When does a whisper become a shout?

It will be interesting to see whether there’s any kind of official response from Google (apart from Matt Cutts’ post) to the recent kerfuffle (or perhaps it’s more of a brouhaha) over the “tips” that have started appearing at the top of its search pages — the ones that direct people to download Picasa, or use Blogger. Blake Ross, a co-founder of Firefox, wrote a critical post about it recently, which Mike Arrington then responded to.

Blake’s point seemed to be that by promoting its own services on result pages, Google is unfairly using its search platform to hawk its own products, and that a company whose entire existence is based on the idea of search results and PageRank as a meritocracy — in other words, a process that drives the best results to the top over time — should have faith in that process and allow its own services to appear wherever they appear in the search rankings.


Mike’s post expanded on this point, arguing that Google’s recent behaviour in that and other areas is a sign of Microsoft-like arrogance from the company, a criticism that my friend Mark Evans and others think is a little over the top. What is clear is that Google has grown to such a size that things people would previously have seen seen as innocuous — like small text links promoting the company’s products — all of a sudden seem like a huge deal.

I have a lot of respect for Blake’s position on the subject, and there are some excellent arguments back and forth in the comments section of his post (which the last time I looked contained more than 215 comments). But I think he and others — including Allen Stern at Center Networks — are being overly sensitive about Google’s tips. I think they are clearly set apart from the search results, and therefore are nothing but a harmless promo link (Danny Sullivan agrees with me).

It’s interesting to see how Google is being held to a much higher standard than another company likely would be, in part because it is so large now, and also because of its famous “Don’t be evil” motto — which is clearly causing way more trouble than it’s worth.

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