Amid all the hubbub over Google’s swallowing of YouTube, we’ve heard both considered commentary and over-the-top pontification about whether it’s a good deal or a bad deal, for the newly-engorged company and for all those users in TV land. Per the pundits, the measure of this transaction should be taken in fees — licensing fees to those providers whose content has been ripped, and/or legal fees to ward off copyright-infringement lawsuits. After all, it’s just business.
But there’s an eerie silence around a much more fundamental issue: freedom on the Internet and how GoogleTube is already eating away at that freedom — our unfettered ability to find anything online, anytime, anywhere. It’s not just a “moral” issue; for online advertisers, it’s very much a matter of dollars and cents.
Once upon a time, Google was on the other side. Indeed, it was the Other Side — it was Luke when Microsoft and AOL alternated as Darth Vader. What happened?
Online video happened. Now that three out of four U.S. households are wired with high-speed broadband, online video is here to stay — and the Web is no longer a huge filing cabinet stuffed with static text pages.
Because Google itself is anything but static, the company responded by launching Google Video in 2005, its own online repository of video clips. As the 800-pound gorilla of search (forgive the mixed metaphor), Google increasingly has come to view its own habitat as the limits of the known universe. According to comScore Media Metrix, nearly half of all Web searches are done through Google — and its market lead has widened considerably since 2005.
Before the YouTube deal, its nascent moves in video search were not encouraging. “Google video search” meant just that — searching videos posted to Google and nowhere else. This walled-garden approach gave Google the power to make these clips searchable, by forcing users to tag the videos with keywords and meta-data. Nothing inherently evil about that.
Then, last month, Google — shrewdly or not — snapped up YouTube, the Internet phenomenon that serves up 60 percent of all videos watched online, a staggering 100 million videos per day. Still nothing inherently evil — unless you consider the implications for search, the number-one line item in most online advertisers’ budgets.
YouTube is even more of a walled garden. It doesn’t matter how far those walls appear to extend; they’re still walls. And they’re still antithetical to the Net. If Google looks no further than its own realm for video content, what does that mean for video posted on the rest of that vast (worldwide) Web?