In reaction to some ads of questionable value being placed on some of O’Reilly’s sites (response from Tim O’Reilly), Greg Yardley has written a thoughtful piece on selling PageRank called I am not responsible for making Google better:
Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and the other big search engine companies aren’t public utilities - they’re money-making, for-profit enterprises. It’s time to stop thinking of search engines as a common resource to be nurtured, and start thinking of them as just another business to compete with or cooperate with as best suits your individual needs.
I love the idea that after more than 10 years of serious corporate interest in the Web that it’s still up to all of us and our individual decisions. The search engines in particular are based on our collective action; they watch and record the trails left as we scatter the Web with our thoughts, commerce, conversations, and connections.
Me? I tend to think I need Google to be as good a search engine as it can be and if I can help in some small way, I’m going to. As corny as it sounds, I tend to think of the sites I frequent as my neighborhood. If the barista at Starbucks is sick for a day, I’m not going to jump behind the counter and start making lattes, but if there’s a bit of litter on the stoop of the restaurant on the corner, I might stop to pick it up. Or if I see some punk slipping a candy bar into his pocket at the deli, I may alert the owner because, well, why should I be paying for that guy’s free candy bar every time I stop in for a soda?
Sure those small actions help those particular businesses, but they also benefit the neighborhood as a whole and, more importantly, the neighborhood residents. If I were the owner of a business like O’Reilly Media, I’d be concerned about making Google or Yahoo less useful because that would make it harder for my employees and customers to find what they’re looking for (including, perhaps, O’Reilly products and services). As Greg said, the Web is still largely what we make of it, so why not make it a good Web?