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Google Businesses

Google's Featured Snippets Are Damaging To Small Businesses that Depend On Search Traffic (theoutline.com) 144

The Outline tells the story of CelebrityNetWorth.com, a website launched in 2008 that tells you how much a celebrity is worth. The site was an instant success, but things have turned sore in the last two years. The creator of the website Brian Warner blames Google for it. From the article: For most of its history, Google was like a librarian. You asked a question, and it guided you to the section of the web where you might find the answer. But over the past five years, Google has been experimenting with being an oracle. Type in a question, and you might see a box at the top of the search results page with the answer in large bold type. [...] In 2014, Warner received an email from Google asking if he would be interested in giving the company access to his data in order to scrape it for Knowledge Graph, for free. He said no, as he feared the traffic would plummet. [...] In February 2016, Google started displaying a Featured Snippet for each of the 25,000 celebrities in the CelebrityNetWorth database, Warner said. He knew this because he added a few fake listings for friends who were not celebrities to see if they would pop up as featured answers, and they did. "Our traffic immediately crumbled," Warner said. He acknowledged the risks in building a site that depends so heavily on Google for search traffic, and whose research can easily be reduced to a single number. But he still thinks what Google did is unfair.

Google's Featured Snippets Are Damaging To Small Businesses that Depend On Search Traffic

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 18, 2017 @10:41AM (#54256505)

    Good online communities die primarily by refusing to defend themselves.

    Somewhere in the vastness of the Internet, it is happening even now. It was once a well-kept garden of intelligent discussion, where knowledgeable and interested folk came, attracted by the high quality of speech they saw ongoing. But into this garden comes a fool, and the level of discussion drops a little—or more than a little, if the fool is very prolific in their posting. (It is worse if the fool is just articulate enough that the former inhabitants of the garden feel obliged to respond, and correct misapprehensions—for then the fool dominates conversations.)

    So the garden is tainted now, and it is less fun to play in; the old inhabitants, already invested there, will stay, but they are that much less likely to attract new blood. Or if there are new members, their quality also has gone down.

    Then another fool joins, and the two fools begin talking to each other, and at that point some of the old members, those with the highest standards and the best opportunities elsewhere, leave...

    I am old enough to remember the USENET that is forgotten, though I was very young. Unlike the first Internet that died so long ago in the Eternal September, in these days there is always some way to delete unwanted content. We can thank spam for that—so egregious that no one defends it, so prolific that no one can just ignore it, there must be a banhammer somewhere.

    But when the fools begin their invasion, some communities think themselves too good to use their banhammer for—gasp!—censorship.

    After all—anyone acculturated by academia knows that censorship is a very grave sin... in their walled gardens where it costs thousands and thousands of dollars to enter, and students fear their professors' grading, and heaven forbid the janitors should speak up in the middle of a colloquium.

    It is easy to be naive about the evils of censorship when you already live in a carefully kept garden. Just like it is easy to be naive about the universal virtue of unconditional nonviolent pacifism, when your country already has armed soldiers on the borders, and your city already has police. It costs you nothing to be righteous, so long as the police stay on their jobs.

    The thing about online communities, though, is that you can't rely on the police ignoring you and staying on the job; the community actually pays the price of its virtuousness.

    In the beginning, while the community is still thriving, censorship seems like a terrible and unnecessary imposition. Things are still going fine. It's just one fool, and if we can't tolerate just one fool, well, we must not be very tolerant. Perhaps the fool will give up and go away, without any need of censorship. And if the whole community has become just that much less fun to be a part of... mere fun doesn't seem like a good justification for (gasp!) censorship, any more than disliking someone's looks seems like a good reason to punch them in the nose.

    (But joining a community is a strictly voluntary process, and if prospective new members don't like your looks, they won't join in the first place.)

    And after all—who will be the censor? Who can possibly be trusted with such power?

    Quite a lot of people, probably, in any well-kept garden. But if the garden is even a little divided within itself —if there are factions—if there are people who hang out in the community despite not much trusting the moderator or whoever could potentially wield the banhammer—

    (for such internal politics often seem like a matter of far greater import than mere invading barbarians)

    —then trying to defend the community is typically depicted as a coup attempt. Who is this one who dares appoint themselves as judge and executioner? Do they think their ownership of the server means they own the people? Own our community? Do they think that control over the source code makes them a god?

    I confess, for a

  • The Market at Work (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Google was wrong to scrape his data without his permission On the other hand, it's the market at work. Google can provide the answer more cheaply and in a better format that appeals to most users. He should probably accept that the world has moved on and he needs to provide a product that's still compelling. Technology changes putting someone out of business is news so old it's written in stone.

