Topix.net, a specialized search engine for news, made news itself this week, announcing it had acquired the domain name topix.com for a hefty $1 million. Why a company that has branded itself around a domain name it does own suddenly feels compelled to spend big money for a variant domain name is a fascinating topic in its own right, but there's a better angle to this story.
In announcing the purchase of this new domain name, company management publicly fretted to the Wall Street Journal that they were afraid of taking a traffic hit by moving from ".net" to ".com," and suggested that Google (which is the source of 90% of the company’s traffic) should somehow assist companies in the same situation so they would not be penalized in search results rankings. That's not a crazy request in this day and age, but consider Google's remarkable response to this idea: websites shouldn't become overly reliant on traffic from search engines!
How does one even begin to respond to a statement like that, especially since Google is right, provided that your website operates in a parallel universe where people discover websites by ... well, how exactly? Google helpfully provides some ideas, suggesting that sites could, for example, set up user forums, which presumably users would learn about by, well how would they learn about them?
Google has earned itself a $138 billion market capitalization because it was instrumental in helping to make search engines everyone's favored entry point onto the web. Now that everyone is so dependent on search engines for both discovery and navigation, and Google has monetized its leadership position in search six ways from Sunday, guess what? Google's new stance is "dude, you need to make some new friends."
Google wants it both ways. It wants the revenue that comes from operating the biggest toll booth onto the web, but not the responsibility. But the reality is that, because of its dominance, its every move has consequences for other businesses, and they are not all positive consequences. Until Google does the math on this simple equation, I guess our only option is to start getting busy with those new user forums.
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