Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Google is not a search engine, but an ad engine (twitter.com/dhh)
545 points by jlelse on Dec 15, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 285 comments

Yes Google spams search results with ads. But instead of using a different search engine such as duckduckgo.com, we're calling for the government to break up Google?

That's plain ridiculous. I'm not opposed to breaking up oligopolies, but calling for the government to fix this particular issue is like asking to be put under legal guardianship.

When the monopoly is strong as Google is, with market shares around 90%, and they use 20-30% of their revenue for 'user acquisition' (they pay to be default in any platforms: from Apple, to Samsung, to Telcos, etc.) Basically they suck all the oxygen out of the room so that no-one can fight them. One would have to spend almost as much as Google, if not more, on user-acquisition. Unlikely to happen. Regulation is the only way to even the field a bit.

DDG, Startpage and such, on the current instantiation, they are proxies to someone else search-backend. Does it serve for you (or anyone) to avoid using Google (directly)? Yes, of course, and that's actually great. Do they fix the underlying problem? No. Not unless a) they are building an independent/autonomous backend, and b) they get so much money that they can challenge Google on the user acquisition.

Again, I'm not against regulation or breaking up oligopolies. There are good reasons to criticise various aspects of Google's dominant position. But I'm against doing it for the breathtakingly terrible reason that they are posting too many ads.

Breaking up Google wouldn't fix that, and we cannot take all decisions away from users based on the argument that users are somehow manipulated. This is a blanket excuse for taking away any and all freedoms and responsibilities from everybody.

If we regulate Google, it has to be to guarantee a level playing field and to prevent the abuse of a dominant market position. We shouldn't regulate to force certain usability preferences upon users.

I think that if Google was prevented (somehow) to pay for user acquisition that would actually be enough to allow competition in.

They use billions each year to acquire users, even though they are a dominant market share. Why would they do it? They have the users already, and a great product by the way. Reality, however, is that are no really acquiring the users... they are just increasing the price so that no-one else can acquire them and start a "real" competitor.

>I think that if Google was prevented (somehow) to pay for user acquisition that would actually be enough to allow competition in.

Wouldn't that (ironically) kill the largest revenue source for Mozilla ?

Yes, that's why all dis-allowing it is a terrible idea

Breaking up Google could easily fix the large amount of ads.

The market would become competitive again, so if Google 1 started showing less ads than Google 2, people would switch. Right now I'm not switching to Duck for reasons that originate from the fact that Google is a monopoly.

>Right now I'm not switching to Duck for reasons that originate from the fact that Google is a monopoly.

And what are those reasons?

1. Switching costs:

- I'm used to Google's UI (yes, Duck's is similar but I'm sensitive even to subtle changes).

- I would have to change my default search provider on all browsers I use.

- I would have to take some time to verify that Duck is as good as Google.

2. Search quality and features.

- After a quick comparison, Google seems slightly better at search. Another factor is that even if both seemed similar, switching to Duck would give me anxiety that I'm using the worse product because the prior probability that Google is better is high.

- Google has various little features that Duck doesn't, for example search for "pomegranate nutrition" or "trump age".

Google can profitably invest much more into their product than Duck, because they have much more users.

> I'm used to Google's UI (yes, Duck's is similar but I'm sensitive even to subtle changes).

Google's UI also changes from time to time. When that happens next time, use that opportunity to switch since you have to adjust to change anyway.

> I would have to take some time to verify that Duck is as good as Google.

If you start using Duck, and you come across a search where it doesn't give you what you're looking for, just append "!g" to the query to get redirected back to Google. That made switching rather pleasant for me, knowing that the "escape hatch" is only a few keypresses away.

> After a quick comparison, Google seems slightly better at search.

It seems to depend on the person. For technical searches, Duck is usually much better because they embed numerous sources as Instant Answers (Stack Overflow, MDN, GitHub, etc.)

> Google has various little features that Duck doesn't

As has Duck, see above.

DDG has a theme that makes it look like google. there's also stylus (NOT STYLISH, they track, & sell users search history.) See https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2018/07/styli...

adblock can fix that anyway. Also see umatrix. it can block media/scripts/cookies/frames etc; from any source, on a per-page or domain basis.

When was the last time you saw an advertisement for Google search.

I'm serious, they advertise for other people, but nobody advertises for you to use Google.

Who exactly is Google paying for preferential treatment regarding search? Microsoft's default browser uses Bing, Apple's uses Yahoo. Android? Android is made by Google, and most phone manufacturers still swap out the default browser for something using Yahoo.

Google spends virtually no money on user acquisition. Everybody uses them because they have a track record of being trust worthy with email and providing the best search results and tools like maps and even free tools for finding the best flights all for free.

Also, an anti-trust lawsuit would require that they charge their users. Having 90% of a market that doesn't charge its users doesn't make them an oligopoly, it makes them a non-profit.

> DDG, Startpage and such, on the current instantiation, they are proxies to someone else search-backend.

Does this remain true for DuckDuckGo? I was under the impression that they used to be that way, but that they had switched over to using their own search backend some time ago.

You can check for yourself, Bing seems to the the user agent... https://duckduckgo.com/?q=%22my+user+agent%22&t=h_&ia=web

wow, what a shame! i didn't know that. in their defense I at least try to consider that those may be old database entries, and newer ones would not be like that anymore, but ddg filtering capabilities are weak, making it hard to prove that point.

ddg doesn't have date filtering search syntax like google has, for example "before:2018-12-31", they offer only a few date filtering options shown on a combo.

No, I would not call it a shame, and I think that no-one should either. In fact, what DDG does is admirable IMHO.

First, they do not hide that they aggregate. It's fanboys that tend to overextend DDG's capabilities, not them (at least for best of my knowledge).

And second, given the resources they have, they are doing more than enough, and they do provide a great service. It might not solve the underlying problem of privacy, but at least it helps protecting the privacy of those people using it.

To sum up, I do not think it's fair to bash DDG for aggregating.

> One would have to spend almost as much as Google, if not more, on user-acquisition.

Why is that a problem? Wouldn't decreased profitability be the sign of increased competition?

That's not a problem per se, it's just unlikely to happen because of the insane amount of the bill, and the roi is not that good anyway.

For instance, Google pays Apple 9 billion/year to be the default search engine (incredible but True). On the account of 20-30% to user acquisition that means that Apple users can be monetized by Google at around 30B/year (9B/0.30). Google is extremely good at monetizing people, right, a competitor might not be as efficient, let's say half. That gives you 15B addressable revenue.

Now the question. Would you pay Apple 10B to gain, at best, 15B? No one that crazy has this kind of money :-) On top of that, who prevents Google to pay 16B next year?

> Would you pay Apple 10B to gain, at best, 15B?

30% APY Seems like a good deal to me!

EDIT: more seriously, you don't start with iPhone. You start outbidding Google on the margins where your budget constraint less a factor.

> On top of that, who prevents Google to pay 16B next year?

Profit margins. Google's budget is not unlimited, after all.

On the margins are also where the less attractive customers are from an advertising perspective. How much are customers worth who are buying a Blu R1 HD phone for $70?

Well then it's even cheaper to get started =)

Google is paying to Apple around 12 billion for being default search, this is only to Apple, but they pay to Firefox and others too. So if you want to get those users you need to pay more, you also need top talent and the most important thing that you need is data. Data is the king and Google controls the kingdom. So to start competing with Google for real market share you need XX billions for start and you still will have small chance to win because you don't have Chrome, Youtube, Maps, Gmail, Google Analytics, Android and many other data sources. This endeavour is a huge risk with small percentage of succeeding. This is probably the reason there is no real competition. Market will not solve this on its own.

This! Can we settle on a terminology of what a search engine is? To my knowledge there is only one real alternative to Google and that's Bing.

Many of those people who want to break up Google are not looking at it from the user perspective, but as a company running some website.

