Rupert Murdoch vs. The Web

Are the fights that matter just the ones between giant companies? Doesn't the health of the Net and the Web matter more than any commercial battles?

These questions came to mind when I read How Murdoch Can Really Hurt Google And Shift The Balance Of Power In Search in TechCrunch recently. In that piece Mike Arrington supported Jason Calacanis' suggestion that Murdoch stick it to Google by cutting an exclusive search deal with rival search engine Bing. Even Jay Rosen took the same side. (Though perhaps in jest.)

Find more background at TechCrunch, from Dan Kennedy and in this New York Times piece, which makes the necessary distinction between wars among businesses on one hand, and what's good for the Net on the other. On the matter of the latter, the Times sources Craig Newmark, but still frames Craig's remarks in support of Google's side. In other words, the Times is still covering vendor sports here.

Defending the Web and the Net from collateral damage are Tim O'Reilly, Chris Messina, Anil Dash — and Dave Winer, whose whole oeuvre is thick with warnings about subordinating the Web and the Net to narrow personal or corporate interests. (He also offers positive advice: "Ask not what the Web can do for you, ask what you can do for the Web".)

But most of us aren't listening. We're Pompeians, Krakatoans, Montserratans, building cities and tilling farms on the slopes of active volcanoes. Always suckers for stories, we'd rather take sides in wars between competing volcanoes than build civilization on more flat and solid ground where there's room enough for everybody.

Google and Bing are both volcanoes. Both grace the Web's landscape with lots of fresh and fertile ground. They are good to have in many ways. But they are not the Earth below. They are not what gives us gravity.

They also create enormous dependencies. Much as I appreciate them, I am especially concerned about all the free graces we enjoy (maps, docs, books, etc.), thanks to Google's abundant success in the advertising business. What happens when that business goes away? Or what happens when we wake up and realize that we don't need search engines?

Let's face it: search engines are excellent kluges, invented to deal with a flaw in the Web's original design: the lack of an easy way to make sense of its many directory paths. Since everything to the right of the first single / in every URL comprises a giant disorganized haystack, ways were found to locate needles there. Those ways, however, are extremely complex and now entirely in private hands. One can look at this and accept it, or come up with a sane public solution. This is what free and open source developers are good at. I'm betting that one or more of ya'll will come up with a solution eventually.

Meanwhile, we need to get our priorities straight.

Here's one of mine. Soon as Rupert Murdoch and company do a deal to keep their "content" out of anybody's search engine, I'll cease renewing my subscriptions to the Wall Street Journal — both online and in print.

[Later...] Just added some more context over here.


Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal


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More valuable to discuss this considering its 10yr impact

Anonymous's picture

..."They also create enormous dependencies. Much as I appreciate them, I am especially concerned about all the free graces we enjoy (maps, docs, books, etc.)"...

And yet you don't add (news, ) to this list? GOOG is slowly building in the same dependencies there as well, and this is part what this fight is about.

This is really a fight about the syndication of content more then the organization of URLs. Krakatoans maybe, but definately Utopians if we expect folks like Murdoch to hire expensive journalists and then give away their work for nothing. Without question Google is smartly exploiting today's web disorganization, but I think Murdoch is smart to fight this opening gambit of a long term war. Deferring to GOOG to determine the future in the way that best suits itself would be negligence.

Google is the modern day Robber Baron

Jay Espo's picture

Some of you guys just don't get it. Google is the modern day Robber Baron. They get FREE content from the media and then they sell ads based on that content and the creators of that content gets nothing for it. While Google search is an invaluable tool to find things on the web. But who is going to pay the writers for the content. Just like Open source technology, who pay the programmers, Linux Torvalds got rich through the IPOs of Linux companies that gave him shares and his skills as a developer. You cannot expect to get something free forever, it is not a viable business model.

Murdoch's Critics

Brian Hayashi's picture

I wonder how many of Murdoch's critics have successfully managed media businesses through a downturn.

It's my understanding that during the DowJones buyout, Murdoch's plan was to provide (more than) snippets for free, but charge for the longform version. Right now there is a tremendous amount of backlash against any form of payment, and IMHO as long as the backlash is primarily emotional in nature it will be hard to accept kluges that simultaneously address revenue while providing an elegant solution to the URL discovery problem.

I've always believed that TV syndication held the DNA to that knotty little problem. Curiously, the cue tone was the innovation that enabled the syndication model: TV programers could create multiple distribution windows and corresponding syndication models for their content. In a fact that may interest only me, the technical definition of a cue tone is awfully synchronous with a certain microblogging service with a blue bird mascot.

