In the past week there’s been a lot talk about the Wall Street Journal threatening to pull its content from Google and why it’s a good idea or sheer lunacy.
Let’s be clear. I think this entire thing is saber rattling on both sides and that Murdoch really just wants a “piece of the action.” I don’t think he wants the Wall Street Journal to be out of the index any more than Google is being flippant about whether they are in the index or not. However, if you are going to play hardball and draw a line in the sand, you have to be willing to hold your ground–or at least convince everyone you are–for it to work.
To be honest, regular consumers aren’t going to notice the absence of the WSJ as long as the general news is covered by the New York Times, Chicago Tribune or LA Times. However, when journalists like Kara Swisher or Walt Mossberg (who write for All Things D, a subsidiary of WSJ) write or break news and it’s not in Google, that’s kind of a big deal. Sure, the stories will start appearing in other papers in a few hours, but they will cite/mention and maybe even link to other articles that aren’t in the index. Imagine doing a search for [Kara Swisher Keyword] and it not working. That is a textbook definition of a bad user experience.
The big question is whether the Bing index will have exclusive access to the WSJ content. If Bing does get exclusive access, it’s going to set a precedent. If Bing can lock in some of the major news sites, Google will be backed into the corner and probably forced into a “pay to play” status with some of the newspaper sites. While it’s unlikely, if Bing was able to get a lot of the big newspapers to sign exclusively, Google’s index would take a measurable drop in quality, which could completely screw Google. The steps Google has taken to offer free online versions of Microsoft’s cash cow Office software bundle don’t seem that far out of line with its overall search strategy, does it?
Taking the “what if” scenario a little further: what if Bing started offering cash incentives to the bigger blogs like Techcrunch, Engadget, and Gawker for exclusive access to their content. Think of it as an alternative to the black box manipulation and smart pricing voodoo that publishers experience when using adsense. Further, if Bing managed to to take 10% of the top news/informational websites into its exclusive index and Google lost the ability to crawl those websites, would a link-based algorthym for ranking websites still work or would it fall apart like a house of cards?
At the end of the day I’d say there’s less than a 10% chance that WSJ will end up a Bing exclusive because this is a business/money decision that’s full of public posturing for negotiation purposes … but still I find it hard not to root for the guy who like Horatius Cocles had the nerve to stand up to an overwhelming opposing force.