As a site owner you have the problem that people searching for you are using Google and your site will only come up below adds for your competitor. Even when searching for your company name. Thus unless you pay a "Google Tax" (paying for ads) many people won't find you. In some cases even Google themselves will add features to compete with your service (flight booking is a relatively recent example)

If splitting up will solve that is questionable to me, though. The search has to be financed and unless we make it some base service paid by tax or similar they need a revenue service and ads is the only which seems to be working.

From a "civil rights" perspective to me it is also clear that Google has too much influence and power. But still fail to see a good way to regulate that.

I completely agree that there are many problematic aspects of Google's dominant market position.

So let's not call for a breakup to fix something a breakup can't fix and for reasons that are so obiously bad that they can be used to discredit more serious criticism of Google's dominance.

> something a breakup can't fix

Really? Breaking up the search unit and the ads unit into separate companies would solve that problem, no?

Why would it? An independent search company offering advertising slots to independent ad networks would still benefit from posting as many ads as users will tolerate.

Yes, but it would make it easier for competing ad services to enter their search, and competing search engines to serve their ads (the latter is already possible).

You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t root for ad agencies....

The question is whether there is a sustainable business for doing search, but not ads.

An option might be that the search provider can license the search results to different companies putting their individual ads on topmofnthe results. Then different sites could compete for the the best dispaly and usability.

Similar to the way elictricity grids are split from providers or railway tracks are split from train operators in many European countries.

Issue of course is that with electrical grids and rail networks are a "solved" issue with little innovation. In the search market there is still lots of room for improvement and constant need to adapt to spamers.

They pay for search with ads and is necessary for them to operate. They still need to make money.

I think the common suggestion is that they're not allowed to continue to own the content providers like maps or YouTube or shopping.

Other suggestions include stopping them competing with other aggregators like hotel ratings (TripAdvisor, etc.), shopping, flight finders, review services (yelp, etc.).

The 2nd one is a bit trickier because in some ways, it's valuable to users, but extremely easy for Google to essentially become the landlord of the internet and easily engage in extreme rent seeking behaviour.

I suspect that advertising and selling marketing data are the only ways to make search profitable.

No. How would it? How would the search unit moonitize itself? So far add is the only way and it’s a perfect fit. Something is wrong with this whole thing. I think it’s that the media companies are realizing they are losing power and influence and are trying to organize their power again. We’d be better off splitting infrastructure companies from media companies and preventing any attempts at vertical integration there. And blocking acquisitions by google.

> If splitting up will solve that is questionable to me, though

It obviously won't; splitting search from ads as businesses wouldn't change that people aren't willing to pay for search and the way that free search, like most other free online services, is funded is ads. It just means that the vendor you pay for ads won't be the search engine provider directly but the ad network the search engine provider relies on, just as is the case for many other online services.

Then don’t depend on Google. Everyone is depending on Google. Create an “unfair advantage”.

For instance, Josh Doody, the author of “Fearless Negotiation”, has been interviewed on six or seven podcasts that I follow.

How many companies have gotten popular by advertising on podcasts? If your entire business model is based on search results, you are bound to be disappointed. You are just one algorithm change from being made irrelevant.

You just described a Protection Racket. I think your description is apt.


"A protection racket is a scheme whereby a group provides protection to businesses or other groups through violence "

Where is the violence in Google's behavior ? They offer a private service, and their good spaces are of high values that companies are ready to pay for to maintain their own market dominance.

If we should break up Google, then we should also breakup Basecamp (company behind the original author's tweet)

Looking through the Wikipedia link I determined that Google is probably more likely running an extortion racket


> many people won't find you

Before: few people find you

After: more people find you

Google is providing a "low" quality service but they do help. The before and after makes it clear. But it's easy to forget how things were and just complain.

Counterpoint: Google has become the "default" way many people browse the web. Because of Google many web users don't memorize or bookmark TLDs for websites, they just use Google to find it. As a result, it could be argued that Google is taking users away from your site by proxy of this.

Google helps with discovery of your site on their engine, so now it's your God-given right to get traffic from them because that's how people use the Internet now?

It has become the default and so popular because they were good. I hope users will change their behavior if they realize there are better alternative than Google

Before: more people find your competition when searching for you

After: less people find your competition when searching for you

The issue is that coupling search and ads violates the expectation of "First result = Best result". Especially when A direct 100% fit can be replaced by a competitor (or even a parasite (in legal terms)) targeting your users.

No it's pretty clear what are ads or not on Google. "Best" definition changes for all Search engine and it's very very subjective, changing from person to person and situation to situation

If a company is ready to pay to be displayed first, then so be it

> No it's pretty clear what are ads or not on Google.

It is for you and I, but not for the average user. My grandpa clicks on sponsorized links because they are at the top, no matter the presence of the word "ads" or "sponsored".

It would be a lot clearer not to have ads at the top but elsewhere, so that the “best” result is always at the top.

But then you would complain your grandpa is clicking on the links because they are yellow and flashy "We need a law against yellow <a> tags !"

No. We’re used to click on the top links because that has been the way to present search results since the origin of search engines. The presentation of ad links elsewhere would not trigger the same amount of misclicks, whatever their presentation would be.

The same way that Standard Oil and "Ma" Bell were?

Now, one issue here is that Google the search engine cannot be "just split". The least good, but easy way, is probably to nationalize it (since it's akin to basic infrastructure at this point.) A better, but harder way, is to figure out how it can be decentralized...

What do you think will happen when politicians control a search engine? Would you also want to nationalize the press?

BBC is perhaps the most famous state owned media corporation. What happens because the British politicians control the BBC?

I don’t know. But I do know that NPR and PBS have at times been targets of conservatives because of the little funding they get from the government.

I’m sure there would be just as much consternation from Democrats if the situation was reversed.

It also encourages giving “both sides” equal weight whether they deserve it or not.

Nationalize it? In which country? US? How do you think that will be accepted by basicly any other country out there?

They will start to seriously consider their own alternatives, which they should have done a long time ago ? (Especially after Snowden revelations, which showed that the US government basically could do whatever it wanted with Google.)

> A better, but harder way, is to figure out how it can be decentralized...

The whole point of Google is to be a centralized entry to the decentralized Web.

>> unless we make it some base service paid by tax or similar they need a revenue service and ads is the only which seems to be working.

Are you seriously saying a company worth north of $300 BILLION needs ads on their search engine to generate revenue?

Are you forgetting that it's worth $300 billion because it's an ad company, and they serve ads on the worlds most used search engine?

The search index should really be nationalised and treated like a public utility that can't favour one engine over another. At this point only nation states can really compete on building a search index - it requires titanic amounts of computing and electrical power.

Whereas duck duck go proves that a search engine can operate successfully as a startup.

"The search index"? Leaving aside any other problems that would cause, that sounds like a recipe for locking in specific formats and technologies forever, and preventing any further innovation.

A search index is not simply a function from search string to results. Treating it as such would oversimplify the potential value or future innovation of a search engine. A search index includes the data and metadata of all the pages indexed, plus derived data in various forms ranging from data structures to trained neural networks, plus sufficiently fast access to the data to make it possible to generate new such data structures or train new networks. And all that while continuing to index new pages as fast as possible.

A search index used internally by one company can change formats and technologies as long as the products using it have updated accordingly, and can provide many different facets of information. A search index used by multiple entities (likely competing entities) can't easily co-evolve with the search engines using it, can't easily change formats or technologies, can't easily discard older ones (and thus needs far more resources if it innovates), and has a much more difficult time providing previously unanticipated information.

Don't get me wrong, I'd love to see a good way to support innovation on the scale of a production search index without requiring billion-dollar infrastructure, but separating the search index from a search engine would substantially increase the complexity and expense of both, and seems quite likely to curtail innovation.

> building a search index - it requires titanic amounts of computing and electrical power.