As a former developer who got his start specializing in CD-ROM search in the 80s, I'm reminded of the notion of the Celestial Jukebox, and how it felt to discover the endless stores of information in LEXIS/NEXIS for the first time. There's no doubt that people love free, and that the flow creates second and third order derivative services that are enormously useful. But my experiences with pay TV are a reminder that people will often tell half-truths about their media purchase intent, and that there is a strong self-interest in paying for the appropriate amount of utility...which includes, of course, any future Greasemonkey scripts.

It will be interesting to see what comes of it.

Here's my proposal. Buy his

Anonymous's picture

Here's my proposal.

Buy his paper. Read it. Then pass it on to someone else with them promising to do the same thing. That way many people get to read the paper for nothing and he loses whatever small revenue he thought he would get.


Pretty soon he'll come up with Windows-like licensing restrictions.

fox news

Anonymous's picture

It's funny that they want to charge for something that they already have trouble giving away for free.

I'll stick with bbc news.

Torrent the web

manta's picture

Doc scratched the surface of a very large iceberg. We already have such things as Folding@Home. This may already exist but why not use P2P Torrents combined with something similar to Folding@Home to use spare cpu cycles and develop a distributed search engine. Thus making Google, Bing, Yahoo non-relavent. If Murdoch wants to build his own little island and plant a legal minefield around I can't be stuffed. The net will route around the infection.

Linux is composed of 1's and 0's but sco is full of #2.

rupert who?

Anonymous's picture

Who's this guy? yes, i've read wikipedia, but still.. who is he? what has he done?

is he jewish? how come? weren't they all killed in wwii?

Go back to eastern Europe, Murdochovich

Anonymous's picture

The Internet can do without Faux News and the rest of the sarcastically named 'Newscorp.'

Do I understand this correctly: Murdochovich wants everyone to pay to read snippets of articles (freely done under any reasonable Fair Use doctrine) on news accumulator sites?

How about no?

Not news

Anonymous's picture

Murdoch's fight to extort money from Google (and whoever else) is not news, nor is it newsworthy! As has been pointed out elsewhere, if he does exclude his content from Google, he will be cutting his own throat. It is my understanding that all that appears on Google are the headlines, and you must go to his web site to read the story.

Sound to me like google is getting people to go to his web site to read the actual story, so what Google is doing is getting him more business than he otherwise would have. As for Bing, its totally worthless to anyone with half a brain, due to its perverting search results to favor M$ and their products. Oh, and it didn't even take 48 hours after M$ bought Yahoo! before the same type of perverted results started showing up in Yahoo!searches.

Murdoch is irrelevant!

Rupert Murdoch

RBStanfield's picture

I have been bumping into Murdoch for 40 years, (London 1970). I haven't read or heard anything from News Corp that
a) I could not get from somewhere else,
b) was not worth reading in the first place, or
c) was faux news.
At least this way there is a natural filter so that if I am searching, News Corp spam, garbage and intellectual pornography never appears.

Murdoch? Who is Murdoch?

PatrickEB's picture

Oh, that Australian bloke...or is he now a US citizen? No matter.

He owns newspapers does he? I can't think of one I read and I can't think of any of his news media that I watch. Must just be some countries :)

If his papers have ads and his online presence has ads (even though you pay for both) then I can't see the difference. I'll just not read either and carry on with the other news media which have ads both in their paper and online versions. The online ones being free...which they should be...or very cheap, which is fine by me.

The larger part of the problem for Murdoch is that he wants to ensure that his paper is paid for. He wants people to give him money. Me, you and the advertisers. He just can't see that sometimes free of VERY cheap is worth it to him and so wants to make you pay for everything.

I'm happy to pay as long as it's cheap and has something that the paper version doesn't. Something significant.

Here's my proposal.

Buy his paper. Read it. Then pass it on to someone else with them promising to do the same thing. That way many people get to read the paper for nothing and he loses whatever small revenue he thought he would get.

Have a large group of people share a paper during the day/week and that way the stories live but the remuneration is low...purchases of the paper will fall away and he can rethink his strategy for squeezing as much as he can from everyone he can get his grubby little fingers on...not that I've seen his fingers. I'm just imagining what the fingers of someone like that must be like :)

Go on. Start a campaign today.

Your blog is looking nice. I

Jason Craft's picture

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Doesn't get it

Mace Moneta's picture

If Murdoch pulls his content from Google, that would be a Google feature, not a downside.

I can't believe that anyone would pay him to leave Google. I would pay Google to drop his sites.

Can anyone setup a greasemonkey script to exclude all of Murdoch's sites from Google search results? That would be great!


Doc Searls's picture

Love the idea, Mace. Just tweeted it.

Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal

I don't think Jay Rosen

Gordon Rae's picture

I don't think Jay Rosen actually "took the same side". I read that tweet as saying "if that's what you believe, go ahead and try".