9 September 2011

Correcting Gleick on Google

James Gleick’s article on Google for the NYRB is well worth reading, but it contains a strange error or obfuscation:

Somewhere along the line they gave people the impression that they didn’t care for advertising — that they scarcely had a business plan at all. In fact it’s clear that advertising was fundamental to their plan all along.

In fact, Page and Brin didn’t just accidentally give people that impression; they said it explicitly in their famous paper of 1998, “The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine”:

The goals of the advertising business model do not always correspond to providing quality search to users. […] we expect that advertising funded search engines will be inherently biased towards the advertisers and away from the needs of the consumers. […] we believe the issue of advertising causes enough mixed incentives that it is crucial to have a competitive search engine that is transparent and in the academic realm.

It’s obvious enough, indeed, from Douglas’s Edwards I’m Feeling Lucky, one of the books Gleick is reviewing (and which I reviewed here), that advertising was not fundamental to their plan all along. Of course, it is now: Google are nothing if not advertising fundamentalists.