That's because it's being done in an extremely wasteful way that isn't really necessary. Proper regulation could enforce a better interface between websites and search engines than stupidly and repeatedly crawling bloated web pages and throwing away almost all their contents. Google has used its computing resources to stay ahead in this game and has no motivation to fix this waste of time and energy. All they've done lately is to suggest using sitemaps for dynamic web sites so their crawlers don't get stuck there forever.

Can we first nationalize resources that are actually vital to human survival like housing, education, and life-saving medicine?


Care to offer up any reasoning alongside your one-word reply?

No more than the OP’s one line suggestion.

I didn't bring up the nationalization suggestion, but if nationalization is on the table, why not nationalize resources vital to human survival before relative trivialities like Google's search index?

I don’t know, why are you asking me? Make your case.

lol, I posed the question to the person who suggested it, but you decided to inject yourself into the conversation for some inexplicable reason. You don't appear to be engaging in good faith, so I'll end the discussion with you here. Have a great day.

Yeah, I don't see how breaking up them up would fix this. Let's say there's a dedicated company called "Google Search". Why wouldn't Google Search, the search engine company, spam search results with ads? Breaking up a company is one thing, dictating how a company should operate is another. I think what DHH has in mind is a search company that operates more like an utility, but that's not necessarily what we would get if Google were broken up.

I don't object that much to a search engine spamming results with ads if they really wish to. What I do object to is them using search to gain market knowledge to discover high margin opportunities and build them into the search engine, promoting them ahead of the 3rd parties.

.. but they haven't. Gmail and docs any fed from search, Android isn't related, and their other stuff hasn't really taken off.

Edited for qualification.

GP is talking about the Google onebox features, like maps, local reviews, weather, sports updates, movie tickets, etc. which show up on the SRP before competitors like MapQuest/ESPN/AccuWeather/Fandango

But they have. They were fined $2.7bn for abusing their position to drive people to their own shopping service.


Breaking them up would see them selling this data to themselves.

> Why wouldn't Google Search, the search engine company, spam search results with ads?

Nothing is stopping them. But they wouldn't have the monopoly on ads to cover them if their results are of bad quality.

> But they wouldn't have the monopoly on ads

I'm not seeing how anything would change. Google search and whatever other google branches will continue working together so it'll essentially be the same thing but with a different legal structure to appease everyone.

Almost no one of note thinks Google search result are bad quality in a market sense. That's why almost everyone chooses to use Google search. People who think Google search is bad are upset that other people like Google search results.

No, in certain use cases the search engine can fall behind. It's not going to be the best at everything. And when thinking about certain other issues (privacy, not showing the full URL, etc) it is perfectly valid to not use Google.

Do a google search for "computer". The entire first page is ads save for the one Wikipedia link.

Honestly, I don't think the Google results are currently of bad quality. A search for "computer" is mostly meaningless, and they could reasonably fill it with anything. It is also not as absurdelly far ahead of anybody else as it used to be.

I mostly avoid it, but that's because I mostly avoid any Google service. All of them are bundled and I don't want some AI misstep to lock me out of the few of their services I care about. At this point some forced unbundling would bring a huge trust benefit to Google.

But anyway, it is very clear that the bundling of Google's monopolies on ads and search are a huge barrier to innovation and competition on both of those.

I have a college..

When people call for Google to be broken up they're not talking about splitting the search engine in half, they're talking about splitting the search engine from Gmail, YouTube, Maps, and AdWords.

And what happens when Google decides that it doesn’t much fancy providing a Mapping service for free at huge cost that it has no way of monetizing?

I’m guessing that’s the point at which we pivot back into ‘Oh noes, Google closes every unprofitable service’

Google providing these services is contingent on them being linked together, both for Google and for the user.

> And what happens when Google decides that it doesn’t much fancy providing a Mapping service for free at huge cost that it has no way of monetizing?

They charge phone companies billions of dollars for the use of Maps. That's why Apple made their own version. It's not exactly a cash cow, but they're not providing it for free either.

>They charge phone companies billions of dollars for the use of Maps

Can you elaborate on this? Are you talking about their javascript APIs[1], or for the right to preload the app on their subcribers' phones?

[1] eg. https://developers.google.com/maps/premium/overview

Google paid Apple billions for being the default search engine since the iPhone was released. Google may have charged Apple for usage, but Google was far more interested in gaining analytics from iOS users than the money. That’s what caused Apple to cancel their contract.

Pretty sure Apple didn't pay anything for having Google Maps in the app store. It was Google that wanted to be there. I think Apple did want navigation, POI information and user information to use in for example Siri (and linking to locations in other apps).

Then someone else can enter the market and make a profitable mapping service.

This may not be exactly what you want to hear, but there are probably around five companies globally with the scale to be able to launch a mapping service of the requisite quality - and that's before they've made a cent from it. If your goal is not adding to perceived monopoly power, I don't think you'll like any of the five options.

It has taken Apple billions of dollars and over five years to get anywhere close, Nokia built an actually pretty reasonable Mapping solution and had to more or less give up the ghost due to the expense.

Validating that the routes on the map actually exists and continue to exist more or less requires access to mobility data from every street, walkway, nook and cranny on the planet.

Any mapping solution able to achieve the requisite scale will run into exactly the same issues with data centralization. Who exactly do you see entering the market?

Are you suggesting that if Google disappeared tomorrow, the world would carry on without a mapping service? I highly doubt it and I also feel we won't go far by simply theorizing about it.

Google doesn't just have a perceived monopoly. Or perhaps monopoly isn't the right word, but I also can't think of a better one. It is about its pervasiveness and presence on too many markets at once, coupled with availability of too much data.

None of those five companies you vaguely hint at might themselves be a better basket on their own but they are at least five additional baskets. Removing a service from the most pervasive company is a win in itself, IMO.

> It is about its pervasiveness and presence on too many markets at once, coupled with availability of too much data.

It's precisely the pervasiveness and availability of the data that drives the quality of the mapping service. I'm curious as to how you think you can have one without the other.

Do you have to have an ad service, a search engine, Youtube, an email service, a smartphone OS and a variety of other things to produce good maps, though?

Ad service / YouTube is 70% revenue for the search engine

Smartphone OS and location reporting feeds location data in which improves and validates the maps

Fact that other services are tied to the maps drives usage of the Maps themselves, increasing their quality further

Other companies, like Nokia, have tried to create a business from Maps without the install base

Apple has the install base and after five years billions of dollars is approaching a usable product

Wouldn't say Nokia's approach was a complete failure, but to pretend the quality is anywhere similar is delusional


Certainly you aren't going to be able to create a decent Maps service without centralizing and processing an enormous amount of data

I do feel like you avoided my actual questions, perhaps accidentally.

Do you think it would be impossible to have well-made maps without Google? Do you think Google's wide and heterogeneous basket of unrelated products and services is a necessary requirement to produce well-made maps, such that no company without it couldn't hope of achieving it?

For instance, would the quality of Google Maps be appreciably decreased if Gmail was moved to another company? My position is that no, it would not, so that would already be a win. I think a lot of services could be shaved off in this way without loss of map quality.

On the other hand, if Google's map product is superior to everything else by such a large margin, then certainly it is a viable product in itself because people still need a high-quality map. People would still install this app on their phones, providing opportunity for map validation. Importantly, people could then be asked whether they want to share this data to improve the service, which many would do, I'm sure.

> Certainly you aren't going to be able to create a decent Maps service without centralizing and processing an enormous amount of data

This also seems suspicious if we take it to mean user data, acquired incidentally, from users using other, unrelated services. We already know Google uses streetcars for mapping and in this case, it is a deliberate mapping effort and therefore the process by which it is converted to maps is easy to understand.

But how are we imagining incidentally collected user data (from usage of other services) to improve map quality? Yes, smartphone OS location validates it, in the sense that you may notice something is wrong if people start walking through buildings on your map.

It's hard for me to imagine that there is a hard requirement for the map company to be the smartphone OS company before this can happen. I mean, even if the map was produced by some other company, it would still get used by smartphone owners, providing the same opportunity. If this map was good, it would then get used by other services as well, achieving the same feedback loop you mention.

