It's getting increasingly harder for Google to claim it is friend to the long tail of Website publishers indexed on its search engine.
Nicholas Carr, the pundit who has argued that Google is making us stupid, has another go at Google in his blog.
Carr argued that Google's new Recipe View search refinement favors high-profile and corporate cooking Websites such as Epicurious.com, Foodnetwork.com and AllRecipes.com over the smaller, amateur food bloggers and cooks.
Google launched Recipe View last month in the left-hand rail on Google.com to help searchers concoct meals. As I wrote Feb. 26 for eWEEK.com:
"Some cooks are looking to work with specific ingredients or time constraints for the meals they choose to prepare. Google said some 10 million of its daily searches are recipe related so it makes sense to make life easier for those searchers."
"Clicking the "Recipes" button helps users choose the right recipe from search results by not only offering ratings and pictures, but providing filters for ingredients, cooking time and calorie count for health-conscious chefs."
All seemed well and good at the time. I tested Recipe View and it seemed to work well... perhaps a little too well for the heavy-hitting Websites I mentioned but not well enough for Ma and Pa chefs. Carr, wielding food blogger Amanda Hesser as his weapon, noted:
"On the surface, all these changes seemed to be good news for cooks. What's not to like about a specialized recipe search engine? Beneath the surface, though, some funny things were going on, and not all of them were salubrious. In fact, the changes illustrate how, as search engines refine their algorithms, their results become more biased. In particular, the changes reveal how a powerful search engine like Google has come to reward professional sites that are able to spend a lot on search engine optimization, or SEO, and penalize amateurs who are simply looking to share their thoughts with the world."
In other words, Google is once again getting accused of penalizing the long tail. It's not enough to just be a good recipe that has been linked to umpteen times, but Google is also making publishers add code to specify that they are offering recipes.
See Google's Webmaster Central instructions here for all the coding and tagging tweaks publishers are required to undertake.
Those who don't have the coding wherewithal need to consult a search engine optimizer for help. Those who don't have thousands of dollars for such as engagement are, well, out of luck, as they diplomatically say. Carr noted:
"Amateurs and small-timers... have little chance to compete with the big corporate sites, which can afford to spend big bucks on SEO. Once antagonists, Google and the SEO industry have developed a tightly symbiotic relationship that seems to be mutually beneficial. The folks who lose out are the little guys."
Somewhere, at this moment, SEOs are exchanging high-fives for getting on Google's good side.
What's going on here? I asked Google, which provided a detailed, naturally politic response:
"Google's success is built on an ecosystem of high-quality publishers, large and small. The web has done amazing things to help small businesses get traffic online, and in search our goal is to help people find the most relevant information possible, regardless of what site it's on. Rich snippets is a part of that because the technology enriches the search results page and enables new search tools, such as those found in Recipe View. We want as many websites as possible to participate, so we've built a relatively simple system that has steadily gained momentum over the past couple years, with websites adding simple markup for events, people, local business information, products and more."
"It's our goal to make adding rich snippets as easy as possible. To encourage everyone to participate, we support three different formats for structured HTML content, we publish detailed help guides, and we've built a free testing tool. No prior expertise is required other than a basic knowledge of HTML."
What if grandmothers with apple pie recipes don't know HTML? Too bad. To play on a quote from outgoing Google CEO Eric Schmidt, "If you don't know HTML perhaps you shouldn't be operating a Website in the first place."
Recipe indexing is just one search vertical. Imagine if Google does this for other expertise-based content and the good recipes are sublimated in favor of weaker, albeit more popular ones based on high-powered SEO and kowtowing to Google's algorithm.
It's a paradox created by the math-based search approach espoused by Google juxtaposed with the increasingly social, expertise-based approach offered by recommendation engines.
One wonders if the doors Google is slamming shut on long-tail publishers isn't opening new doors for amateurs at Facebook, whose sphere of influence is growing online for people... who also happen eat and cook.