    The only news here is that Google scraped his data without his permission and used it for business purposes.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 18, 2017 @11:03AM (#54256723)

      It is also short sighted of Google. If sites that Google is data mining go out of business, Google's users are worse off than they were before as the information Google will provide will be out of date and wrong.

      • No it is not. If anyone else has the data, google will copy them too. If no one else has them, google becomes the best reference.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Are you suggesting that Google has started to ignore robots.txt? Of course this guy could stop this Google snippet stuff in an instant if he wanted to, but he likes being included in the Google search results. It sounds like the real problem is that each page on his site has very little useful data and then an ad. A site with actual content would not be harmed by Google snippets.

      • You want your site indexed, or not?

        Because people like sites to be indexed, but then they get indexed, and that index shown by Google search results. Catch-22 if you ask me.

        I could think of a solution to the problem, but it would require anti-indexing the results.

        • You want your site indexed, or not?

          Because people like sites to be indexed, but then they get indexed, and that index shown by Google search results. Catch-22 if you ask me.

          I could think of a solution to the problem, but it would require anti-indexing the results.

          Maybe the solution isn't an either/or (either full index, or no index). Maybe the solution is to allow indexing to a certain point (or depth, if you will), but allow it no further. It may require tossing up a not-very-well-traveled index in parallel for the bots to read, and it would take more than a little work, but it's doable.

          • Maybe the solution isn't an either/or (either full index, or no index). Maybe the solution is to allow indexing to a certain point (or depth, if you will), but allow it no further.

            It seems that some are successful at this. Searching by googling the movie name and "rotten tomatoes" does not show the score, you have to click into it. It would be trivial for Google to show the Rotten Tomatoes score in the results. I bet Google made the intentional decision to not show the score in their search results, either through an agreement with Rotten Tomatoes, or because they didn't want to undercut the support of a great site.

        • by BeanThere ( 28381 ) on Tuesday April 18, 2017 @01:42PM (#54258191)

          This isn't Google showing merely 'showing the indexed results' ... it's copying and reincorporating his content such that the users never visit his site in the first place. You shouldn't have to require not being indexed to not have Google behave like a greedy monopolistic parasite, but such is the world we live in.

          • by mikael ( 484 )

            That's what google does now when you do an image search. You don't get the link to the actual image, you get some 'amp'ed' version that converts the actuall http link into ascii, and bundles it inside a google cache.

    • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Tuesday April 18, 2017 @11:34AM (#54257001) Homepage

      If he doesn't feel like suing then he should troll. Detect when Google is scraping and feed them a long string of hilariously-fake data. Celebrities who come up as broke. Celebrities who come up so rich that they need exponential notation. Celebrities with exponential negative numbers in their assets. Celebrities whose net worths are mathematical or physical constants. And of course, don't just list your friends as fake celebrities - list popular search terms as celebrities, even if they're not people.

      Bonus points if you can redirect nicknames to real names. If so, then you can redirect celebrity names to whatever plaintext message you want to send. Aka "Tom Hanks" as a nickname for "Google is stealing my data" or whatnot.

      • by BeanThere ( 28381 ) on Tuesday April 18, 2017 @01:43PM (#54258205)

        Detect when Google is scraping and feed them a long string of hilariously-fake data

        This would be temporarily amusing, however, Google's T&C's allow them to de-index you if you deliver different results to what a normal user sees.

      • by sootman ( 158191 )

        Great idea -- EXCEPT that it would totally screw you. I don't think Google makes a distinction between what goes in the "answer" box and what goes in the regular results summary -- so yeah, it'd be funny to see Kanye's net worth listed as "$0.35 and a half a bag of Doritos" in the big "answer" box at the top of the screen, but when a user figured out that the data is bad and scrolled down the page, they'll see your page in the regular listing with the same bad data showing. What shows up at the top would al

      • by bogeskov ( 63797 )

        One similar example is to google:
        https://www.google.com/?q=my+ip+address+location [google.com]

        I'm pretty sure I'm not located in CA.

        Google only shows the world from a google perspective.

    • by Actually, I do RTFA ( 1058596 ) on Tuesday April 18, 2017 @12:01PM (#54257255)

      Google can provide the answer more cheaply and in a better format that appeals to most users

      Google can provide the answer more cheaply because they are scraping his data. It's similar to how a torrent site can produce a movie more cheaply than a studio.

      And, as for appealing, it may or may not be appealing. What it is, is earlier in the pipeline. And that's an advantage Google will always have on anything. You may recall it as analogous to when Microsoft had a "more appealing" IE 6 preloaded onto Windows machines.

