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Monday, November 23, 2009

Microsoft Wishing to Pay Publishers to Block Googlebot?

Financial Times reports that Microsoft has had discussions with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp media company “over a plan that would involve the media company’s being paid to ’de-index’ its news websites from Google”. Talks are at an “early stage”, an unnamed sourced told the Financial Times, however, “Microsoft has also approached other big online publishers to persuade them to remove their sites from Google’s search engine”. The biggest beneficiary in this, FT argues, could be the newspaper industry, many members of which don’t seem to be happy in regards to how Fair Use scales in modern tools.

Google themselves are no stranger of forming alliances that end up with blocked content. Sometimes, a site will block certain countries based on the user IP (like Google Music China; in Google Books, at times even public domain books were blocked in non-US countries). Sometimes, Google formalizes approaches for content publishers to let in Google users while hiding the content from non-Google users (“First Click Free”). Sometimes, Google self-censors content based on government requests (like with Google might also ban API access for what they consider terms-violating services by non-partners on set-top boxes, as was recently reported. With many, if not all of these though, I’d argue that Google would want more content to be shown if only they could (not necessarily altruistic), but that they go for compromises to offer at least some content. What Microsoft does here on the other hand, if FT is to be believed, looks like a fishy proactive try to have less content around for users.

Which publications/ sites does News Corp own, what might potentially be missing from Google? Here’s a couple which Wikipedia lists: The Australian, The Sunday Mail (Queensland), The Daily Telegraph (New South Wales), The Weekly Times (Victoria), The Sunday Mail (South Australia), the tabloid The Sun, UK’s The Times, the Wall Street Journal, Marketwatch,, MySpace, Photobucket, Hulu, and

Sites like above gone from Google might have two effects: first, all of these sources losing quite a lot of traffic and in the long term, losing relevancy in the market. When people look for a breaking story in Google, they might end up with competing publications, and they might end up linking to those too – meaning the News Corp publication could even lose ranking in other engines which are based on backlink votes (perhaps even Bing, neutrality assumed). Second, Google might end up looking a bit buggy (and in Microsoft’s dream, word might spread that Bing is less buggy, though it would probably need an extra push bought through Google AdWords, with the additional cost of MS being again perceived as villain in tech circles). Though Google could probably find ways to link to News Corp content anyway; when someone asks “Where is the tabloid The Sun?”, then free speech seems to allow to tell them “The Sun is on the following URL: ...” For navigational queries that may be all that’s needed, and for queries related to a particular story – when the user doesn’t care where the story is covered – there’s always a lot of ad-financed competiting publications around happy to get the extra traffic that News Corp doesn’t want.

[Hat tip to Roger Browne, Dpic and Spiegel!]


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