Skrenta vs. King Google, sometimes

Rich Skrenta, co-founder and CEO, Topix.net, has been all over the Google map this first quarter 2007.
Written by Donna Bogatin, Contributor

Rich Skrenta, co-founder and CEO, Topix.net, has been all over the Google map this first quarter 2007.

He began the year by announcing unequivocaly at his blog: “Google has won both the online search and advertising markets,” and exhorting “All Hail the New King Google.“

It seems the Google Kingdom is not a universally benevolent one, however. Just two months after paying royal homage to the mighty Google Search Monarchy, Skrenta decried to The Wall Street Journal undue royal powers deep inside the Googleplex, deeming Google Search Kafkaesque.

Moreover, while Skrenta declared in January that Yahoo should capitulate and “accept Google's search and monetization dominance,” he now is goading “grow a spine people, get a stick and try to knock G's crown off.”

Here is the chronology.

Skrenta, January 7, 2007, “Winner Take All: Google and the Third Age of Computing”:

Network effects around their industry position and brand will prevent any competitor from capturing market share from them, even if it were possible to match their technology platform.

Google is not your competition, Google is the environment. Online businesses which struggle against this new reality will pay opportunity costs both in online advertising revenue as well as product success. Competitors such as Yahoo should quickly move to align themselves with this inevitability.

Competitors who want to dethrone Google need to fight a two-front war. They have to build a killer consumer search service as well as a successful advertising network. Building one of these is difficult, but doing both simultaneously is nearly impossible. Google's dominance in both of these areas gives them an unfair advantage, and allows them to easily parry any attacks.

Google is the new king of forward market growth in computing and software technology. Major companies will succeed by working within the framework of Google's industry dominance, and smaller players will operate in niches or in service to the giant.

"I for one welcome our new insect overlords."

WSJ, March 13, 2007, “How Search Engine Rules Cause Sites to Go Missing”:

Topix.net Chief Executive Rich Skrenta is struggling this month. The news site, which is majority owned by media giants Gannett Co., McClatchy Co., and Tribune Co., paid a Canadian company $1 million for the Web address Topix.com in January. Mr. Skrenta intends to switch his site over to the more popular .com Web address from .net soon to help eliminate confusion and increase credibility with consumers.

Such a simple change, Mr. Skrenta has discovered, could have disastrous short-term results. About 50% of visits to his news site come through a search engine -- and about 90% of the time, that is Google. Some companies say their sites have disappeared from top search results for weeks or months after making address switches, due to quirky rules Google and other search engines have adopted.

Even if traffic to Topix, which gets about 10 million visitors a month, dropped just 10%, that would essentially be a 10% loss in ad revenue, Mr. Skrenta says. "Because of this little mechanical issue, it could be a catastrophe for us," he says.

Further frustrating him is that Google's response to Topix's plea for help was an email recommending that, if the switchover were to go badly, the company should post a message on an online user-support forum; a Google engineer might come along to help out. "This can't be the process," Mr. Skrenta says. "You're cast into this amusing, Kafkaesque world to run your business."

Skrenta is apparently no longer amused by Google’s search dominance; March 26, 2007, “How to Beat Google”:

Our entire industry is scared witless by Google's dominance in search and advertising. Microsoft and Yahoo have been unsuccessful at staunching the bleeding of their search market share. VCs parrot the Google PR FUD machine that you need giant datacenters next to hydroelectric dams to compete. They spout nonsense about how startups should just use Alexa's crawl and put some ajax on top of it. Ye gods.

Grow a spine people! You have a giant growing market with just one dominant competitor, not even any real #2. You're going to do clean-tech energy saving software to shut off lightbulbs in high-rises instead? Pfft. Get a stick and try to knock G's crown off.

Skrenta has even “evolved” on Google infrastructure:

January 7: They hold a considerable technological lead, both with algorithms as well as their astonishing web-scale computing platform.

March 26: Do not fear Google's vast CapEx. You should wish maintenance of that monster on your worst enemies. Resource constraints are healthy for innovation. You're building something new and different anyway.

Skrenta’s Google position is new and different, often!

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