      • Another key example of "earlier in the pipeline" is when you type into the Google search box and it starts suggesting results.

        IMO, people should be much more concerned about this as it requires no screen scraping but merely a reason (probably economic) to favor one web site over another. With just 5 or 6 results showing for each keypress, few will detect a "foul" result.

        Google can now inject all manner of agendized or incentivized results -- and is probably doing so -- and I have yet to see any one complain

        • by pnutjam ( 523990 )
          There have been several recent stories where google's screen scraping delivers incorrect data, usually due to a poor AI that doesn't fully understand what it's scraping.
    • The only news here is that Google scraped his data without his permission and used it for business purposes. That's IP theft, and he should sue.

      What differentiates this case from Feist v. Rural Telephone?

    • Yes, it's always cheaper to take someone else's data and present it as your own.

      This isn't google winning by doing something better.

    • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

      I know a game reviewer that does this when truth does not match marketing, ding, ding, ding, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5PmTyOKAtN0). So here is a Google search https://www.google.com.au/sear... [google.com.au]. So the top dominating return is not just an answer on no, it is a redirection to https://www.wsj.com/articles/s... [wsj.com], so was that redirection done for free or is it a paid advert that totally dominates the first page of search results. In reality what would I have really wanted https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

  • It is unfair (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Baron_Yam ( 643147 ) on Tuesday April 18, 2017 @10:48AM (#54256577)

    Google used to add value - they let you find what you needed to find. Now they're scraping sites and taking work product without recompense... though Google's probably far better at doing the same work with an in-house algorithm anyway.

    The response to this is (so long as Google 'plays nice') is to restrict what your site gives to Google to teasers and only deliver your full site to actual visitors.

    • Re:It is unfair (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Jaime2 ( 824950 ) on Tuesday April 18, 2017 @10:52AM (#54256615)
      Google will likely downgrade your search ranking for this. They call it cloaking [google.com]
      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        What does it matter if Google is taking your traffic anyway?

        • by Luthair ( 847766 )
          They were probably the major source for traffic, though building a business based on someone else is always a risk a bit like creating an app for a missing feature on iOS or Android.
      • by Baron_Yam ( 643147 ) on Tuesday April 18, 2017 @10:57AM (#54256667)

        If they've automated such detection, they're already 'hacking' your site by violating your implied TOS. Virtual trespass, if you will.

        And I can't imagine they haven't, since manually checking their indexed sites for such activity would probably require more man-hours than mankind currently has available.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          So they've violated the CFAA? Time to give Larry and Sergey the Aaron Swartz treatment?

        • by OhPlz ( 168413 )

          How is it hacking? They compare the page the Google-bot received to one pulled by a non Google-bot. If they're different, they know there's funny business going on. That's like saying "diff" is a hacking tool, it's a bit of a stretch.

          • If you deliberately provide Google with a customized page, then it is implied to the point of ridiculousness that you don't want them seeing the other versions you may serve up.

            If they circumvent your method for customizing the page they receive, WHATEVER method they use, they are violating your site's TOS. Hell, you could probably DMCA them as they're circumventing your attempt at DRM.

            • by OhPlz ( 168413 )

              No, there is no circumvention. They're pulling the pages from a system easily identifiable as Google, and they're pulling the pages from anonymous systems the same exact way any one of us would. If those anonymous pulls violate the TOS, then no one without a preexisting relationship with their site would be able to use their site.

        • If they've automated such detection, they're already 'hacking' your site by violating your implied TOS.

          Thank you IANAL for attempting to give legal advice.

          There are no "implied TOS". If you do not make an effort to hide your site behind a click acceptance, it is fair game. What you are talking about is known as "browsewrap"; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org] - There is no hard and fast rules about browsewraps being enforceable. It's done on a case-by-case basis. So unless the legal text is on the same page (and not just "by reading this you agree to the TOS found on this other page") as the data you're tryin

          • >Thank you IANAL for attempting to give legal advice.

            Thank you, random Internet person, for taking my post and taking it far more literally than you damn well know you should have.

            At least you followed it up with an interesting post, but there was no need to start off by being a dick.

          • by Altrag ( 195300 )

            I think in this type of case, there's a bigger problem: If you go after Google for a TOS violation, their answer will be "fine, we won't use [ie: index] your site anymore at all."

            That's probably a bigger hit to most websites than leaving things as they are and having Google scrape your data.

