indexed” them. Recursive botting of websites was considered very unwelcome at the time, a quick way to get a call placed to your university’s IT department to shut down your “project”.

The earlier search engine bots (Hotbot, Alta Vista, Excite, etc) we all very superficial, and often did not do recursive searches, and required user submission of pages for inclusion. As I mentioned before, Yahoo was a “human made index” based on user submissions.

Google changed that with massive and endless recursive botting, which is why they could scrape so much content. Basically, before Google, search engines were fairly superficial, easily gamed, and rarely “self supporting”, failing to have very much depth in their indexes (mostly pointing to index pages, and not taking inside pages unless “invited”.

Back in the day, search engine submission (actually visiting individual submit pages for each SE) was a major job for website owners. Google changed all of that, effectively making submissions meaningless, replaced instead with a social voting of ranked linking (which has it’s own issues).

So yeah, Google was first.

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I agree that Gopher and Archie and Yahoo (Lycos) were all human made (mostly) search engine submissions.

Though you forgot, not sure whether on purpose or not, Wandex by Matthew Gray (around 93 I recall) and the most important search index crawler of them all (as I stated before) Webcrawler by Brian Pinkerton in 1994.

You might like to read at that link either his original paper or the eventual dissertation on webcrawler which is where google got most of their underlying ideas from.

So yep, Google was First.. after those two of course. guess that makes it 3rd. Maybe it was the first Third one.. 😉

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

If, by “Google got there first,” you take Barnett to mean ‘they acquired large market share first,’ then you can say every company that potentially has market power ‘got there first.’ It makes the phrase meaningless.

Getting there first means getting there first, not doing better than the competition.

Although I agree Mike might have been unfair to suggest Barnett was “lying.” That assumes Barnett knew he was saying something really dumb.

Hanlon’s razor: Don’t attribute to malice something that can be adequately explained by stupidity.

Tom says:

It doesn't matter...

Google has a monopoly on search. In nearly every country except paranoid, totalitarian regimes like China — who control access to the Internet with an iron fist — Google has worked to embed itself in browsers, on the desktop, on mobile phones, etc. There is no credible competition to Google in online search and advertising. Google decides where its competitors will place in search rankings through opaque, proprietary algorithms. Google gives its own properties preference in the rankings (and anybody who disputes that is a moron or a liar or a toady fanboy/employee). It doesn’t matter how Google obtained the monopoly. What matters is that it can’t be allowed to leverage that monopoly to strangle other markets. Which it most assuredly will do, if given the opportunity.

I’m going to make a few predictions (and you will find that I’m probably right here). Google search will be ruled a monopoly in federal court. It will eventually be regulated as a utility. The court will appoint a special master who will oversee Google’s search algorithms. Page rankings will be required to be impartial and policy-free. Google will not be permitted to prevent Android adopters from using alternative search engines by default. Google will not be allowed to link directly to its own products from the search engine. Google will be required to disclose any proprietary web services linked to its search engine and used by its properties. Google will not be permitted to enter into exclusionary contracts relating to search (e.g. Google Books). Google will be required to give desktop users an obvious and visible choice (like EU’s Browser Choice) of which search engine to use. Etc, etc.

This is going to happen. It doesn’t matter how much money Google spreads around. It’s gotten too big, and the world knows it.

I don’t hate Google. I just want a level playing field. And this nonsense that Google is “afraid that users will switch” is a pathetic canard.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: It doesn't matter...

Wow, so much fail…

“Google has a monopoly on search”

No it doesn’t. Anybody can switch at any time simply by entering an address into their browser, and they’re spoilt for choice.

“There is no credible competition to Google in online search and advertising”

There *is* competition. How “credible” you find it is a matter of opinion, but there are clear competitors to virtually everything it does.

“It will eventually be regulated as a utility.”

That would be a weird choice, but wouldn’t that mean that every other company that does the same thing would need to be regulated as such?

“Page rankings will be required to be impartial and policy-free.”

How would this be achieved, given that page rankings are usually determined by factors outside of Google’s control, even if you believe some of the conspiracy theories? This would also backfire in some pretty spectacular ways eventually.

“Google will not be permitted to prevent Android adopters from using alternative search engines by default”

The government having a direct say in how a company builds its own software? Yeah, that will be a positive move… Should they also be stopping Apple from building iOS with its restrictions, or are you only interested in attacking Google?

“Google will be required to give desktop users an obvious and visible choice (like EU’s Browser Choice) of which search engine to use”

A horrible idea, and this is both unworkable (how does Google enforce this on anything other than Chrome and Android?) and unnecessary (Chrome already gives you a choice when you first run it).

“I don’t hate Google. I just want a level playing field.”

Yet, everything you suggested is to cripple Google in favour of its competitors, most of whom have failed to overtake them for very good reasons (looking at you, Bing). At best, you’re looking to kill some of the usefulness of Google so that inferior services can catch up. At worst, it’s a horrible precedent, where any company that becomes successful in its field stands to be punished.

William (profile) says:

Re: It doesn't matter...

You’ve got to be kidding. Google’s search results are opinions derived from a clever algorithm. Last time I checked, opinions are protected speech, unless, of course, you want to “trim a little fat off the first amendment to the Constitution.”

Also, we know why Schmidt went and not Sergy and Larry. I suspect the other two would have stood up, given “the best legislators money can buy” the middle finger, and said something of the ilk “see you in court.”

akos says:


google wasn’t the first. i remember using something like “go get it” or something with a dog, thing, site, SE, whatever.

google, certainly, has nothing even compared to monopoly. is the leader, simply because is the best. if it was crappy, a new site would pop up and everyone’d use that particular site over night. if it has competitors with the money to hire a layer it’s not a monopoly.

“FairSearch” for me is exclusively google. fair to say, that it produces the best results in most of the cases. there still are some issues, but from what i’ve seen in the past few months, they are working on it.

Anonymous Coward says:

After thinking about the hearing for a while, I think I somewhat get what the federal government/senate are trying to determine.

Google claims that their search results are organic, solely based on what it believes to be the best results based solely on what consumers want. It claims that its search results are not bias towards or against any particular website or business.

While I believe them, I think the point that the senate is somewhat trying to make is that, if Google is claiming that the search results are unbiased and organic and in fact they are not, then that borderlines fraudulence. It’s somewhat deceptive. I have absolutely no problem with Google providing for biased results, but for them to claim that their results aren’t bias when they in fact are is something that might require governmental intervention (though I do not believe that Google is doing anything deceptive, I do think they are being honest).

However, if we want to investigate Google for fraud, then we shouldn’t be trying to use anti-trust laws against it when we already have more relevant anti-fraud laws that we can better use against them. The anti-trust laws seem irrelevant here.

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