By the way, I use OpenStreetMaps on my phone and its error rate is about as high as Google Maps on the places I've tried it on. I can't help but how much better it would be if it actually had a lot of money behind it.

Renaissance of the TomToms? Hell yeah, let's go back a decade in time...

Are you also implying it's somehow worse? Because it's not an absolute rule that things tend to the better with time, especially not on the order of a decade.

Then other services begin to become competitive again because they’re not up against a surveillance juggernaut market dumping with subsidized products to hoover up more data. That’s exactly the purpose of anti-monopoly regulation.

Honestly, the turn away from making money from the service itself vs using it as a front for some other, more abstract ploy is where tech has gone wrong in the past couple decades.

Neither Gmail nor Maps is anything close to a “monopoly” in the US. You can get email from plenty of places and Apple has about a 40% market share in the US - with its own maps.

Can you use Apple maps without owning Apple hardware? If not, then it doesn't count. If yes, then that's good news I wasn't aware of.

I don't know whether this is good news¹, but DuckDuckGo uses Apple maps for location searches, so you can use Apple maps through Duck Duck Go.

1: because it replaced OSM…

No, but if we go as far as “Google has a monopoly on its own platform”, that’s an ugly rabbit hole. But you can use third party Map apps on Android from Nokia and other providers.

No one forces you to stay on Android.

What benefit would that provide? They’d all still be the dominant player in their market.

And how would splitting off AdWords be good for the consumer? Do you like paying for your search engine, Gmail, maps, and more?

Yes, I personally like that if it means a single corporation isn't spying on me and trying to acquire all of my personal data in a single silo. Paying for it would also allow companies in this space to innovate more easily.

> Do you like paying for your search engine, Gmail, maps, and more?

These services could still all be free because they could sell their ad space to AdWords. What it would mean though is that other email / maps / video services would be able to compete, as would other ad networks.

There is a lack of competition in email providers?

You would also be better off as a business to build your brand outside of YouTube even if you did use it for hosting.

Ads, by definition, end up costing more overall. Some might say that ads at least provide a worthwhile service, but IMHO both online and offline apps are just enabling waste at this point.

> Do you like paying for your search engine, Gmail, maps, and more?

There would be no need for that in principle, AdWords could buy personal information from google.

If users don't punish search engines that inundate them with ads even though good alternatives are readily available, then no breakup of any kind will make a difference.

(Again, I'm not talking about other issues with Google's market dominance such as those related to AdWords from the perspective of ad buyers or Android licensing conditions)

Maps is a search engine.

Policies must work in the real world, not in the world of our dreams and fantasies. And in this world Google has an actual monopoly that won’t be broken without government intervention.

I have chosen my words very carefully exactly because I did not want to say that government action against Google is not merited for any reason.

But calling for government action just because people can't be bothered to use a different search engine that is just a click away discredits all valid criticism of Google's dominant market position.

> And in this world Google has an actual monopoly that won’t be broken without government intervention.

On what? I genuinely don't see what people think google has a "monopoly" on. It's definitely the biggest player in search and ads, but it's nowhere near the only company. I wouldn't even call them "overly dominant"

Google, not "overtly dominant" in its Search, Maps and YouTube services?!? (Also Android, going by market share rather than worth.)

YouTube might be the closest for user generated streaming and video hosting, but Twitch and Vimeo still exist and are happily chugging along. Maps and Search, not really. I'm perfectly happy to use DDG for both, and I'm not made to suffer for it.

As a litmus test I might say that "overly dominant" means that a slightly-above-average member of the audience couldn't name another option, and I don't really think any of these would hold up.

> Also Android, going by market share rather than worth.

Android vs iOS are actually surprisingly close, with iOS winning in the US <https://deviceatlas.com/blog/android-v-ios-market-share#us> (admittedly this is measured through UA sniffing and fingerprinting on websites, but I think the point stands)

> Maps and Search, not really.

If you go with that, OpenStreetMap/iOS Maps and Bing "still exist and are happily chugging along" too ?

In the US maybe, but worldwide Android has 87% market share !

As a reminder, "monopoly" is the ability of being able to dictate your terms to the market - when a company (or cartel) has such a power, the market isn't free anymore.

They are just as dominant as they provide good service. there are alternatives, nobody is forcing people to use Google

Sure but there is a huge space for government intervention -- it could encourage the competition and level the playing field instead. Doctorow (for example) argues a better approach is to require things like open standards and interoperability.

Monopoly on what? Search, or ads?

And people downvote you, which is silly. What, exactly, does google have a monopoly on? People use their products because they are good, not because they have to. Anybody could cone along with better mail, maps, or search and people would have little trouble switching (okay mail might be tricky).

> Yes Google spams search results with ads. But instead of using a different search engine such as duckduckgo.com, we're calling for the government to break up Google?

your alternative suggestion is flawed. ddg shows ads too. actually it shows the same number of ads and roughly in the same manner as google did when it was the same size as ddg today.

the real problem is ad-driven business model which makes all search engines (google, ddg, startpage) advertising companies first. you are what you sell.

>But instead of using a different search engine such as duckduckgo.com, we're calling for the government to break up Google?

Without saying whether or not I think they should be "broken up", there's much more to consider than their search engine.

I agree completely. That's why I said "to fix this particular issue". There are other situations (including some involving Google) where freedom of choice is indeed severely limited by an oligopolistic market structure.

AMP is exhibit A of why Google must be broken up. They have multiple monopolies (search, ads) which they use to reinforce each other. No one wants to make yet another version of their website using a completely different set of ads and analytics, but if that's what it takes to get better SEO, media companies will do it. It's an attack on the open web.

Maybe because those who are asking for it to be broken up are not asking for it to be broken up to solve the problem that it is peppered with ads?

Maybe they have other different concerns that they think will best be resolved by breaking them up?

> Google spams search results with ads

For god’s sake, it’s literally their business. It’s not spamming anymore than NBC showing ads during The Voice is spamming. You get something for no out of pocket cost and in exchange you are going to be shown ads.

Duckduckgo did a lot of progress in last 2-3 years.

When I began using it DDG had bad results but results are much closer to google's results today.

DDG doesn't do its own search though...

Maybe forcefully breaking them up is to much, but let's not pretend that breaking them up is acting against free market principles.

Oligopolies like this exist because there is no free market. Government laws on things like intellectual property, profit taxes and most importantly, the limited liability of corporations are the necessary breading ground for organization into giants.

In a pre-corporate "Adam Smith" style free market Google could not exist. In a sense, these giants are the opposite of a free market as every movement of value within large corporations is governed by hierarchical decision making with an almost military scheme.

From this perspective, it isn't all that strange for governments to look into rules and regulations that can tame the beasts that they have created with their rules and regulations.

The network effect of an organization like Google is not to be underestimated: Google has many complementing services that all funnel you to their search engine. Because of this, other search engines are at a serious disadvantage if they want to compete. Also considering that search is very much a “winner takes all” market, where more users mean better results.

These type of situations are typically bad for consumers, and there is very much a role for the government to steer the status quo away from this and support Google’s competitors. Whether that’s done by breaking up Google, taxing them more heavily, or something else is up for discussion.

But simply telling people “just use DDG!” and considering that a viable solution to the problem is insufficient.

Then we need another company to provide the same service. I disagree with "These type of situations are typically bad for consumers" : this exact situation happened because Google was good for consumers

Government intervention is the correct approach to dealing with monopolies when the market alone hasn't been able to do it, which is the case here.

The only question is how. Maybe Google should be forced to limit the amount of ads they are showing.

I'm a DDG user.

Unfortunately it's only a temporary solution.

For one maintaining your own web crawler and index is expensive, DDG is outsourcing that to Bing. They use other sources too, but if Bing shuts down their API tomorrow, DDG will probably die.

DDG's revenue also comes from ads. They might claim that they want to do right by users, but when serving ads the incentive is to optimize those ads to make more money.

