How Google Leeches from the Long Tail in the Centripetal Web

 
 
By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2008-10-24
 
 
 

How Google Leeches from the Long Tail in the Centripetal Web


For four years, I'd been a happy user of Bloglines, an RSS feed service owned by Ask.com since 2005. Then a funny thing happened a month or so ago.

Feeds to my Wall Street Journal subscription, the New York Times, Reuters and several other sites I troll daily to support my coverage became inaccessible.

My complaint e-mail to Bloglines' support team went unanswered. Did someone at Ask.com lay off the Bloglines team and forget to tell us? I spent a few days manually going to the absent sites, hoping the power would come back on for my missing feeds. No such luck.

So, around the time September slid into October, I turned to Google Reader, and even though Bloglines allegedly has remedied its balky ways, I haven't looked back.

In fact, I found myself wondering why I hadn't switched to Google Reader sooner. I use Google for general search and blog search, and I use Google's Gmail. I spend a portion of my work day reading Google's blogs for news bits. Wouldn't it make sense to go whole hog with Google for the Web services I need? I'll come back to that idea.

Earlier this week, I read a post on Nicholas Carr's Rough Type blog that perfectly summed up my position. It's called "The Centripetal Web," and it's a must-read.

Carr noted that while the majority of us a few years ago stumbled upon new sites via Yahoo or AltaVista, our laziness increased. We became Web congregators instead of Web surfers, hewing to a few sites whose popularity was enhanced by search algorithms.

Google Takes Control


 

Sites such as Wikipedia and Google increasingly became the de facto destinations for information and we became casualties of the centripetal Web, as Carr wrote:

Yes, we still journey out to the far reaches of the still-expanding info-universe, but for most of us, most of the time, the World Wide Web has become a small and comfortable place. Indeed, statistics indicate that Web traffic is becoming more concentrated at the largest sites, even as the overall number of sites continues to increase, and one recent study found that as people's use of the Web increases, they become 'more likely to concentrate most of their online activities on a small set of core, anchoring Web sites.'

Google has had the search algorithms going for a decade now, but the company has for the last five years been rapidly expanding its Internet domain through Web services.

Text search retrieval wasn't enough, so Google added universal search to include content we'd normally look for elsewhere, such as blogs, pictures and YouTube video. Search wasn't enough, so Google bought a blog syndication site and created an Apps suite, complete with Web-based mail and a wiki.  

Which leads me back to my situation. Why do I need to go to new sites if Google is going to make it easier for me to find the information I need, or execute tasks and conduct communications from one place? Google has dozens of data centers all over the world, and thus boasts the biggest scalability potential in the history of the Internet.

Outages happen, even for Google. But, unlike Bloglines, Google's hiccups haven't affected me (commence finger crossing now).

The existence of Google Reader means I no longer have to suffer the misfortunes of poor service from long-tail sites such as Bloglines. Bloglines is as dead to me.

Does that mean the long tail (shudder) is dead? It might as well be. Carr said the long tail remains an "elegant and instructive theory, but it already feels dated, a description of the Web as we once imagined it to be rather than as it is."

Farewell, long tail. We hardly knew ye.

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