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Nov 10, 2009

Dear Rupert, this is how the internet works. Google it.

Rupert Murdoch may be rich, clever and influential, but his plan to remove News Corp content from Google's index is just daft. If he wants us to read his stories, let alone pay for them, we have to be able to find them first.

Dear Mr Murdoch,

While you’re undoubtedly rich and clever and influential, your plan to remove your news from Google’s index is just daft. If you want us to read your stories, let alone pay for them, we have to be able to find them first.

Last year more Americans got their news from the internet than newspapers. From the graph in that story, it looks like it’ll only be a few years before the internet surpasses television as well.

On the internet people — especially young people — don’t get their news in a monolith from one or two sources like a daily newspaper or nightly TV bulletin.

“The media revolution affects so many aspects of [young people’s] lives and news just happens to be one of them,” says Betsy Frank, Executive VP in charge of research at Viacom.

“They have no loyalty to media institutions like their parents did,” she says, and this won’t change as they get older.”

People now gather their news from all over the place in little pieces — using the “aggregators” you despise, search engines and, increasingly, personal recommendations from “friends” on networks like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter.

This is assuming they even want news to begin with.

As David Mindich, author of Tuned Out: Why Americans Under 40 Don’t Follow the News, points out, “They are still just as thoughtful, intelligent — and I would argue — literate as ever before. What has changed is that young people no longer see a need to keep up with the news.”

Now this morning, Mr Murdoch, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t misrepresenting your comments. Rather than watch your full 37-minute interview with Sky News Australia — deadlines, deadlines! — I wanted a news report.

I went to Google News and typed “murdoch block google”. The first result was this story at the UK’s Telegraph.

I went to Microsoft’s Bing and typed the same thing. Their top link was this story at the Guardian.

(I also searched the news at Yahoo!7 and their one and only result was a Crikey story from a month ago. Fail.)

I clicked through and read their stories — you don’t see full stories in search engines, Mr Murdoch, you have to click through. I saw their adverts. They got traffic.

Do you own the Telegraph or the Guardian, Mr Murdoch?

Oh dear.

There are many reasons the Telegraph and Guardian stories may have ranked higher in Google’s search results, but the key one is how many people linked to those stories. Google treats a link as a recommendation. A vote for relevance.

People don’t link to stories behind a paywall, so they’re inevitably ranked lower.

If you ask Google not to index your stories, they won’t be discovered at all.

As Google’s spokesman told the Telegraph, “Google News and web search are a tremendous source of promotion for news organisations, sending them about 100,000 clicks every minute.”

“Publishers put their content on the web because they want it to be found, so very few choose not to include their material in Google News and web search. But if they tell us not to include it, we don’t.”

I’m worried on behalf of your shareholders, Mr Murdoch.

If you don’t know how the internet works as a news medium — and if you don’t even know how your own news sites work, as the Guardian story pointed out when you stuffed up the description of the WSJ.com paywall — they’re screwed.

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27 comments

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27 thoughts on “Dear Rupert, this is how the internet works. Google it.

  1. Glenn

    My guess is Mr Murdoch is surrounded by “yes” men who agree with everything he says to keep their jobs.

    Someone should tell him, he will not be able to charge for news and worse still quality journalism is not as in demend as it used to be.

    I just don’t think the man in the street cares that much nay more, things have changed, he will get the news on the radio on his way home from his 3rd job he needs to pay the mortgage.

    The days of good ol”e Dad sitting in an armchair sifting through a broadsheet are long gone just as surely as the pipe he had in his mouth has now disappeared.

    Rethink Mr Murdoch, rethink, think laterally, a web site is your own personal TV station, promote it and charge for ads while supplying for free what it takes to get your audience.

  2. Gail

    This is real “shoot yourself in the foot” territory. What was he thinking?

  3. Sean Carmody

    Stil, did you see Jason Calacanis’s theory that News Corp will squeeze more money out of Bing to have exclusive search access to News Corp content?

  4. Matt C

    I think Crikey needs to try harder to avoid hypocrisy over the whole “paywall” issue.

  5. Glenn

    Matt, I thought of that but Crikey is not only cheap but gives you access to people and information that you really cant get in one place elsewhere, the information is presented cleanly and without padding.

    I’ll pay for what Crikey delivers but I wont pay for the general news.

    Although Crikey charge, there’s no way this model could support the needs of News Ltd.

  6. Stilgherrian

    I’m currently discussing some of these issues on Twitter. While I’m aware of the “paywalls break the internet” theory, I reckon that confuses the transport layer (moving bytes of data between computers) with the content layer, and whether people are paying for that content or not.

    People are certainly willing to pay for content that’s of value to them, whether that’s detailed financial analysis or up-to-date trading data or things like Stratfor‘s analysis of international geopolitics and risk. Rupert’s experience with WSJ.com is in that arena.

    One could argue that Crikey sits in that category too. Maybe. Hey, I just send stories occasionally…

    And then there’s general news, where there’s many more competitors and where there are already outlets distributing this stuff for free. Will people be willing to pay for Rupert’s version of generic stories? He’d better be offering something really really special!

    @Sean Carmody: I’d missed Jason Calacanis’ piece. He’s got a point. Microsoft Bing could well pay Murdoch for exclusive indexing of News Corporation stories.

    But that comes back to the question of whether a Bing/News could offer something that’s sufficiently different from Google/Everybody to convince people to move.

    Wearing my small business IT hat, when I ask people what they want their web browser’s home page set to, the vast majority say “Google”. That’s what Microsoft and News Corp have to overcome.

  7. antonio

    Interesting conflation: Internet = Google? I guess it saves time.

  8. Stilgherrian

    No, Antonio, Internet != Google. But, the reality is that around 90% of people currently use Google to search for information, and when Mr Murdoch wants to talk about blocking aggregators and search engines he talks about blocking Google. He chose Google as the target of his angst, so that’s what we’re talking about.

  9. John Inglis

    http://www.org.nz is a pretty good homepage for IT people to leave on clients’ machines.

    It’s a pity (for Rupert) that Lachlan hasn’t really got the right stuff. Rupert needs to go home and look after the roses or something. Putting Lachy in charge would do to News what Rupert has done to quality journalism.

  10. Bullmore's Ghost

    Memo to Murdoch: I don’t read your newspapers now, so what you do with your “paywall” is on my IDGARA list.