The Internet is clearly converging towards data consolidation and Google’s ambitious target of “organising the worlds information” is definitely well underway. Recently I’ve been contemplating the impact of this endeavor on the value of information in general. There are quite a few indicators that, if extrapolated, point towards a quite dramatic shift in the way the world does business.

What the average user wants

The average user doesn’t use the internet to find your company. They use it to find information. They have an aim in mind and search towards that aim. The search engine is the current tool of choice to achieve these aims and thanks to the amazing effectiveness of current search algorithms, this isn’t likely to change any time soon.

So when the average users wants some information, they ask the search engine. If the search engine gives them the results they want, they’re done. No need to visit a site. No need to search for the information on a page. The typical user would be happy if the top result in their Google search returned the exact fact they were after.

  1. User -> Google
  2. Google -> Your site
  3. Google <- Your site
  4. User <- Google

Is this bad for my site?

Yes and no. Do a google search for “define aristocrat”, “Osaka weather” or “40 JPY in USD” and pay attention to the results you get. Google is indeed doing a great job of organising the worlds information. However, if your poor old site used that sort of information to draw in customers to other services you offer, if it made money on advertising impressions or if you’re bread-and-butter involved selling “premium” (eg. hard-cover book) versions of information you post online, there’s a high chance that your potential customers, happy enough with Google’s rehashed versions of your content, will never actually make it to your site. On one hand the search engine helps you by point customers to the source of the information and drives users to your site. On the other hand, we may inadvertently “sell-our-souls” in the process as increasingly search engines repackage our site content, combining it with other sites and presenting it to users in a clear value-added format.

I still don’t get it…

Try this link and click “more info”. Notice the links to tripadvisor.com, kanshin.com, 10best.com, wcities.com… These sites will undoubtedly get more hits as a result of appearing on the Google maps site however, as their content is shown on the Google page directly, they are also losing part of their market to Google maps. The maps site both supports and competes with them directly. If, say, 30% of people are happy with the collection of reviews google maps provides them, 30% of tripadvisor.com’s market just disappeared! Those people will never get to tripadvisor.com because they can get the information directly from google maps.

Where is this headed?

The music and film industries are struggling with piracy because duplicating their products is so easy. I think this is only the tip of the iceberg. Wiki sites are both empowering people and simultaneously devaluing information by allowing the masses to publish and express anything they like in a highly organised fashion. This may not be a bad thing for society per-se however its definitely going to change the way the business world works.

Don’t mistake this rant as claiming “Information is not valuable”. Information is still valuable – very valuable in fact. However as soon as its published, the cost of replication and refactoring of information is so cheap that the value of any information after it s initial release quickly approaches zero. Production costs remain fairly constant but distribution costs are getting so cheap that I see this inevitably leading to a lot of industries going belly-up and wondering where their customers all went.

So my point is essentially to suggest you consider the value of the information provided on your websites. If your primary revenue stream stems directly from information, it might be wise to consider what would happen if the value of your information were to fall.