Google fans seem to just love watching Microsoft twitch. It's as though Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Eric Schmidt are Linux-loving geeks who grew up on the milk of Bait-Gates and now seek every opportunity to get in a dig.
You can just imagine Sergey telling Larry and Eric, "Hey guys, I just read that Microsoft's about to buy some banners company that it really needs for $2 million," so Larry and Eric immediately vote to buy the thing for more, just for kicks. And so DoubleClick wound up in Google’s hands for $3 billion.
It may seem that way but this last step by Google is no giggle by a few geeks who adore internet and content.
DoubleClick is an advertising platform through which pass almost all the e-commerce sites unhappy with their income from Google. For Google to buy DoubleClick is to declare that it's crossed the street.
From now on, Sergey and Larry are no longer the coolest geeks in town. They are distinguished businessmen in the school of Gates. Geeks they may be, but they have become the cold-eyed sort that rule the world and have to prove, morning in and morning out, that they still are Not Evil.
That old and somewhat notorious DoubleClick ads system, that Google has now bought, is not another freebie internet toy with free storage like Gmail, or some cute images-library with free storage like Picasa. It isn't even an intimidating acquisition of some media hub like YouTube, or the release of endless closed-code applications (which Google manages to conceal by providing significant amounts of support to the open-code community).
Buying DoubleClick is a major move. If there were a world internet regulator, the regulator would be wondering what to do.
Google decided that it wants to benefit from each ad campaign that drives the internet, and it promises that its marriage with money won't ruin it. Our imaginary regulator would have to decide whether Google is actually a belligerent online-advertising monopoly, if it's about to become one, or if its real aim is to seize control over most internet content and most of the revenues that online content could generate.
Suddenly, Google feels that understated text ads aren't enough. It wants banners, bells and whistles and all.
Maybe I'm paranoid, but suddenly, I too wonder if we really can continue blindly trusting these guys and their search results.
I loved them in 1999, when they had this clean, pristine white search engine.
But can I continue to trust people who put a fortune into indexing site types that don't belong to their advertising network? Or that may decide to direct most of their search-engineering staff's energy to areas of internet where Google salespeople closed the most deals, and now await the clicks?
Experience tells me that advertising and content are different worlds. Even arrogant Google will suddenly discover that it's devoting much more attention to advertising issues, at the expense of the reliability and uniqueness of search results and internet applications.
When our virtual regulator, whom I contacted for help, starts discussing the question of whether the formerly super-cool search giant is a monopoly - he won't be able to settle for dry figures on market share of online advertising. He won't be able to just ask what its (tiny) share of the total (vast) world advertising is.
The virtual regulator will have to relate to all the data that Google has accrued about our surfing habits, our searches, maps, and images of the inhabitants of Planet Earth.
To all that, the regulator must add Google's sales on each text ad, with the data on clicks, and consider scenarios in which a commercial body has access to all that information.
We must not forget that Google has a platform, sells the ads, and also tells us where to surf, how to reach the websites and ads of its clients.
After considering what power Google could wield with its control over that much information, revenues from internet, developments on internet, and direction of surfer traffic, then the virtual regulator could rule - should a commercial company like Google have such a terrific advantage over us? Could we reach a situation in which the entire internet depends on a monthly payment from Google, turning us all into clicker-ants in the empire of Sergey and Larry?