Google is quietly changing the way the web works.
Web content producers have always optimized their digital content to attract search engines. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has a profound impact on the words we see on webpages.
But Google’s invisible hand is shaping our digital life in more subtle ways.
For example, on July 1, 2013 Google shut down Google Reader – the popular RSS reader used by millions of people to read RSS feeds from news agencies and blogs. Within weeks a noticeable percentage of the websites we monitor (more than 10% in 3 months) stopped updating their RSS feeds.
Google’s move away from RSS has had another impact. Google currently offers website owners two ways of registering their websites to ensure content will be regularly crawled and indexed by the search engine. Website owners can submit the URL for their RSS Feed or they can submit a Site Map (a “road map” of the pages on a website) to make their sites more visible to the search engine. When Google killed Google Reader the message was sent that Site Maps were the preferred method.
Google has also begun to subtly police the way software is written. For example, last week Google stopped approving software for its Web Store that uses NPAPI (a protocol developed by Netscape during the early days of the web). Software developers can continue to use NPAPI if they like, but they face banishment from one of the world’s largest marketplaces.
To be clear, Apple exerts impact as well. When Apple and Google abandoned Adobe Flash on their mobile operating systems in favour of HTML5, website owners moved quickly to dump Flash. When Apple prevented Java Applets from loading on IOS devices the impact was similarly swift.
But nothing compares to the clout Google exerts. With over 66% of searches conducted on Google, over 34% of the world’s video on YouTube, nearly 80% of global smart phone shipments in 2013 sporting Google’s Android, nearly everyone’s life is touched by Google daily.
Google’s market dominance has created a unique roll for Google as the de facto standards body.
Historically most of the important standards that govern our digital life have been set by organizations like the ITU (International Telecommunications Union), the ISO (International Organization for Standards) and the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium).
Occasionally companies have created so called Adhoc Standards when they created a popular product, such as Adobe’s PDF standard for documents. But there has never been a time when one company has exerted such broad influence over the architecture of the Internet.
On a positive note, the past decade has been a period of widespread fragmentation in the industry. Ten years ago a software developer could write an application for Microsoft Windows and be assured access to 90% of the desktops in the world. Today users are running Android, IOS, several flavors of Mac’s OS and several flavors of Windows. A clear standard could be good for software developers, digital content producers and consumers.