I’m still getting caught up on podcasts that got the better of me recently, but the one that caught my attention was one of NPR’s Planet Money podcast about Microsoft’s search engine, Bing, and an effort to make certain media content “exclusive” and free to that search engine only.
Apparently, Microsoft and Rupert Murdoch are in talks where Microsoft would pay the Wall Street Journal to make its contents exclusive and indexed only on Bing and no other search engines.
I found this whole concept kind of shocking. While I understand that news organizations have to find new revenue streams, I would happily go back to paying for getting the New York Times delivered to my inbox and iphone rather than this model. The idea that search will devolve into separate walled gardens, with parts of the ‘net only searchable on certain search engines seems to me to be against the very nature of what the internet was about- to make information open and “findable” in ways it never has been before. And frankly, if I have to go to yet another website to see if the Wall Street Journal has a piece of news I might need, I might as well go to the WSJ site directly and search their site internally than use yet another search engine.
From Microsoft’s point of view, I can understand how becoming a site that indexes primarily news, for example, might seem like a great competitive advantage. What it fails to take into account is that money alone isn’t the only thing that matters anymore. News comes out via non-mainstream media news sites including the Huffington Post, Politico, not to mention the excellent tech blogs like Tech Crunch , Mashable, and Gizmodo. News is no longer proprietary in the same way it used to be.
It’s going to be virtually impossible for Microsoft to make news a walled off garden, and even if they do, how will they keep people from re-publishing the same material via, say, a tumblr blog and making it easily indexed by Google as well? Isn’t this just begging for a “Pirate Bay” solution if established? How long before bit torrents of news are being siphoned out and placed where they can be indexed and re-indexed by any search engine?
There may even be some anti-competitive issues at play here, but as usual, the law drags so far behind actual technology, it will be years and largely irrelevant before that’s all sorted out.
The bottom line here is that information is a precious commodity, but news is only news for a short period of time before even in its old, traditional newsprint form, it starts lining bird cages and train puppies all over the land. Information now flows faster than we can analyze and process its meaning, which means the value in this play is at most, temporary and ephemeral.
My largest objection is to turning the internet into a series of walled gardens regarding search, and how much more cumbersome it will make finding good and relevant information. And as the ‘net has already shown us, in the absence of great and thoughtful information, people will simply propagate what is readily available, which may include rumor, innuendo and more.
The Bing/WSJ deal will be an interesting experiment if it happens, but I wonder what it will mean for the future and how long it can last in an economy where information is distilled down to bits and transmitted faster than Marconi ever could have imagined with the radio telegraph.