            I'm not sure there's an easy way out of this for small companies like this one, particularly if (as other posters have noted) the information is primarily factual and thus not copyrightable. Leaving it alone doesn't fi

    • by Luthair ( 847766 )

      Aren't these sites opting into it by marking their site up for Rich Cards?

      Ultimately though, it seems unlikely that sites which mostly just aggregate information (e.g. celebrity net worth) aren't going to fair better than say Encyclopedia Britannica.

    • by kriston ( 7886 )

      Nothing new. Lots of authors I know say they have been ripped off by Google Books. So-called "fair use" by Google has driven people out of the publishing industry, unfortunately.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        So-called "fair use" by Google has driven people out of the publishing industry, unfortunately.

        So long as the publishers keep blaming Google for changes to the law that the Government has made long before Google existed, nothing will change.

        It was back in 1978 when copyright law was changed to screw over those publishers.
        The new copyright laws the publishers claim to love is exactly what screwed them over.

        Before that time it was the writers choice to accept copyright protection or not, and if the price of copyright protection was too high for them or just not wanted to be paid, they could choose not

    • It is unfair

      When has a businesses response to "it is unfair" been "ok, we'll make it more fair for you." How many banks are fair to people that cannot afford the outrageous interest rates? How many businesses are fair to people when they find out they have a security breach? I don't feel bad for businesses getting screwed when all they do is screw people over to start with.

  • This might have been news in 2005. In 2017? Not so much.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    How does this not qualify as theft? Seriously, this is google "doing evil" again. Wasn't there a policy against that? What happened there?

    Where is the breakeven where they decide that the gain they receive is not worth the true cost externality of the cost they impose? At some point a government is going to look at the definition of externality, and even if google or whomever bought them, the politicians remember how much profit and political capital can be gained by attacking an evil empire, and the co

  • by Shark ( 78448 ) on Tuesday April 18, 2017 @11:05AM (#54256737)

    A centralized source of information also means a fair bit of power/control over which information comes out. Couple this with the big push to protect the unwashed masses from 'fake news' and you have a pretty nasty result. No matter how good the initial intentions are, in the end, there's always an asshole (or a group of them) taking charge of that control.

    • >"A centralized source of information also means a fair bit of power/control over which information comes out"

      Which is why I tell people all the time to STOP USING GOOGLE AS YOUR ONLY SEARCH ENGINE! There is a truism to many of us tech-type people cheering on the underdog, and a lot of it has to do with diversification and distribution of power. Nothing scares us more than the mentality of people who simply hand over their whole life to a company, like Google- search, Email, IM, phone, online docs, ph

  • But he still thinks what Google did is unfair.

    Ha! Slashdot is a wrong web-site to complain about such things — just change your outdated business model!

    As we've established many years ago (remember Napster [slashdot.org] vs. Metallica [slashdot.org]?), information:

    1. Wants to be free.
    2. Can not be stolen.

    The guy has nothing to complain about — all the information he had on his site remains there...

    • by Megol ( 3135005 )

      Information have no wants and while information (as a concept) can't be stolen this article wasn't about stealing information.

    • by Altrag ( 195300 )

      Its not entirely hypocritical though, depending on how you want to phrase it. If you're looking at something like "copyright shouldn't be a thing" then sure, this seems a bit of a mixed bag.

      But the more proper interpretation to pull would be "big guys shouldn't be allowed to shit all over little guys."

      Napster doesn't really fall into that category. While some people disagree that copyright infringement should be illegal, few disagree that it is. And Napster was big enough to be not really be a "little gu

  • "Do no evil"
  • by portwojc ( 201398 ) on Tuesday April 18, 2017 @11:21AM (#54256873) Homepage

    Slashdot does nearly the same thing. Often I find it pointless to go read the article itself after all that was given here.

  • by EndlessNameless ( 673105 ) on Tuesday April 18, 2017 @11:23AM (#54256897)

    If Google continues this behavior, web sites may shutdown. They need the clicks and the advertising revenue---in general.

    Google could keep the "immediate answer" functionality while still supporting the sites that provide that information by splitting the ad revenue that Google received for delivering the results.

    I believe the Featured Snippet is valuable to Google's users, and if the company is deriving a benefit from relaying that information then they can deal fairly with their sources.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 18, 2017 @11:28AM (#54256951)

    I've noticed google does this with movies now. Search for a movie and you get the IMDB score in the search results. The only other reason I used to go to IMDB aside from looking at a movie's score was to look at (or ask a question in) the message boards. That feature is now gone. Are IMDB's days numbered?

  • Google is plainly using data from his site, that is copyright infringement plain and simple.

    This is a massive payday, and on top of that an opportunity to get Google to stop if he wishes.... I would just take the multi-million dollar settlement and hand over the rights to the data though.