Also DDG's work isn't AFAIK open source. But it probably wouldn't help anyway, it's not like you could install a search engine on your own VPS.

I don't think breaking Google is the answer either.

What the US government should do is to introduce privacy laws that disallows user profiling for the purpose of serving ads. The GDPR in the EU is a step in the right direction. The US government should also demand for those ads to be more clearly marked as being ads via color clues.

You're making good points. I just think that whatever the funding trade-offs of search engines may be, there cannot be a solution that doesn't also rely on users discriminating based on usability.

If users choose Google today, it's either because of inertia or because they find that Google's organic search results are worth sifting through a page of ads.

This is unlike other aspects like privacy where users may not fully understand the consequences of their actions.

Any historical examples of monopolies that have not been abused?

I thought they purchased indexs off of Yandex to get started? Surely they must also maintain their own crawlers and indexes as well now.

> DDG's revenue also comes from ads. They might claim that they want to do right by users, but when serving ads the incentive is to optimize those ads to make more money.

I find this a red herring. Ads have never been a problem, the ecosystem around them is the problem.

> What the US government should do is to introduce privacy laws that disallows user profiling for the purpose of serving ads. The GDPR in the EU is a step in the right direction.

This is overly specific; user profiling is also used in recommendations and to develop aggressive and optimized marketing strategies. One of the problem of "Big Tech surveillance" in not what they know about you, but that they know so much about everyone that they can model your behavior/response with little information. (which for example is what happened with Cambridge Analytica)

> The US government should also demand for those ads to be more clearly marked as being ads via color clues.

This feel a lot like micromanaging.

DDG doesn't use user profiling to serve ads.

Google being big search engine is not as big problem as their use of their money and position to leverage into other areas. By all means allow Google to be a dominant search engine, but force them to sell stuff that is not their core business, like

YouTube, Gmail, Drive, Android, G Suite ...

Facebook should be forced to sell Instagram.

YouTube - barely profitable

Android - it came out in the Oracle case that Android has only made Google about $24 billion in profit from the time of its inception until the beginning of the trial. They have given Apple more money to be the default search engine on iOS than they have made on Android.

Gmail - mail hosts are a dime a dozen. It’s a feature not a product.

Google drive - again a feature not a product. DropBox has lost money since it’s inception and MS gives away 6TB of storage with Office365 ($100/year)

GSuite - not exactly a “monopoly” it’s a distant second to Microsoft.

Office software with the limited capabilities of GSuite is a commodity. Apple gives iWorks away.

You realize that all your arguments are signals of monopoly power. They are all part of the ad selling business.

Apple is in every single segment that Google is in and Microsoft is in most of them. Should we say that any company that has a product in one category shouldn’t be allowed to branch out?

Should Apple have been forced to keep selling iPods knowing that the phone would eventually kill their business? Should Microsoft and Google not been allowed to offer cloud services?

Agreed. There’s a better way to have more competition: end artificial intellectual monopoly laws. To compete against Google you need a small moon of licensed information. If all public information was public domain, many people could build great competitors relatively quickly.

Duckduckgo needs to change their name. I swear that's what's held them back.

I don't think it's that black and white. It's clear that they have enormous influence in the general population, and the amount of people who care about this kind of thing enough to switch to a different search engine are not enough to change that influence.

Remember Microsoft once had an antitrust brought against it for shipping IE with their OS. Imagine now, shipping a phone to millions, with your browser that defaults every text input to a search string directly into your ad network.

Recently I caught myself using bing.. it felt a tad lighter and slightly different from Google. An intermediate between G and ddg.

What happens when replacement becomes big and starts behaving like new Google?

People like principles, and classifications. Monopoly abuse, surveillance capitalism, ad engine... All extra loaded with implications.

I think to get anywhere, we have to avoid rather than seek these. Digital monopolies are not telecoms or railroads. Policy by analogy is a bad idea.

DHH makes two kinda unrelated claims/observations. One is that Google is spamming, and that this is a sign of monopoly. Like you, I think this is a pretty weak case.

Second, is "pay-to-play." If Basecamp don't buy ads, basecamp's competition will outrank them in search results. Users search "dominos." Google suggests "pizza hut" unless dominos pay. A lot of "advertisers" running campaigns just for their brand name.

This seems rotten, by the very weak, very unestablished conventions of the internet.

There are monopol-ish issues with big techcos across lots of areas (1) EU Case: adwords controls most search ads. Google's search competitors are on unequal terms there. (2) Free speech on social media. FB & Twitter's adhoc policies are becoming the de facto free speech laws. (3) biggest-dataset-wins feedback loops.

All these have sheer size at their core.

The system we work within affects the way our society behaves, because free-market capitalism has failed us.

Okay ...

I'll qualify that. The system has created vast inequalities of wealth, monopolisation by corporate structures that are too large to fail and helped to create and sustain a climate emergency that will change the face of life on the planet irreparably.

I think until now there's been quite little talk about just how wild wild west the Web is, so I like the talk about breaking up Google.

The problem is that Google can use its cross-platform cross-product cross-industry reach to have a significant uncompetitive advantage. A banal example would be Google hassling non-Chrome users to use Chrome, or a link to Gmail sitting at the corner of your Google Search screen. As far as the market goes, that's stealing, because you're getting market share not through competition, but by bypassing competition.

Google didn't become a behemoth in so many markets just because its products are good, but because it had an uncompetitive advantage, which is a cryptic way of saying that they were very big in an unregulated environment and they used that.

I'm not talking about how Google became big, which is a nicer story about a great product. I'm talking about how after it became big it became humongous.

> Google didn't become a behemoth in so many markets just because its products are good, but because it had an uncompetitive advantage, which is a cryptic way of saying that they were very big in an unregulated environment and they used that.

gmail gave 1GB with great email search when the standard at the time was 20-50MB; when it was announced on 1-apr, everyone thought it was a joke. Now, it's not so great - but email is hard/costly to switch, and gmail absolutely was better.

google maps was and still is way way better than the competition (originally bought, was great then, continuously improved). Same with waze.

google search was, and still is, much better.

Chrome was insanely fast when it came out, and had many switching for that; It was only later than the google might helped it become the most prevalent.

Compared to e.g. Microsoft and even Facebook, google made very little use of their monopoly position to become big in many markets, although they do use it to maintain it.

I think the less banal example is what's happening under the covers... basically tracking a person/profile through search (via google search), web browsing (via google analytics), using mail (via gmail), apps (via google play), calling/texting/more (via android), navigating (via google maps), etc...

There's only one game in town when it comes to knowing who someone is, where they are, what they are doing, who they associate with and how they behave.

Yeah, and once it became big, the government should have stepped in and forced it to split. Now it's too late, the only options now seem to be either nationalization or complete shutdown of the monopolies like Search, Maps and YouTube. And until that is done, the situation is only going to get worse...

The situation will be worse if you break it up, what do you think will happen to a nationalized Google Search, a nationalized Google maps and a nationalized YouTube ? The services will be badly managed and get worser and worser

It's really frustrating when you need to find information about a specific product on Google but anything you search for yields e-commerce related results. I don't mean the ads - even the organic results will mostly be for shopping or review websites. Google clearly tries to push the user towards those. Sometimes I'm looking for specific technical details and I have to dig around a lot to find anything meaningful.

It's not even ads but either crowdsourced or machine generated "lists of the best" and such. It's nearly impossible to do research on products these days

It is frustrating. The vast majority of results point to poorly written ‘best of’ lists with Amazon affiliate links (on pages full of Google ads).

Have fun trying to find real product reviews if the product isn’t sold on Amazon.

Me: I’d like some information about propane grills, please.

Google: can I interest you in page after page of algorithmically generated “review” text and Amazon affiliate links??

Nowadays my searches always consist of "reddit + search" to get actual user reviews or comments

I do the same, but it seems that more and more reddit comments are also astroturfed so my faith in them is faltering. Finding authentic recommendations at this point is extremely tiring because I have to constantly be gauging a user's sincerity.

