Google’s Collateral Damage + The Law of Unintended Consequences

Conservative political pundit George Will has long carried on about what he calls “the Law of Unintended Consequences.”  The idea is that no matter what law Congress and the President pass, the unintended consequences will be as powerful as the intentions.

Term limits–just to pick one example–were supposed to kick out career politicians and keep legislatures “representative.”  What actually happened is that key staff members kept their jobs, just moving from one politician to another.  The staff members became entrenched hacks–they were powerful because they were the only people with real institutional knowledge. When complex issues are debated in legislatures now, it’s the (unelected) senior staffers who do the real deal making.  Is that really what term limits was supposed to accomplish?

At least the politicians were elected, right?  And so on it goes: energy policy, campaign finance reform, Iraq, yada yada.

I wish to add “Newton’s Corollary” to the Law of Unintended Consequences: if one governing body creates a law then the unintended consequences will be roughly equal and opposite to what was intended.

Google makes the rules of organic search. Like Congress, Google tries to do good more than evil, but ends up having less and less to say over what actually happens as a result of it’s rule.

SEOBook and Jess.Net posted a delicious infographic this morning which provides a timeline of Google’s evolution, showing how almost every thing Google does leads to massive exploitation by black hat / grey hat SEO artists, ranging from pasty nerds in dim, air-conditioned studio apartments in Culver City to Demand Media, now on the verge of an IPO:


Google's Collateral Damage.

Infographic by SEO Book

Early in its existence Google’s official position on indexing ads into search results was such results were corrupt and of little value to users.  That was before AdWords and AdSense turned Google into a $188 billion money-printing press.

So Google is against content farms, but the re-jiggering of the Google search algorithms now results in E.How getting a 20% boost in organic results.  (Sample 200 word E.How article title: “How to Calculate Weight Watchers Activity Points!”)

Yonder lies the future, and search will become more and more of a social phenomenon.  That means that when you and I trade links over a good Google infographic (like this one) those social results will count more and more in the organic Google search results.  Whoa!  I wonder what those Russkie link farms are scheming about now.

Meanwhile, enjoy this re-telling of Google struggling mightily to be both “not evil” and “insanely profitable.”

There’s an unintended lesson in here for Congress, if they would bother looking.

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About Rohn Jay Miller

I'm a strategic designer who works with clients who are transforming their business models because of change brought on by the Internet. Solving disruption is often a problem and an opportunity at the same time. Previously I was a founding partner of Ikonic/USWeb in San Francisco, and Senior Vice President--Product & Technology for Knight Ridder in San Jose.

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