Yes, Google is a Media Company
The New York Times' Miguel Helft posed an interesting question in his weekend feature Sunday. His question is actually the headline of the piece, Is Google a Media Company?
The meat of the matter swirls around Google's Knol service, a kind of encyclopedia where experts can write articles on topics and monetize their pages with ads served by Google.
The emergence of this service three weeks ago is resurfacing the question of whether or not Google is generating a conflict of interest by first, directing people toward traffic by virtue of its search engine, and second, by hosting myriad types of content.
Google isn't writing the Knol content, but it is hosting it, just as it hosts news links from all over the world in its Google News section, and just as it hosts oodles of video media from millions of users on its YouTube site.
You get the idea; in its business-minded goal for more online advertising, Google is hosting content for other people.
In the Times article, Wenda Harris Millard, the co-chief executive of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, and Jason Calacanis, the CEO of search engine Mahalo, are among the market experts who question Google's ability to objectively serve as a search engine while hosting content from others.
What if, they wonder, Google decides to give the sites it hosts and serves keyword ads for—gives its content partners—preferential ranking treatment?
I'm not going to argue that point. As the article points out, there is no evidence Google is giving preferential ranking to Knol articles, but you can bet people will be watching for any shred of impropriety along those lines.
Rather, I want to say that Google is a media company. To be precise, Google is a new media company. At the 10,000-foot level, Google helps people find information, including media, hosts some of the very content it helps people find, and enables people to use media services such as YouTube.
Google is also a great source of content at the micro level. Google's staff often creates news leads when they blog. We, journalists, grab that information and create aggregate content from it. In effect, Google is the genesis of a lot of content about, well, Google.
That counts as media, or at least media for the media, in my book.
What makes all of this new? Why, the distribution of this content is through the Internet of course. We are reading content rendered from digital bits and bytes, not from ink and paper.
Google is a massive content platform that is supported by a significant portal in its search engine and an efficient ad system with which to harvest ad dollars.
That qualifies Google as a new media company in my book. Whether or not it is creating conflicts of interest is a debate for a day when we have evidence of the company "selling" the content it hosts over content it is not necessarily affiliated with.
What do you think? Is Google setting itself up for a colossal fall by hosting content, or is it just the new way of the world online?