There are too many benefits to fake reviews and few downsides. And it's easy to spam these fake comments and reviews especially if you have the budget for a dedicated marketing team.

Or news articles.

I don't disagree with the core point, but I sort of hate click bait more.

It's pretty hyperbolic to call Google results a "full page ad". For example, if I do a Google search for "clickbait", on mobile all I see above the fold is a dictionary definition stub followed by a wikipedia snippet. There is actually no sponsored content at all. Even scrolling doesn't turn up any ads.

And yes, of course, there are other types of searches where the first thing you'll see is shopping results, followed by more sponsored results. And yes I hate it as much as everyone else.

But I don't think it's reasonable to say it's an "ad engine".

The amount of real estate devoted to monetization has been increasingly silly for years. It will no doubt get worse. They do have an effective monopoly. It sucks for the internet that this is the case.

But Google is still an impressive search engine underneath all the monetization. One where a huge part of the mindshare at the company is still devoted to organic search. I don't think HN is a place where you can reasonably hope to get away with claiming otherwise.

> It's pretty hyperbolic to call Google results a "full page ad".

If I search for "lake district cottages" on Google, the first screen is covered by an ad; scroll down, and the second screen is covered by ads too. The third screen is a featured snippet with a map - I have no idea whether this is paid-for. Only halfway down the fourth screen do I get to a genuine organic search result.

iPhone SE, Safari, standard text size.

I tried the same search on Android.

A "featured snippet" covers the first page and more. Tapping on "About Featured Snippets" at the bottom of its UI tile tells me a lot of stuff about it, but doesn't say it's an ad; it says they "come from web search listings" and are highlighted "if it would be useful". I haven't known Google to ever be evasive about whether something is an ad or not, so unless that's changed, I'm confident in concluding this is not an ad.

The next thing I see is a tile with a map at the top and three "places" under it, with a way to expand the list via "More places". This doesn't appear to be an ad either. Again not identified as an ad, and I presume these are the most relevant objects from the "places" database that you normally see on Google Maps.

After that, it's a series of tiles, each for a web site that appears to be coming from organic search results. So again, not ads.

In summary, when I try the same thing on Android, I get no ads at all anywhere.

I suppose your results might be different than mine, though. "Lake district cottages" is a term I'd never heard before, and it appears to refer to something in the UK. I'm not in the UK, but maybe you are since you thought to suggest that. (And maybe the ad systems know that and nobody wanted to buy an ad to show to me but somebody did want to buy an ad to show you. That's just speculation, though.)

What I think would be interesting is to introduce something like "GPL for Ads". If you have a binary, you should be able to obtain its source code. Similarly, if you see an ad, you should be able to see who's paying for it, how much it cost, and what was its bidding/selection process, etc.

This doesn't just apply to Google. All TV ads and paper ads will also have to provide a way to obtain this information. It doesn't necessarily have to be accompanying the ads. It can even charge a (reasonable) fee to access that information, but it has to be accessible to the end user (ad viewer). Rationale: consumer protection.

This won't directly solve the monopoly situation, but it will force them to be transparent, and in a long run it will reduce their questionable ads and their revenue. And the consumer is more informed.

I very much like the idea and direction, but this is a good idea only in theory. It would be comparable to every financial firm opening up their bidding algorithms.

Ad buyers work very hard and spend a lot of money to create the best strategy/algorithm and that solution would just let a competitor copy it for free.

Not for search or social ads, but programmatic/display are literally bought by creating a very complicated algorithm with potentially unlimited variables to automatically (programmatically) place bids.

I just don't understand the sentiment. I've been googling for things since at least mid-noughties, typically finding relevant information, and practically never clicked on an ad. What am I doing wrong?

The loudest complaints about Google's ads that I am hearing are generally coming from entrepreneurs who want their company/page to be in the top of search results rather than from people who are searching for things.

At some point, the slowly-increasing quality curve of DDG's results crosses the rapidly-decreasing organicity curve of Google's results and you switch. For me the curves crossed two years ago.

break out of your bubble. Try using DDG with sth. else than english. Then try sth. related to programming. Good luck. I'm so tired of people claming that DDG is better in every aspect, it's not.

Two of my primary languages are Thai and Japanese and I use DDG as my primary search engine. DDG results for non-English language are not as good as Google, but I found it to be only a _minor_ inconvenient.

They've been rapidly improving, and I found myself append !gj to the query less and less over the past few years. While I might not be able to find what I was looking for within the first few results, usually clicking to the second page get me what I wanted.

It’s not better. Specifically, autocomplete doesn’t work as well, and you’re missing not just google but maps, images, and translations. But it’s getting better all the time, and at this point you’ll be hard-pressed to come with a query (even programming related) which doesn’t have the result you want on the first page. The point of the original author is that the quality of DDG continues to improve, not that it’s better.

> At this point you’ll be hard-pressed to come with a query (even programming related) which doesn’t have the result you want on the first page

No problem for me, unfortunately. See my post below, but these really were my first three after switching to DDG.

- 'debian convert from i386 to amd64'

   Should show https://wiki.debian.org/CrossGrading
- 'kodi idx white box'

   Any bug report to idx subtitles showing white boxes
- 'building kodi'

It seems DDG has much more problems with SEO spam, which unfortunately is rampant for Kodi. However, it's a mistery why for instance the Debian Wiki would not show up in the first search.

But the majority of people won't change if it's not clearly better, why would they? Also most of this doesn't matter if you are using AdBlock (or whatever) anyway. Of course this isn't ideal. Sure it might work for some using DDG, but it does not for the majority.

That's like saying Chrome is faster than Firefox. It might be true, but people here wish it wasn't true, so they'll scold you.

Why? I switched to DDG a while back too, because for my uses it works as well or better than google most of the time. Who cares if it’s objectively better in every way or not. As he said, as DDG continues to improve it will become good enough for more and more people.

Uh, they said that DDG is improving, and that improvement was enough to get them off Google. They didn't claim DDG was better in every way.

I didn't claim that. For me DDG is usually better and when it's not, that's what !g is for.

Same for me. Switched to DDG toward end of 2017 on my desktops and early 2018 for my mobile phone.

Actually using Google now feels like a downgrade. The AMP garbage is just another issue I’ve avoided.

I suspect that every person commenting about how DDG has been improving is a person that doesn't know that DDG simply calls the Bing API.

Furthermore the quality of the attached search engine (measured as useful for a sw engineer) has been declining since 2009.

At this point duckduckgo is just as good and less annoying, not because they are crazy good but because they are about as good as Google was in 2009 and because Google has been going downhill meanwhile.

> At this point duckduckgo is just as good and less annoying

I see this repeated all the time and I'm starting to wonder if I'm the only person who finds DDG results to be much worse. I tried DDG again this week and turned back within an hour.


- I wanted to migrate a Debian 32Bit system to 64Bit. So I searched "debian convert from i386 to amd64". Google's top results are the official Cross-Grading docs from Debian Wiki, whereas DDG points to some outdated private pages and mailing list posts, with the official Debian Wiki not even in the Top10. Completely useless.

- I had the problem that with idx-Subtitles, Kodi would show white boxes instead of the proper text. So I searched "kodi idx white box". Google points to bug reports for my exact problem, whereas DDG shows pages for "fully loaded Kodi boxes" and "Best adult addons for Kodi". Again, completely useless.

- I wanted to build Kodi from source. So I searched "building kodi". Top Google results is the building instruction in the Kodi Wiki, DDG again shows obscure pages for the Titanium build and Steamlink ports.

This is all done in Firefox in private mode, so this is not because Google has tracked my behavior.

Here's some quick search results from DDG:

[debian migrate to 64 bit][search]

1st result: https://wiki.debian.org/Migrate32To64Bit

[kodi subtitle white box][search]

2nd result: https://forum.kodi.tv/showthread.php?tid=335337

[kodi compile][search]

1st result: https://kodi.wiki/view/HOW-TO:Compile_Kodi_for_Linux

Are you sure you aren't over-exaggerating DDG's supposed incompetence?

