(If you don’t get the title of this post, you can read up on the reference here. )
A few months ago I posted an entry called Google World in which I talked about the amount of information Google and other companies such as Yahoo!, MSN and AOL are amassing about their users.
This week’s launch of Google Base is another step in the direction of building elaborate profiles of users. Moreover, it is an interesting move by the company to get users to fill up Google’s own Web property with lots of valuable material for free.
Google Base is a collection of content submitted by users hosted on Google’s site. Let’s say you have some recipes (I mention these as that part of my own Web site seems to be one of its most popular sections and Google Base already in this early stage has a section on that), instead of simply hosting the recipes on your own site and having Google (and other search engines) drive traffic to it, the recipe can now live on Google’s own Web property. Other types of content range from classifieds about housing and jobs to course syllabi. Some have suggested it is like a gigantic expanded version of the popular Craig’s List, which I mention in case that is a service with which you are familiar. Google Base will be a collection of information that users provide for free, but for which Google gets credit when people find it.
It is hard not to wonder how much more prominent Google Base content will be in Google’s search results compared to other content on the Web.
In addition to providing a means to get lots of content on its own servers, Google Base also allows the company to refine its profile of its Google Account holders – a prerequisite for posting material on Google Base. Not only will it have information about people’s interests through their searches and users’ networks through their email and chat communication, but it will also know what content is of so much interest that the person posts material to Google Base about it. This information often also comes with geographic specifics and other data yet again refining Google’s profiles of its users.
In case one decides not to shift all of one’s content on to Google Base and continues to maintain one’s own Web site, it is now possible to use Google Analytics to see how people find one’s pages. Since this is yet another Google service tied to a user’s Google Account, Google has information about how people find users’ sites even if they are not getting to it through the use of Google’s search engine.
All this has implications for privacy (increasingly refined profiles of users) and for how a few players – ones driven by commercial interests – influence the types of content to which users are most easily exposed.
In a fascinating way we are seeing a move back to the model of the mid/late-90s where portal sites (e.g. Yahoo!, Lycos, Excite) were focused on creating vast content empires in the hopes that users would never leave their properties. One difference is that there was little talk back then about the privacy implications of all this. It is not clear if there is enough talk about that aspect even today.