"You know, it's a Google," the Republican candidate joked at a recent Virginia fundraiser luncheon. "What you can find out now on the Internet -- it's remarkable."
When eBay Australia announced that it would only accept payment via PayPal for its online transactions, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission started accepting comments on the company's plan. Of the seven hundred submissions, one seemed awfully critical, well-researched, and thorough. In fact, the submission boldly declared that "One of eBay's substantial purposes is to substantially lessen competition in the market for Online Payment Processing Services, by preventing or hindering competitors of PayPal from competing effectively against PayPal in that market." Who could have assembled such a meticulous and forceful legal argument? No one knows, because the Australian government agreed to keep the identity of the source secret. Check that: no one knew, until now. Thanks to the shoe leather of the trade journal Auctionbytes.com, which scoured every page of the argument, we now know that Google is behind the draft. Auctionbytes found a page with the phrase, "ACCC Submission by Google re eBay," and promptly outed the company. After word broke, the Australian government immediately withdrew the docment, scrubbed the identifying phrase, and resubmitted it, nice and redacted. Veteran tech journo John Battelle had some unkind words for the affair: "This can only further drive eBay, one of Google's largest customers, into the arms of Yahoo and Microsoft."
For years, fashion designer Louis Vuitton has had a beef with Google; namely, that counterfeit Vuitton producers can advertise their fake goods on Google. The search giant will sell the fake fashionistas ads connected with the term "Louis Vuitton fakes," Vuitton has complained, thereby helping counterfeiters sell their wares online. So his lawyers came up with a clever attack: Vuitton's name, or any variation of it, is a registered trademark, and if Google sells ads to pop up alongside the search term, they've engaged in trademark infringement! A French court agreed, and now the European Court of Justice has agreed to review the case. Techdirt sniffs at the French court ruling, arguing that the advertiser, not Google, should be liable. Ars Technica points out that the American federal courts have already ruled that Google can't be held liable for trademark infringement, but Europe is an awfully big market, and if the ruling goes against Google, the company could lose a lot of ad revenue.
Information Week reports that Google will build 1.2 million square feet of office and research space on land rented from NASA's Ames Research Center. The lease could last as long as forty years and clearly heralds an expanded partnership between the search giant and the space agency. Already, Google and NASA have collaborated to collate and publish planetary and lunar data online, but the two agencies have not yet detailed what the new Google center will do, or how it will collaborate with NASA. Of course, Google has already provided a Google Maps satellite shot of the site of the new research center; you can check it out here.
In the last few weeks, Microsoft has tried to eat into Google's search dominance by paying people to use Windows Live Search and bundling its search box into all new HP personal computers, risking the scrutiny of the Justice Department. Now, Google is hitting back at Microsoft's software applications, offering a new executive search program for companies who want to customize Google search rankings. Here's how the system works, according to the Wall Street Journal. For a small fee ($100 a year to start), companies can tweak Google search result rankings to ensure that product catalogue pages, more recent product upgrades, or pages displaying replacement parts rank higher in the search results. This would more efficiently match customers with the products they want. And this, Google hopes, would advertise the merits of its Google Apps web-based applications line, which directly competes with Microsoft Office software package.
This morning, YouTube announced it was adding a nifty new feature for people posting videos: annotations and widgets embedded in the screen. Video posters can now add voice bubbles to characters, post-it notes alongside the action for additional information. As Alley Insider notes, posters can even create "choose your own adventure" videos, in which viewers get to choose what actions characters take by clicking on widgets in the movie. This would theoretically increase the number of YouTube pageviews, which could increase ad revenue for the site.
Just 24 hours after we declared on Slate that Google's executive talent exodus is wildly overblown, YouTube head of monetization Shashi Seth quit to join the start-up Cooliris. Which just gives us another chance to be contrarian and insist that the company's going through the same maturation phase that Yahoo, Amazon, and Microsoft did. According to Om Malik, Seth claims he just got bored and wanted to stretch his legs at a smaller company. But Malik also suggests that Seth may have just been frustrated at YouTube's slow cash growth. YouTube, which Google bought for $1.65 billion, has had a hard time generating revenue commensurate with either its ubiquity or its price tag. Bear Stearns, for example, projects this year's revenue will be $90 million. (Hopefully not in mortgage-backed securities, right guys? 'Cause we hear that game's overrated.) Malik adds that the Viacom lawsuit is really getting in the way of cashing in, but suggests that if some sort of arrangement could be made, the money dam just might break open.
After changing the world with wikipedia, co-founder Jimmy Wales thought he might be able to employ the same wiki collaborative model to challenge Google for search supremacy. In January, he launched his first effort, Wikia. Care to guess how that did? Now, after tweaking a few things, Wales has launched his beta version and talked with Forbes.com about his plan to slay the giant. It's mostly technical gobbledegook, but here's the money quote:
"It's almost a political statement as much as anything else. We're taught to think of search as a neutral and unbiased algorithm, but there are editorial judgments being made. If I type Thomas Jefferson, the ten 10 links that I get back are statements about the world. That means we should be concerned about transparency and openness, finding a way to have public oversight and control of those results. Right now search is a closed box, and there are some plausible reasons for that, like preventing people from gaming the algorithm for commercial gain and keeping out malicious players. But can we create something that's as open and transparent as possible and publicly accountable? That's what we're shooting for."
In addition to bribing you, Microsoft has another new way to get you to use its Windows Live Search engine instead of Google. The world's largest software company has announced a new deal with HP, the world's largest PC manufacturer, in which all HP machines will now have a Windows search box on the toolbar of Internet Explorer. Since HP has been selling almost twenty percent of all personal computers worldwide lately, that means a significant proportion of future Internet users will immediately see a search box that isn't Google. But as the Times Online noted, this smells disturbingly like the web browser counterattack that got Microsoft in so much trouble with the Justice Department in the last 1990s, when it used its software package to dissuade people from using its rival Netscape. Now, that's the Microsoft we know and love to hate!