Thanks, you're actually proving my point: DDG is only successful if you use the exact wording used on the pages. Google is obviously much smarter, since it uses a semantic model that determines that 'building kodi' is the same as compiling it, that 'idx' refers to a subtitle format and 'converting' and 'migrating' are similar things.

> DDG is only successful if you use the exact wording used on the pages.

IMHO, your search keywords gave subpar results for an entirely different reason. For instance, the search terms you chose for your first two examples are overly technical considering the average users of Debian or Kodi. As for the third example, the term "build" is ambiguous because it's also frequently used to refer to binary releases. I was able to find the right results from DDG because I chose keywords that aren't confusing, not because I knew what to search beforehand. It's not so hard.

Yes, there are people out there using "overly technical", "confusing" and "ambiguous" search words. I'm afraid any company who wants to rival Google with have to deal with that fact; that's pretty much the whole problem of search in a nutshell.

Yet Google still manages to dtive me nuts to the point that I enjoy using duckduckgo :-/

I agree. I've found DDG results to be sub-par in a variety of situations as well, and Google Search is sometimes almost oracular in it's prediciton of my search queries and surfaces the right solutions.

I really understand making the argument about privacy, , but Search is not the product to target here, it only seems to have gotten better these days, not worse.

>> This is all done in Firefox in private mode, so this is not because Google has tracked my behavior.

Other people have mentioned that your machine can still be tracked via browser fingerprinting despite being in private mode

OK, I just went to my wife's computer who has never searched for Kodi or Debian in her life. Exactly the same results in Firefox private mode.

You are likely to share the same IP. When my wife searches for something, I'm regularly bombarded by ads related to her searches, and vice versa

If Google peaked in 2009 and has been declining since then, then any search engine that's as good as they were then would be better than they are now, not as you say "just as good".

The US government has no authority to break up a monopoly just because users don't like its ads. Google continues to provide a valuable service, and your cost is the ads you're served that you don't want. Google's not a charity. I'm tired of opinions about "user hostility" and so on from tech people about valuable services as they ramp up user revenues. If you don't like Google's ads, use DuckDuckGo or Bing.

There's another perspective to that, my clients, if google is spamming with ads how will i be able to reach them over search? Google had become somewhat too big, that me not using it, does harm too. But indirectly.

The US doesn't have a great history when it comes to the effectiveness of breaking up monopolies. The breakup of the Bell system just resulted in regional monopolies for example. How would you break up Google? Into search, sites, youtube, android (devices) and cloud hosting? Search and youtube would just stay monopolies on their own but they couldn't cross-finance android development and google sites anymore. And I don't think Android would be a worthy competitor to iOS without Google's ad billions. Stricter regulation with regards to privacy laws and online advertising would probably work out much better for the consumer.

> The breakup of the Bell system just resulted in regional monopolies for example.

The breakup resulted in a massive consumer bonanza, as long-distance communications became too cheap to meter. The regional monopolies it failed to address, on the other hand, held back the deployment regional broadband for decades -- and have since used the outsize profits from their lousy monopoly business to eat up many players in competitive markets.

But the imperfection of the breakup isn't an argument for leaving monopolies alone. It's hard to believe that companies like Google would even exist today if AT&T had held their monopoly. What new "Googles" are we missing -- and don't even know we're missing -- because Google subsidized things like Android and YouTube?

Or break up search into a utility that provides crawling/indexing service, that provides an API to third party search result providers. Similar to how many power companies are split up.

Then DuckDuckGo would have access to rebrand googles search but keep its privacy benefits, while other providers could compete on other search value add.

If a company in tech has to give their technology to competitors, what motivation do they have to invest the resources to keep iterating and improving? When I hear the "utility" idea I realize that a lot of people, even in tech, don't understand how big a challenge search is.

The technical complexity difference between power distribution and internet search is so large that you can't compare the two.

Motivation to keep improving is vital in search. It's a decades old arms race between quality results and black hat algo gaming. And it plays out on a dataset that's always growing, and that growth is always accelerating. If iteration slows down even a little, black hat wins and everyone else loses.

Your suggestion would effectively kill Google, which is maybe the goal, but unless it applied only to Google it would kill the searchability of the internet along with them.

Remember Altavista? It would look like that.

Which is not to say there aren't regulatory answers to Google's dominance. Forcing a firewall between their interests (i.e. search and advertising) would be a start.

>Then DuckDuckGo would have access to rebrand googles search but keep its privacy benefits

Have you heard of startpage.com? It's literally that. Essentially it's to Google what DDG is to Bing.

Considering they already provide the !g command how is that significantly different for DDG? They obviously have access to Google search results if they want them.

Larry and Sergey are probably spinning in their graves, I mean private islands. Google has become what they so despised.

Looking at their earliest investors I don’t think google ever intended to be what they said they were.

Mmm this is nonsense, from economíc perspective most of the money Google generates comes from search. What are you going to do? Have a single search company, other one a browser? To match technology that Google has developed through the years is close to impossible. From both business and Tech perspective there is no easy fix. Let the world runs as it is.

I'd prefer to let the market fix this when something better appears and gets traction. Giving more power to the government is the go-to solution in third world countries. The US is supposed to be better and much more mature as a nation.

Disclaimer: I live in a third world country.

Absolutely. It bothers me that most people think the solution to fixing bad practices in companies is to have the government regulate it. It just gives the government more power and strangles the market. It prevents innovation IMO. We as the consumer have the power to fix it, and given time I believe we will.

I find it pretty disturbing (and hilarious) how much the hive mind sentiment has shifted on HN. I remember back in 2013 when Snowden blew the whistle on government surveillance the overwhelming majority of HN users expressed the opinion that giving the government too much power would inevitably lead to tyranny. Likewise with Bitcoin, the consensus here seems to be that decentralized money would be a good thing because it would remove the government’s ability to devalue its own currency.

Now the pendulum has flung in the other direction and people are clamoring to not just break up FAANG, but to nationalize them and put all of their data under government control! It’s absolutely bizarre.

That is actually how anti-trust regulation is supposed to work. Competitive markets for goods and services tend to produce better results, or at least, that is the line we hear in Econ 101. But capitalist growth tends to concentration of wealth and power—success grows toward monopoly. So government must wield the hammer of anti-trust to free markets.

There's nothing wrong with an almost monopoly if no ones is forcing people to use the company services. No one is forcing users to use Google

Sure, no one is ‘forcing’; there’s just very limited choice.

Sometimes it's government policies themselves that unbalance the market and allow the proliferation of monopolies. I'm not sure it's the case with Google, though. Would appreciate a comment from someone more informed.

The answer is no. There aren't any significant policies (related to internet search, crawling or intellectual property) which create a barrier for little guys but which Google has the resources to handle (which is usually how regulation stifles disruption, sometimes by design).

Don't underestimate the EU though, given some of the ignorant tech regulation they've already passed, it could happen at some point.

As Bing has demonstrated, Google's dominance in search is a result of superior technology and a huge lead. Even a company with the resources of MS hasn't been able to do anything but follow behind and create almost good enough copies at each step.

Although to be fair that's what MS has always done so maybe a more nimble company might have a shot some day.

In the near future AI and machine learning coupled with computing advances could be a way into search for competitors if G doesn't get there first.

I would be interested in more information about this too. Maybe we can start with intellectual property, for example maybe Google patents that are enforced by governments laws and justice are a huge barrier of entry for potential competitors

Because giving the government more power couldn’t possibly go wrong. What do you think are the chances that the Trump administration would go after Fox or a Democratic administration would go after a company full of “the liberal elite”?

More power? It’s a power they’ve had for 100 years.

There are more alternatives for social change than "authoritarian government" and "oligopolic corporations".


1. Web browsing is not a "market".

2. (Physical) markets are not intended to "fix things".

