Google Zagat Buy Provides More Antitrust Fodder
Amazing. Google acquired Zagat, a niche content company nearly as old as myself whose little red pocket-sized booklets of restaurant reviews I can remember devouring 15 years ago.
What's so amazing about this? It's a consolidation of workflow tools. Google, which makes easily a dozen or so search and collaboration tools I use to do my job, picked up a company whose content I read to fortify my knowledge of working in eateries.
On a less personal note, I can't help but think Google might be playing with fire... once again.
Just as it tempted the fates and brought a major lawsuit on itself for failing to secure a deal with Sun to use Java software in Android, the company is buying a company whose content will be no longer be independent and supported by Google ads to dependent on Google and supported by Google ads.
John Battelle planted the seed earlier today in one of his brief what-does-this-all-mean blog posts:
Google is walking a thin line here - media partners are critical to its success, but if its seen as favoring its "owned and operated" content over those who operate in the open or independent Web, well, lines may be redrawn in the media business.... And if I were an independent publisher who focused on the travel and entertainment category, I'd be more than a bit concerned about how my content might rank in Google compared to Zagat. Just ask Yelp.What if Google favors its own content in search results, which would in turn boost its AdWords business? Rivals such as Yelp, TripAdvisor and others who are already upset Google Places has supplanted them on Google.com would cry foul.
Certainly the Federal Trade Commission, which opened an antitrust inquiry into Google partly because of complaints of favoritism to Google properties by the aforementioned local search providers, will watch what Google does with Zagat like a hawk.
It will be interesting to see if the company favors ratings and reviews culled by the content provider over other local search providers, such as Yelp, Foodspotting and others.
One popular theory for Google watchers such as myself holds that Google wouldn't be so stupid as to invite scrutiny and litigation by doing such a thing, especially as it burns under the microscope of federal regulators even more powerful than the search engine.
Search Engine Land's Greg Sterling agreed:
Some will raise the concern/issue certainly. Google won't rerank Zagat. The reviews content will show up in Places/Local and Mobile apps. I don't see this acquisition being a big deal from an FTC-antitrust standpoint. But critics will use it in the way you suggest.
I noted earlier that Google wouldn't tempt the fates here, but it did so versus Sun over Java. Now that Oracle owns the rights to Java, Google appears bound to pay the price.
Hopefully it will act a little smarter with Zagat.