    There are many, many opportunities like this to create a honeypot, get someone large to steal it, and make them pay. Take advantage of them.

    • by hesiod ( 111176 )

      As someone above pointed out, a collection of facts doesn't fall under copyright. Of course IANAL, so I can't say this falls under that with any legal certainty, but it's not so simple.

      • The collection of facts is not copyrightable, of course.

        But it's not JUST a collection of facts. Recall he put in the names of friends with false details. Those are not FACTS, they are FICTION and therefore under copyright, which Google is now violating on a massive scale.

        Furthermore facts may not be copyrightable but exact wording is. As the copying of his friends shows Google appears to have copied his database wholesale, and offers proof that wording being the same is not a coincidence.

        It is in fact v

        • Recall he put in the names of friends with false details. Those are not FACTS, they are FICTION and therefore under copyright, which Google is now violating on a massive scale.

          Well, unfortunately this didn't work [wikipedia.org] for Fred Worth with a fake trivia question/answer that was copied by Trivial Pursuit:

          One of the questions in Trivial Pursuit was "What was Columbo's first name?" with the answer "Philip". That information had been fabricated to catch anyone who might try to violate his copyright. The inventors of

          • That's really interesting, I had not heard that before and I'll admit it adds a lot of weight to the notion that a lawsuit would not get anywhere.

            But I think the conclusion was incorrect and if a lawyer played it more as violation of copyright of non-facts, you could own a case today. Lastly, it also just adds more weight to the theory you should not sue for anything reasonable where the 9th circuit might be involved in the appeal...

    • by OhPlz ( 168413 )

      Google is plainly using data from his site, that is copyright infringement plain and simple.

      That's the definition of a search engine.

  • I think Google is rather evil, but regardless of that, does anyone really give a damn whether 'CelebrityNetWorth.com' lives or dies? Sounds like a pointless waste of bandwidth to me. If Google's policies and search 'features' are hurting sites on the WWW that actually contribute in a positive way to society and/or humanity in general then something ought to be done, but something like this? Don't really care so much.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Good thing we have you to tell us what content we should and shouldn't consume. Otherwise civilization would surely crumble...Thanks Ricky boy !

    • by Anonymous Coward

      One mans trash is another mans treasure.

      Why do you get to be :the gatekeeper?

      • Here's a pro-tip for you, Mister Paid Shill: More dummies might actually be taken in by your blatant shilling if you use an actual logged-in account to shill, instead of posting as an AC. Also, this whole story is blatant clickbait.
  • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Tuesday April 18, 2017 @11:48AM (#54257125)
    If this celebrity net worth data is a common fact, then Google can do whatever it wants. Databases of common facts (e.g. info from a phone book) cannot be copyrighted [wikipedia.org]. Just because you created a database of common facts doesn't mean you suddenly own those facts and that nobody else can use them without your permission.

    OTOH, if their celebrity net worth figure is calculated based on their research combined with some proprietary algorithm, Google is in violation of their copyright. They can simply send Google a cease and desist letter and Google will have to pull it off their snippets (or license it from them).

    OTOH, if Google has basically done what they did except using a new algorithm Google developed on its own, then they're SOL. They can't even argue that Google stole the idea from them because even if they didn't exist, Google would've created the algorithm based on the large number of search queries they got for a celebrity's net worth. Based on the sequence of events described in the summary, it sounds like this is what happened.

    Moral of the story: If you want to make a successful website, make it based on something deeper than a simple factoid which can easily be recreated and expressed in a single sentence. Google is an excellent way of driving traffic to you, unless what you offer is so small that people won't bother clicking a link for "the full picture"..
  • The website displays the net worth as text. Would displaying it as an image fix the problem?
  • This whole so-called 'news story' about Google is blatant clickbait. How much are they paying you to post this, Slashdot?
  • This happens when there is a third party between a user and business. Google controls when and if the user gets to you. At one point it will take over your services and user will not even notice (actually they will be happy to receive faster answers in more unified way).

    And that is only the beginning - with everybody jumping on voice inputs, AIs and such. At one point most of the internet sites providing information will be made obsolete because "order food" or "what is the ...?" will be answered/fulfilled

  • Start living up to this, Alphabet,

  • When I google a movie name and "rotten tomatoes", the snippet does not show the single most important piece of information: the score. Instead, you have to click into the page. I would bet Google intentionally decided to not show the score in their snippet, either through an agreement with Rotten Tomatoes, or because they didn't want to undercut the support of a great site.
  • It's easy to detect google bots. Why not serve them something different?

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