3. Google's main strength at this point is its size and amount of computer power. And it is almost impossible (and actually very wasteful environmentally) to build something parallel to that which does mostly the same thing.

In my view 90% of the Silicon Vally is either Entertainment and Advertising, or IT support for such. Uber and ABnB make for some exception.

I’m not hating, just saying we need to know where we stand in the grand scheme.

I'm so sick of this continuous ranting against google, if you dont like big G services/product use something alse! but please please stop busting our balls!

I don’t use Google for search, and I don’t use Chrome for browsing... yet a large number of calls go to google ad network endpoints from within my home network. It’s no longer a simple matter of opting out - google’s intrusive practices have become so pervasive that end users have to go to great lengths to detach from the Google surveillance apparatus.

Url changed from https://jlelse.blog/links/2019/12/google-ad-engine/, which points to this.

Can there exist such a search engine that can stay objective in the long haul?

I'm not particularly mad about Google putting ads, since the world is waking up and I believe in the future it will be obsolete.

But as I see it, the problem is that all search engines have this issue where the more volume it has, the more lucrative it is to game it. Let's say DuckDuckGo becomes vastly superior and widely used, what's preventing it from becoming another spam machine where SEO is the name of the game.

As I see it, there's no really good solution here. Maybe some open source indexing algorithm and a different search engine for different types of content.

>> Can there exist such a search engine that can stay objective in the long haul?

Yes, if it's distributed: https://yacy.net

The solution I’ve settled on is a paid search engine. Pass the costs on directly and have the customers be the ones actually performing searches. Then the search quality is the product and the companies incentives are focused on preventing other people gaming the system to the detriment of their customers.

But nobody wants to pay for anything on the internet /only-half-kidding

Yes. There are well-funded university and scientific CS departments across the country that could design and maintain such a system, free of these influences as a technology iniative. It’s how the internet was built and where page rank came from originally.

Indexing is easy. It’s a solved computer science problem that you just need to throw hardware at. Ranking and relevant searching is the hard part and is partly influenced by adding usage data of millions of people.

Maybe not the entire Internet but certainly the Web is an advertising machine. People are often berated "How dare you block ads" in your browser taking money away from websites. As if ads were the sole purpose for anything to exist. Even if you do block ads your mere existence as a user is valuable data so I'm not sorry for blocking every advertisement I can.

In the early days of the Web or even just the public Internet in general the Ineternet was an infrequent pastime. If nobody was using the one telephone your entire family owned you could surf the Web, maybe. Even then you only used your dial-up account to briefly use some of your limited hours per month. Most of the time people with computers were offline.

From my point of view advertising has really ruined the Web and the Web itself has made people less computer literate. People use maybe a half dozen websites and that's it most probably use a tablet. I know back when I had my first PC in the early 1990s you had to be much more aware of configuring it. That wasn't a bad thing it really meant you learned about how the computer and OS worked. Being aware of its operation meant you were able to fix it, and your data wasn't stored anywhere but your PC locally at best on a floppy, or dozen.

I know people would counter with the "free" services we use like webmail, streaming video, search engines. I'd pay for it if they were cheap enough but even then your information would be right back in the hands of a large corporation.

It's to the point now where the Internet is vital for government services. If anything governments are going to have to offer cheap (or "free") Internet access, email, and other basics.

I guess they are one of the last to figure it out? Next up "Sky is blue!"

Used to be borderline militant in avoiding anything Google. I've calmed down a bit in that I no longer preach at my girlfriend about it. But I have to this day not used any Google app or service other than when mandated by work. And never ever on my own hardware. And yes, still using Windows Phone. I also admit, to my shame, to feeling a bit smug about it.

No surprise. Larry and Sergey said pretty much the same, themselves, some time ago.

"The goals of the advertising business model do not always correspond to providing quality search to users."


I used to work for a company that ran a vertical search engine (products/shopping). Search results were essentially results for ads. One of the engineers demoed a project where you change the weighting of relevancy and yield in the results. The internal complaints of bad results were mostly explained by yield optimization.

The company ~died when Google started removing aggregators like this from its results (the Panda update) and doing product ads, itself.

Hmm. I don't like Twitter-the-website (the site is rather heavy and annoying to use on both mobile and desktop), so I do like a summary copy somewhere else, but indeed the author added very little of their own thoughts or additional sources or anything to supplement the content.

The blog is also a lot shorter than the twitter thread, summarizing the issue, and it mentions the source.

I'm not sure whether I'm in favor of changing the link.

Indeed. OP should have linked to the tweet instead as his blog post is not adding anything.

I added a link to a list of alternatives for Google services. I wanted to link to it, but then forgot to actually do it.

DHH's point that Google is just an ads engine is only true for searches of a commercial nature. If you're searching for something like a programming problem or a snippet of poetry or whatever, it' still an amazing search engine.

So when he says it's "a catalogue with a search engine attached" I think he's exactly correct, but I don't see it as negatively as he does - it's great that the money from Google ads is being used to fund the continued development of one of the most important contributions to society ever (and I don't think it's just for "PR purposes", I think that having the best search engine is in fact the core of Google's long term success, so their incentives are aligned well).

As the owner of a commercial enterprise, I think DHH comes off as entitled and whiny here. The period of time where you could get free traffic to your business from search was a brief historical anomaly. Advertising isn't going to be free.

Why can't they be both?

Some people are unable to classify things on a spectrum. You're either a programmer or you're not, a company is either evil or good, piracy either has no effect or a full effect on software sales, NPM is either a disaster bringing down the JS ecosystem or the reason it's great, the economy will either fail or become booming in 2020...

IMO non-spectrum thinking is one of the largest falacies in thinking and debates in the modern era.

They can, but I'd argue that if I type "basecamp" into a search engine, the first result should always be basecamp.com, not ads for their competitor.

If other search engines had the same data available as Google, they could offer similar search results without ads. This includes the auto complete feature, and much more. No other company is in a position to ever catch up in terms of data collection and utilization.

Google has become so important for advertisers that in many cases there is no similar alternative. The percentage of users searching Google is such a high percentage, as well as the primary way people search for product X or Service Y that failing to pay Google can make or break their success.

Sure thing - this is going to happen because their incentives aren’t fully aligned between users and their own long term vs short term goals.

It’s fascinating to watch. It feels like the aging of any industry titan. First they were innovative, lean, and mission-focused. It seems like they’ve been progressing to a bloated company fully concerned only with short term profits.

It’ll be curious to see where this goes and if they’ll continue to suffer from their own momentum. Maybe we’ll start to see newer, niche, nimble competitors start to pick off chunks of search.

Quite often I find useful information from blogs or forum posts. I never seem to get the right keywords to find those in search results.

Another super annoying thing is that “filetype:pdf” is full of spam websites with same template, such as “we have <almost exact search term> pdf. Click here!”, while the data sheet I was looking for would be two pages down.

It’s almost like that the content inside the linked results are no longer relevant to what you search for.

Competition is literally a click away. The truth is that Google is the best so people are willing to put up with the shitty ads on some searches.

A direct link to the tweet would have sufficed.

No surprise. Also, who can seriously claim that other proprietary search engines (yandex, Baidu) don't sell uprankings?

What about Amazon search engine, can we use that for recycling? All I get from it is garbage...

Have people forgotten that there used to be search engines that did the same pre-Google?

Altavista wasn't as good

Good enough for its time and Goto.com was built on this very premise.

Agreed, I used to easily be able to find our local info regarding volleyball tournaments and festivals, now the same searches don’t give anything even 7 pages down, it’s as though the engine removed the sites from the web

Did all of that move to Facebook and get stuck in a walled garde?

I wish it had. Some of these are pretty important to me and I searched for them in exact terms.

How come a sensational post like this finds its way to HN front page?

Maybe we should publicly fund it search since splitting up Google would not change the incentive structure.

Been saying this for the past 5 years seems only when a tech celeb says it it gains momentum in news

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact