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I, Cringely - The Survival of the Nerdiest with Robert X. Cringely
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The Pulpit
Pulpit Comments
November 02, 2007 -- The Next Microsoft
Status: [CLOSED]

> It's not that Google learned this behavior from Microsoft. It may just be an inevitable part of having an IT monopoly.

Given how many ex-Microsoft people they have on the front lines these days, it's hard to argue that they *didn't* learn this behavior from Microsoft.

a.c. | Nov 02, 2007 | 5:25PM

Google is like the phone company. They don't have to care. Then one day they will wake up wondering why no one likes them, where the "market" went and why they are making so much money like they used to.

D. B. | Nov 02, 2007 | 5:31PM

> I think Google has in the works a global strategy so sweeping and audacious that it is breathtaking, but that's for a future column.

I buy that.

>monopoly.

I buy that too.

badmacktuck | Nov 02, 2007 | 5:51PM


Fully agreed about Google's customer service (e.g. it is non-existant). You can say all you want about Microsoft, but I've had good experience with their customer service people, as unlike Google, it is possible to speak to a real person (gasp!).

As for the NerdTV domain squatter, he is breaking the Terms of Service by just displaying a bunch of ads with no content at all.

Vic Tanner | Nov 02, 2007 | 5:52PM

You may wish to tone down the criticism for about 18 months -- until, that is, you've cashed the 1st place check for winning the X-Prize.

Flick | Nov 02, 2007 | 6:19PM

Nerdtv.com appears to be owned by Monte Cahn's Moniker. I think they use Yahoo ads, and not Google's. http://www.moniker.com/aboutus.jsp

Hag | Nov 02, 2007 | 6:21PM

> but that's for a future column

Hopefully a ways in the future. Google is beginning to dominate your column. Maybe you need to fork and do two columns so other topics can squeeze their way in!

Gerry G | Nov 02, 2007 | 6:25PM

Google as the next Microsoft is not surprising.

Companies are made of people, and Google's been hiring a lot of expatriates from Microsoft. They even have a new development lab in Kirkland, which is only a few miles from Redmond, so they can hire Microsofties who don't want to relocate.

I'm surprised people don't realize that new employees bring with them some (or a lot) of the culture from where they were working before. Enough employees coming from the same source, and the whole culture of a company can change, just like that.

Google hiring practices are really good at singling out smart individuals, but I've never heard of any hard hitting ethics question being asked of candidates (which is weird, given the company's motto being "Do no evil"; wouldn't you want to make sure your new hires agree with that?).

Wanderley | Nov 02, 2007 | 6:25PM

Bob, Google might listen to you. Especially if you have a PhD, and double-especially if it's from Stanford. I know they never listened to me.

David | Nov 02, 2007 | 6:27PM

Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. We've seen it over and over again with companies that gain large market shares, Microsoft wasn't the first in that regard, And Google won't be the last.

Eric Thomas Black | Nov 02, 2007 | 6:48PM

Google is the new Microsoft; however, there are some distinctions. They are loved by most, whereas, Microsoft has often been the villian. Google has gotten here by "giving" away services, Microsoft charges premium prices for their software.

This is the why Google is worth more than the other web giants combined! http://fishtrain.com/2007/10/30/google-worth-more-than-rest-of-the-big-web/

Google also has the most incredible infrastructure: http://fishtrain.com/2007/08/30/googles-trading-floor/

It's not just their algorithms, but their technology. Microsoft has never had the most dominating technology, but they have vendor and user lock-in, as well as superior marketing.

Also, because they've launched OpenSocial, there is unlimited potential with their new social platform: http://fishtrain.com/2007/11/01/opensocial-social-unification/

Jesse | Nov 02, 2007 | 7:02PM

This rant doesn't make sense. No facts, no support for anything, no nothing. Just a rant with vague accusations about an NDA, "bad architecture", some planes and some other crap. Real journalists cite their sources and provide backup. Cringley just keeps showing how paranoid and obsessed he's become.

PZ | Nov 02, 2007 | 7:26PM

Interesting because after years of watching the infrastructure at Google evolve and the reputation remain largely positive, I recently began to shift some basic services, mail, etc to their system. Hopefully their reputation won't collapse under the sheer weight of their size (or greed). As for Bob, the only credible source he needs is his 30+ years of experience and a well placed network of contacts. If you spent any real time reading him, you'd see why he's considered a credible seer of things.

MGS | Nov 02, 2007 | 7:57PM

Wow, that bit about them courting free411 and then ditching them is MS all over again. And just mean. Whatever happened to "Don't be evil"?

matt | Nov 02, 2007 | 8:01PM

Great article. AdWords system is broken. It is extremely difficult to build business based on online marketing (AdWords).

I believe 99% of businesses using AdWords are not making money. They just advertise, but if they took a hard look they will find out that the ads are not profitable for them.

It wasn't like that before.

john | Nov 02, 2007 | 8:18PM

hmm... i hope you are incorrect Mr. Cringely, I fear that you are, but I've been hoping I won't be fooled again. I believe people forget, not to long ago MS was giving things away too, not too long ago you were writing about netscape and their lovely browser. This is all very disappointing to me because I feel as if not to distant history is repeating itself here.

Joel Crookston | Nov 02, 2007 | 8:27PM

If your allegations are true, sounds to me like Google is simply taking a page out of tech marketing bible, Crossing the Chasm, by Geoffery Moore. In it, he talks about the phenomenom of highly successful products (those that have crossed the adoption chasm) as being in a tornado. The tornado is the metaphor for rapidly increasing market share and adoption. When a company finds itself in such a situation all effort is put toward maximizing that market share and customer service be damned. Kind of like being at a hotdog eating contest: you don't take time to mind your manners and wipe your face...just shove another dog in your mouth and chew, baby, chew.

John Schuitemaker | Nov 02, 2007 | 8:28PM

Having once worked at one of those parking companies (it was a bad time for me), I can tell you that not only is Google aware of the parked domains, but offers specialized support for "domainer" companies. They have, in fact, a limited parking service themselves but do not advertise it as it would certainly taint their "do no evil" image.

The amount of money that these "domainers" make is frightening (tens of millions of dollars per year, in one extreme case) so you can see why the holder of Bob's domain is reluctant to give it up. Google is making a large chunk of their AdWords revenue (one estimate is 20%) from those parking pages.

Rob | Nov 02, 2007 | 8:47PM

There is still money to be made on Adwords, you just can't set it and forget it in alot of the more competitive keywords.

Also most of those parked pages aren't considered content; but rather "search partners" that show sponsored search results. This is google trying to get at the one type of traffic it can't get right now - type-in traffic(where someone types "example" into the browser address bar and the .com is appended to it). Tons of money there and that is how google gets a piece.

Justin | Nov 02, 2007 | 9:05PM

Amen. Personally, our company has had enough experience with Google to write an epic novel. We have been dedicated advertisers with Google since the first day that they made their first advertising cent. What used to be easy, reasonably priced (still expensive, but with value), and friendly has now mutated into a convoluted mess that takes two full-time people to manage and a budget larger than payroll. In a nutshell, it is broken.

We find ourselves on the phone with Google a minimum of four times a week. The algorithms have recently started changing on a near continuous basis. These ever-evolving algorithms are also TOP SECRET. I wish we received a paid click for every time that we have heard "We're not allowed to tell you why your keyword that has been stable for four years at around $50 per day suddenly spiked to $650 per day. Please go to this URL and learn about optimizing your page."

Worse yet, we find ourselves constantly redesigning our website not for ease of use, company promotion, and nice presentation of information, but rather for how we think the almighty GoogleBot will interpret our content. In an effort to conform to Google's stringent (yet ever-changing) guidelines, I fear that all websites will eventually be GoogleSites. It reminds me of the movie Demolition Man, where all restaurants in the future were Taco Bell.

The sad part is that nobody at Google seems to care any more. As they grow, the distance between us advertisers and the founders gets larger and larger. We have been here since the beginning. We have grown you to what you are today. You used to be here with us. Do no evil and join us again.

John | Nov 02, 2007 | 9:18PM

I wondered how long (or quick) it would be before Google started to strain under the weight of its own money. Luckily, this is a perfect opportunity for someone else to do search/ads better. At least we can be sure it won't be Yahoo or Microsoft.

Rene | Nov 02, 2007 | 10:29PM

I know that advertising is making people a lot of money. I'm guessing that it helps many people spread knowledge of their legitimate product or service out into the world. However I find this topic and the practice so depressing and distasteful. All of these people circling and trying to outmanoeuvre each other. It's like some kind of feeding frenzy. Whenever they smell fresh blood all of the scavengers come running to get a bite any way they can. Sadly (in my opinion) people seem to have come to accept this as normal behaviour. Even the advertising service providers, such as Google, seem to be doing exactly the same thing. Pushing these annoying, almost entirely useless ads just irritates people doesn't it? Does anyone really enjoy reading ads? Do they actually change anyone's mind? I presume this won't last forever. After all, ultimately someone has to pay for those ads using revenue from something real. Ick. I'm glad I don't know anyone involved in this business. I wouldn't be able to be near them.

Ed | Nov 02, 2007 | 10:37PM

My industry has clicks that can cost $7-10 each, and I found that about half of our Adwords traffic was fraudulent. All "search partner" traffic was bogus, and about 30% of the Google search traffic with the "expanded broad match" were completely irrelevant. I estimate that about 50-60% of ALL Adwords revenue is undeserved. If you subtract all that from their bottom line, their market cap would be a fraction as high. Can you say "bubble"?

Roger | Nov 02, 2007 | 10:37PM

Lack of competition? maybe we should all start using yahoo more.

Pec | Nov 03, 2007 | 1:07AM

Considering Yahoo does practically equal or better searches than Google (except for special optimizations like local geo stuff) and doesn't arbitrarily break our meta descriptions on much, much less hardware, their architecture probably isn't nearly as good as they think it is.

as | Nov 03, 2007 | 3:13AM

Don't need to use yahoo. You can actually just google for "alternatives to Google". :-)

John | Nov 03, 2007 | 3:17AM

Try Ixquick for a search engine. It works great!
aaplhead

aaplhead | Nov 03, 2007 | 6:35AM

There definitely are many viable alternatives to Google. Yahoo's search results are very comparable these days, and the quality of MSN's results is also improving.

A useful tool for comparing the quality of search results from the different search engines is Zuula. It's also a great search engine in general.

Alex | Nov 03, 2007 | 7:35AM

As an entrepreneur running many small businesses "on little capital" I get rather worried when Google changes its algorithm.

Some of our web projects pay for themselves by having AdSense but it could only take one slight tweak of Google's algorithm for that to finish.

Because of that uncertainty we are now developing new business models that don't require adverts for use in future projects - I suspect we are not the only ones.

Art Maker | Nov 03, 2007 | 7:53AM

May be I have been @ another planet, but unlike when Google started, there has been very few wow products from Google (e.g. Google Earth, Gmail, etc.) The excitment is gone. Why? If one looks at a typical job ad from Google, the typical requirements are top universities or major investment companies. If those are the people that Google has been bringing in, no woder there is no more exciting new products from Google. And, no wonder that it is acting like any major companies like Microsoft. If the two founders still believe in "Do No Evil" and walk the talk, this Free411 incident would not have happened. But if one remembers that a key executive from Enron is also a Harvard MBA, this kind of behavior is understandable. The technology that Google based on is sound, but the people that is now running Google is not. I hope th two young founders is reading this and wake up to do more hands on managing instead of delegating it to others.

LordBuddha | Nov 03, 2007 | 9:11AM

In Google's list of 10 things they have found to be true, #7 states they want to have access to "all the world's information". In spite of having learned that it is possible to "make money without doing evil" (#6; note that they don't say they won't do evil, just that you can make money not doing evil, whatever "evil" is of course) you have to wonder what they (and Microsoft) would do with access to your personal healthcare information. I don't have any reason to think that Google is or would be any less "evil" than any other large company, but people should own and control their own information, not have it owned and controlled by a third party, particularly one with no real interest in the individual beyond being someone to click on an advertisement.

David Sheeks | Nov 03, 2007 | 9:24AM

Never mind the other stuff... PageRank is broken. Google searches - once the gold standard - are now full of spam. The recent changes haven't made any difference.

Google IS the big one and its referrals dwarf everybody else, but it's trading on historical excellence. It's indexes are less up-to-date and contain more junk than any other search engine but it will take a while for the world to care.

At some point, that is what they have to fix.

Spangles McNulty | Nov 03, 2007 | 9:26AM

Bob,
Please write a book explaining why a startup website that has a lot of automation built into the system becomes a giant HR machine. Yes, growth is important to any bottom line, but Google prior to being GOOG was a small company that had a good product that was largely automated. We've seen the same thing happen with Yahoo! and Excite as well. Who are all these people that GOOG is hiring and what do they do all day, other than eat lunch and ride the segways?

Google has some nice stuff (I use G-mail and G-earth all the time), but how much updating do these need before they become bloatware?

Eric | Nov 03, 2007 | 10:09AM

Just for the record. I have posted inthe past three weeks but it seems that the name Ed is being used by a new poster. So since there is no secure feature in posting I won't post anymore. I remember when Google told me if I wanted Ed@Googlemail.com I needed to get back with them because first come first serve. I waited a week too long and all the easy names were gone. Have fun new Ed the montra is all your's now.

Ed | Nov 03, 2007 | 10:32AM

Yep, it's bozos like this: clickeclick
(found within the Adwords of this very column) that are to blame; Google is the victim, not the culprit.

Tim Serpell | Nov 03, 2007 | 11:21AM

Google is either worth a lot more, or a lot less, than M$. M$'s valuation is as a cash cow, throwing off predictable free cash flow with a low risk (beta). Google is a highly speculative investment for the longer term, and suffers a considerable haircut off the value of the cash it is generating, currently, given the possibility the will be superseded by a competitor or otherwise disintermediated by technological developments or the evolution of the marketplace.

apetra | Nov 03, 2007 | 11:41AM

I followed your earthtime.org link regarding the force update from Microsoft. On the right side of the page was an "Ads by Google" box. The top link was for Replacement Windows (home, not software). I just thought that was funny.

Patrick | Nov 03, 2007 | 11:47AM

A related issue that Google may or may not be involved with (I don't know enough to tell) is the behavior of many sites, prominently the Washington Post, that reload an article with ads when a viewer tries to go back to the main page by pressing the back button or the delete key. This happens over and over again until the viewer presses the button twice quickly or picks the main page from a pull down menu. A variant is when a site puts up an ad before showing an article (Salon and eWeek among others). Pressing the back button simply reloads the ad.

Viewers can live with this annoyance, but advertisers are being charged for wasted and annoying ad displays.

Stephen Keese | Nov 03, 2007 | 12:08PM

"Google is like the phone company. They don't have to care. Then one day they will wake up wondering why no one likes them, where the "market" went and why they are making so much money like they used to.
D. B. | Nov 02, 2007 | 5:31PM"

I really wanted to capture this comment! It should be the focus of a future article! It's not just Google. eBay and PayPal (Other Monopolies in CyberSpace) are very ruthless and uncaring. Luckily Amazon hasn't fallen into that trap (yet).

These companies seem to care more about their "standard templates" of service and service types, than actual customer service. Just try and get a hold of someone at eBay or PayPal, and if you do, try to get them to look at the "bigger" picture rather than their very tiny template of what they should be doing.



e-mail me for more info!



-Chip

Chip | Nov 03, 2007 | 1:27PM

Your story about Google stealing secrets from the Free411 folks sounds like something that you got from the Free411 folks. Why on earth would someone like Google want to steal a business model that is an obviously stupid one? The Free411 business model is incredibly bad and will die as some obviously superior approaches come into existence. Forcing callers to listen to ads is torture. A far better business approach would be for the 411 service provider to avoid the torture ads and simply connect the call for the caller (this is also a pretty essential feature for safe mobile operation) and get the call receiving business to pay for each call that is delivered. I would be certain that the receiving business would be quite willing to pay a per-call fee for receiving a call from a likely customer. They already pay for 800-service calls. It seems like a real stretch to believe that Google really needed to have a proprietary disclosure from the Free411 folks to understand their business model.
Also, your comment that the Free411 service has been “incredibly successful” does not make much sense to me. Considering that you have about 200 million cellular subscribers in the US and that they have to pay upwards of $1.50 for each call to 411, getting 200 million calls in the 1st two years of operation doesn’t strike me as something that has been “incredibly successful”. This is a single call every two years from the typical cellular subscriber. Last I heard, the total number of annual calls to 411 was still at 5 billion annually. Giving away something and still only getting less than 2% share, doesn't strike me being "incredibly successful'.
I have no reason at all to defend Google and they probably deserve your bashing. The “story” that Google ripped off the Free411 folks is not a good one, though.

Walt Tetschner | Nov 03, 2007 | 1:55PM

I had a quick look at NerdTV.com -- it isn't Google AdSense, but _Overture_ (Yahoo's ad system) serving nothing but ads on there. You should get your facts straight before you go Google bashing... :)

Benny the bunny | Nov 03, 2007 | 1:57PM


Microsoft didn't invent the method to examine a new
business and then compete. It's a matter of timing, assertiveness, and the fact these types
of business are so related in technology
that they do it in the market the way they do.



Post WWI ("we're all in it together" ) community
socialism over the years has gradually migrated
to more individual and independent business
operations. There's less government oversite
of monopolistic practices today. The Internet
industry is also a more homogonistic (horizontal) industry than
say cars and steel. So there are more equivalent
operational businesses; less distinction. How different is one web business from another ?
( yes, the devils in the details, but heck, all 4 cylinder car engines look an awlful lot alike, really).



Microsoft hired people with the balls and smarts to carry out their policy given the right time and right industrial place. Google is in a similar position, but may have positioned themselves to be in an even yet broader position given they are 1) newer and 2) no DOJ/consumer monopoly worries 3) have more open-minded employees and stock holders willing to take a calculated chance in horizontal businesses. If they eventually "own" some broadband, then clearly they are also vertical.



AOL missed a great opportunity as they grew in
the expected complacency of success - which of course is always followed by faltering: this happens to all businesses given time. Microsoft has been exceptional at avoiding it. AOL had a great market, great product, great lockin. The product was almost a full desktop that lacked one thing to carry them into the end zone: an operating system. They could have simply added that as an additional product, pushed an entire MS-like environment onto an install CD, and relieved customers of Windows. AOL management stalled in the fast moving marketplace.


Google is in a similar position. But with clearly
broader targets, as you've pointed out. They could pull it off given sufficient timing on entry into any number of markets. Owning their own Internet? or adding an OS? Being prepared while timing the market may work for them.


Walt Smith | Nov 03, 2007 | 2:00PM

If you look at what they've done by indexing the Web, then the value that Google provides may be justified. In fact, in a little while longer they may surpass Microsoft as the largest tech company in the world. There's a lot of money in advertising, in case you're wondering: http://fishtrain.com/2007/10/08/google-at-1000share/

And, it's not as if Google isn't making money. They have real profits. In fact, they are making more than the rest of the Big Web giants combined: http://fishtrain.com/2007/10/30/google-worth-more-than-rest-of-the-big-web/

Now that Google has released OpenSocial, they have a way to index all the social networks, just like they are able to index the rest of the Web: http://fishtrain.com/2007/11/01/opensocial-social-unification/

They control the social networking platform, now, which has so much potential because of the data mining possibilities: http://fishtrain.com/2007/10/17/the-platform-is-what-matters/

Jesse | Nov 03, 2007 | 2:00PM

free411.com's services are publicly accessible without an NDA. Given that open access, is it so difficult to develop a business plan around a similar, competing service?

foo | Nov 03, 2007 | 2:44PM

What, no mention of the manually composed, inaccurate/misleading descriptions for scientific/technical web sites written by Google droids who are not experts? Or the Google Scholar rankings that are manipulated by Google droids to yield results that their lay brains believe to be correct but aren't?

Dog | Nov 03, 2007 | 2:51PM

Cringely!!

I think yuou resort to Google whenever you want to drum up hits on this blog...

you've had several guesses over the past three years at Google's "audacious" and "sweeping" strategy.

So far, exactly NONE of them have publicly borne out. NONE. Why don't you go back to something more useful -- like the status of IBM's lean program.

matt | Nov 03, 2007 | 2:59PM

Your story about Google stealing secrets from the Free411 folks sounds like something that you got from the Free411 folks. Why on earth would someone like Google want to steal a business model that is an obviously stupid one? The Free411 business model is incredibly bad and will die as some obviously superior approaches come into existence. Forcing callers to listen to ads is torture. A far better business approach would be for the 411 service provider to avoid the torture ads and simply connect the call for the caller (this is also a pretty essential feature for safe mobile operation) and get the call receiving business to pay for each call that is delivered. I would be certain that the receiving business would be quite willing to pay a per-call fee for receiving a call from a likely customer. They already pay for 800-service calls. It seems like a real stretch to believe that Google really needed to have a proprietary disclosure from the Free411 folks to understand their business model.
Also, your comment that the Free411 service has been “incredibly successful” does not make much sense to me. Considering that you have about 200 million cellular subscribers in the US and that they have to pay upwards of $1.50 for each call to 411, getting 200 million calls in the 1st two years of operation doesn’t strike me as something that has been “incredibly successful”. This is a single call every two years from the typical cellular subscriber. Last I heard, the total number of annual calls to 411 was still at 5 billion annually. Giving away something and still only getting less than 2% share, doesn't strike me being "incredibly successful'.
I have no reason at all to defend Google and they probably deserve your bashing. The “story” that Google ripped off the Free411 folks is not a good one, though.

Walt Tetschner | Nov 03, 2007 | 3:03PM

Your story about Google stealing secrets from the Free411 folks sounds like something that you got from the Free411 folks. Why on earth would someone like Google want to steal a business model that is an obviously stupid one? The Free411 business model is incredibly bad and will die as some obviously superior approaches come into existence. Forcing callers to listen to ads is torture. A far better business approach would be for the 411 service provider to avoid the torture ads and simply connect the call for the caller (this is also a pretty essential feature for safe mobile operation) and get the call receiving business to pay for each call that is delivered. I would be certain that the receiving business would be quite willing to pay a per-call fee for receiving a call from a likely customer. They already pay for 800-service calls. It seems like a real stretch to believe that Google really needed to have a proprietary disclosure from the Free411 folks to understand their business model.
Also, your comment that the Free411 service has been “incredibly successful” does not make much sense to me. Considering that you have about 200 million cellular subscribers in the US and that they have to pay upwards of $1.50 for each call to 411, getting 200 million calls in the 1st two years of operation doesn’t strike me as something that has been “incredibly successful”. This is a single call every two years from the typical cellular subscriber. Last I heard, the total number of annual calls to 411 was still at 5 billion annually. Giving away something and still only getting less than 2% share, doesn't strike me being "incredibly successful'.
I have no reason at all to defend Google and they probably deserve your bashing. The “story” that Google ripped off the Free411 folks is not a good one, though.

Walt Tetschner | Nov 03, 2007 | 3:03PM

You might be interested in the graph on This Post is the New Black,
which indicates that not only Google but also Apple, Facebook, and MySpace are the new Microsoft.

Derrick Pallas | Nov 03, 2007 | 3:32PM

So, you're saying that Google is a huge company with trouble phasing in changes and dealing with change in general... Hmm, that sounds pretty normal for a multi-billion dollar company to me.

Do you honestly think that Google can just "do the right thing" automatically the second anyone is wronged by their system (which is not exactly a foreseeable event in most cases)? If any large company changed something as central to them as these algorithms are to Google, they'd risk a lot too. Since Google is a multi-billion dollar company, they have to be careful how they do some things because the effects can be far reaching and possibly damage the company. Despite the fact that Google is based upon presenting a very user friendly image and all that, their main priority IS making money.

Bobbias | Nov 03, 2007 | 3:57PM

No, Google is not the next Microsoft.

Google is a big company - and all big companies have a large number of middle management nitwits who damage the company but can't be fired because of corporate culture. And the senior management - even if not nitwits (and most are) - tends to be preoccupied with stock and board matters totally unconnected with customer satisfaction. Most of them have never seen SEEN a customer - which undoubtedly goes double for Google since all they ever see are browsers.

Microsoft, on the other hand, is basically Bill Gates. And Bill Gates was a rip off artist from Day One. as every biography of him has shown. The Microsoft corporate culture comes directly from Gates and his pit bull, Ballmer. So the Microsoft corporate behavior is utterly no surprise.

Bottom line: Google is just reaching their normal allotment of incompetence. Microsoft lives for that shit...

Richard Steven Hack | Nov 03, 2007 | 7:38PM

It's not just google that is broken - all advertising on the net is broken.

Why? Because of the extremely low barrier to entry. $6 gets you a domain that you can park for a year, and collect enough to make your "investment" back. There are companies buying hundreds of thousands of bogus domain names, and these parked pages are a total rip-off.

Content is supposed to be king - so why does google, or ANY search engine or advertiser, want to be associated with parked pages? Money. Sure, you can make money without being evil - but google knows you can make more by being less picky.

They should rename their "content advertising network" to "link pharmer network".

Hudson | Nov 03, 2007 | 7:58PM

A couple of months ago I visited the bay area asked a friend of mine that lives and works in the silicon valley if he thinks that google will turn into the evil empire. To which he answered: it already did. Silicon valley already thinks it is. I guess it's only time before the rest of the country will reach the the same conclusion ...

vrkid | Nov 03, 2007 | 8:49PM

Google is the "Evil Playpen" (as MicroSoft is called the Evil Empire). Google is managed by a bunch of naive kids.

Peter | Nov 03, 2007 | 9:03PM

A quick comment about AdWords on parked pages. I have advertised on them for some time, and I carefully measured my ROI. Parked pages perform very well for me, delivering leads well within my ROI parameters. They are consitently a top performer in the the Content Network. Remember, the new world of advertising, unlike the old, allows quantitative measurement.

Ken Abbott | Nov 03, 2007 | 10:08PM

A quick comment about AdWords on parked pages. I have advertised on them for some time, and I carefully measure my ROI. Parked pages perform very well for me, delivering leads well within my ROI parameters. They are consitently a top performer in the the Content Network. Remember, the new world of advertising, unlike the old, allows quantitative measurement.

Ken Abbott | Nov 03, 2007 | 10:08PM

When you said 'There, I said the "M" word...' I thought at first -- "what this guy already mentioned microsoft." Then I saw the word "monopoly" and my head finally registered what you meant.

People tend to overlook that, but I agree entirely. The join-us-or-we-crush-you thing reminds me of Rockefeller's Standard Oil trust, when he destroyed the independent oilmen and created a horizontal combination. Not good.

Sam Liu | Nov 03, 2007 | 10:44PM

I'm not going to defend Google using negotiations for espionage: if that kind of thing is going on it's pretty slimy. But I'm not sure how that's related to the other half of your article.


Can you clarify what kinds of changes to algorithms you're talking about, and are you REALLY clear on how much of that change is due to Google changing algorithms to "look good on Wall Street" and how much is due to the ongoing war search engines have been fighting with "search optimization" companies since before Google existed?


Google can't stick with any specific algorithm longer than it takes for the people trying to fake them out to figure out what works. It's not just the wild west out there, it's a wild west where the bandits can change the coach routes and schedule by pasting a new one over the old broadsheet... even if the coach has already left.

Peter da Silva | Nov 03, 2007 | 10:48PM

> Whatever happened to "Don't be evil"?

Doesn't anyone ever watch movies? Any company that says "Don't Be Evil" is going to be the most evil, vicious, rotten, disgusting of them all - while playing themselves off as the angelic honest humble saint.

Me | Nov 04, 2007 | 12:22AM

whatever your analysis,
can you imagine life without google??????
i think you got some valuable points, but it's all nothing compared to what the amazing work google is doing.

Yasser | Nov 04, 2007 | 2:11AM

whatever your analysis,
can you imagine life without google??????
i think you got some valuable points, but it's all nothing compared to the amazing work google is doing.

Yasser | Nov 04, 2007 | 2:11AM

And so we sell our soul to the DEVIL....;-)

patrick | Nov 04, 2007 | 7:06AM

Did it occur to you that maybe, just maybe, Google stopped talks with Free411 once they realized the startup is not as valuable as they thought it is? Like, their software is junk that doesn't scale and can't be easily updated to offer the other services that Google's version does?

A-Ha | Nov 04, 2007 | 8:26AM

I have to agree with Yasser. Google has provided a tremendous value to the world. The company has been instrumental in making information accessible to everyone. In order to accomplish this the company must remain profitable. I agree with some of your points, and that Google should work to improve several several services such as opting out of content networks. However, is there any company in existence that doesn't need to improve in some way?

Kent Schnepp | Nov 04, 2007 | 9:01AM


"global strategy so sweeping and audacious that it is breathtaking" ..

oh my god, OHH MYY GODDD .. there it is, The big opportunity. Time to sell everything I have and get every loan I can to buy buy buy GOOG.

I know the Messiah. After all I´ve followed a few.

The Life of Brian | Nov 04, 2007 | 9:11AM

The Google fanboys / staff (eg, Kent Schnepp - Yasser??) are describing a Google that existed five years ago, if at all.

This ruthless data hoarder is far more of a potential social nuisance than Microsoft. Google knows more about you than your wife does.

Miller | Nov 04, 2007 | 11:35AM

Google is breaking its own law - don't be evil. But like Bob says, as defendant, judge, and jury, Google is unaccountable to this statement, this moral compass. They can walk all over it under numerous excuses.

I see a class action lawsuit in Google's future if they continue to be evil.

Graham | Nov 04, 2007 | 2:07PM

Google may be a victim of the current IT organization mind think that IT is an expense center . What CFO wouldn't like to make his/her department a profit center. So...2.6% of revenue is the current percentage of a business's revenue should be the limit it spends on IT. We have become victims of the bean counters. We should do what's right, but only if it does not cost more money than this figure picked as the average of the industry. The first group to cut is after sales customer service.

Ken | Nov 04, 2007 | 3:02PM

Gee, how come all the guys from google are doing double postings?...

Anyway, I have to admit that, from the end user perspective, Google does not work as well as it used to. I clearly remember how when Google first came available it was wonderful to use. As a search engine, it made it quite simple to find relevant information about the topic you were interested in. But, the past few years, I have found Google to be as much pain as pleasure to use. It just seems that most of the crap it digs up seems to have nothing to do with the subject of interest. I have gotten where, when I do Google searches, I read the links on the search pages VERY carefully before clicking on them. Otherwise, I end up on some "website" that offers nothing I have any interest in. And, of course, these websites can be painfully slow loading, so much time is wasted before you can see that the website offers nothing of interest. But, I suppose that clicking on those links brings in much revenue to Google.

I have often wondered why there isn't some sort of "yellow pages" for the Internet. No, I mean a real "yellow pages", not the joke that is currently available. That is, a site were any and every business in the world could freely list themselves in a database. And, the database was searchable by geography as well as subject. That way you could just search businesses that had what your interested in. For example, if you were just looking for a new anchor for your boat, you'd just search boating supply businesses and could even limit the search to your area if you preferred to go to the business yourself to pick up your new anchor. With a search engine like Google you have to dig through page after page after page of links that have nothing to do with finding a new anchor for your boat. I mean, this whole business of using "adwords" across the entire Internet is just an inefficient way to locate products and services. First limit the search to relevant businesses for the object of interest, and even within limited geography if desired. At least then you wouldn't get a gazillion "hits" with only 5 or 6 being revelant.

Wayne | Nov 04, 2007 | 3:33PM

You need to spend more time learning how to setup and run a Google Adwords campaign. You only half know what you are talking about here.

Performance was always going to drop from the simple fact that you are participating in an auction to be in one of the top 10 positions. Competition for those spots is only increasing and its going to continue to increase. There have been some tweaks made to the system but those tweaks can work for you as much as against. You just have to know what you are doing. Small businesses can still do as well as big business but you have to know what you are doing now.

Your understanding of the Ad Sense network as it relates to Awords is also limited. You can actually turn that traffic off in Adwords (it's called the Content Network, Ad Sense is the "affiliate" progam to monetize publisher sites for Adwords). You can also turn off the Google Search Partners (like AOL) and only get Google Search Traffic. And then you can GeoTarget your Keywords so that whether you are Broad, Phrase, or Exact match you will only show up to people in your region. Broad Matched Keywords don't jump past Geography unless you run your campaign without Geotargetting rules.

So all these leads me to ask...are you complaining just because you're upset with Domainers making money off of programs like Ad Sense? Maybe you should buy your domain names before launching a TV Show or name your TV show after a domain name that IS available. It is like printing business cards - you should sign the lease before printing an address on your cards...

Paul J | Nov 04, 2007 | 6:31PM

Thanks for writing this article. I've seen my adword expenses triple over the past year, without seeing my business improve. You feel my pain.

Darren L | Nov 04, 2007 | 9:56PM

At times like this, you miss the old AltaVista.

old Net Man | Nov 04, 2007 | 11:11PM

Am I the only one to notice that gmail doesn't work very well. Email has pretty much a set organization but they came up with something that makes no sense to me. I can't even figure how it's supposed to work unless they expect you to leave all your email in the main inbox. If you move something into the archive then any response goes to the archive and you don't see it. If you move something into the archive without picking a box for it then you can hardly find it. Plus it abreviates messages and piles them on top of each other in a way that looks like something that nerd on "the office" would come up with. The only good thing is they forced the other companies to give all sorts of free space. As long as Microsoft and Google and Yahoo are still around it'll be ok but watchout if one buys the other and the third one shrinks away.

Frank | Nov 05, 2007 | 2:13AM

Bob, there are some interesting parallels there, but it really starts to sound like a gripe session if you only comment on the negative aspects of algorithm change for instance.

And Darren if your adwords costs have tripled without revenue tripling, you are doing something wrong. For ROI and volume Google adwords kicks the competition's butts, but you have to roll with it, if the algorithm changes, you got to adapt!

Lastly, the hatred of the Microsoft monopoly machine is borne out of their using their muscle to "force" OEMs to only distribute MS machines. Aggressive non competitive behavior. People use Google as a search engine because they choose to.

Dun | Nov 05, 2007 | 4:21AM

Your view of advertising depends on your perspective and how honest it is. I see Google ads as a way for small businesses to help more clients and Internet users to find what THEY want quickly and easily with more options on where to buy.

Google is like many other corporations: they prefer inexpensive college grads over intelligence and experience. See http://www.jeff-barr.com/?p=1047 for an amusing story on that.

The Google AdSense TOS forbids ordinary Web sites from placing ads on pages without content or created solely to display ads while their official Google AdSense for Domains is intended specifically for that purpose. See http://www.google.com/domainpark/.

Yahoo! Search Marketing has a larger issue with what we Pay Per Click specialists call Distribution Fraud (parked domain and other questionable traffic). See http://www.ppcthink.com/2007/10/01/ppc-distribution-fraud-issue-larger-than-click-fraud/ for many links on that subject. There is a simple solution - let advertisers opt out of parked domains and specific high-risk sites without having to give up the quality search partners in the network.

All parked domains are not created equal and some advertisers do see conversions from them. Our major complaint is over the distinction between search and content. Notice they called the parked domain program Google ADSENSE for domains and AdSense is content - not search! MY definition of search is that the Internet user typed in the keyword phrase themselves. Any time you volunteer to send traffic that is NOT search in my book. Mapping your volunteer generic keywords to my most expensive keyword phrases is not acceptable.

I am seeing and getting reports from other ppc consultants of across-the-board declines in conversion rates and sales from Google AdWords directly attributed to changes Google is making. Large companies may not see these issues because they get averaged in. Huge spikes in spending on specific keywords are far more obvious to smaller advertisers.

Finally, Microsoft doesn't have anything on Google when it comes to applying pressure and wielding their power. Search on pagerank or check out the video at http://www.seobook.com/video-example-failure-hands-engineer for some examples.

If you know any truly honest people you know evil does not enter their minds; those who say "trust me" are giving you advance warning of their intentions. It is NOT inevitable that companies must act badly; it is their CHOICE. The one difference between Microsoft and Google is that it is a lot easier for Internet users to change search engines than to change operating systems. And if the Open Source geeks would start teaching ordinary people how to use Ubuntu Microsoft and Google both may want to watch out. Neither is the darling any longer of anyone who is paying attention.

Rose Sylvia | Nov 05, 2007 | 6:57AM

I've got to say, I've been using Google AdSense for years and found it absolutely wonderful. Also their customer support. I found a bug in my reports the other day and Google customer support responded immediately and had it fixed within 24 hours. Really superb service.

I'm sorry, but a lot of the sour grapes from people with declining revenue from their websites are losing-out in an increasingly competitve market. They're just not updating and competing. Bob, the Google algorithm is extraordinarily accurate - if a site is suffering and a customer is complaining then it's usually because their site is not up to stuff. Don't blame the algorithm, it's your site.

Andrew Thomas | Nov 05, 2007 | 8:35AM

Personalized Search does not deliver those post search ads. They happen independently of personalized search. http://searchengineland.com/070723-154239.php explains this more.

On Google killing poor little Free411.com, perhaps you could comment on Microsoft buying a free 411 service called Tellme earlier this year? Should they not have done that? But since they have, should Google still not run its own service?

Danny Sullivan | Nov 05, 2007 | 9:27AM

Just answering Frank, though it seems off topic to me, but gmail works fine for me. In fact, it does a lot of things I have always wanted from e-mail.

Anyway, I wanted to point out that if a reply comes to an archived conversation, the whole conversation is brought back to the inbox. So you can archive all e-mails, and not worry about replies getting lost.

Of course, if you archive e-mail through a filter, you'd better apply a label to it.

As for finding it, the search feature usually does fine for me. If I do want to be able to easily retrieve e-mails that wouldn't be easily retrievable through search, then I apply one or more labels.

Daniel | Nov 05, 2007 | 9:35AM

I find this article to be reaching at best. Not only did I not find it particularly structured but it really failed to meet the level of expectation I have for your writing.

In all honesty, it sounds like you've received a number of various emails from readers who express negative opinions of Google in a number of ways, and you've chosen to write the article to see what kind of buzz or backlash it might generate.

I'm not for or against Google, but I and many people I work with daily use Google Ad Words, Analytics, Optimizer, and other tools successfully and without pain.

Your rant about their treatment of Free411 reeks of biased inside information spewing from that deal-gone-bad. At best it represents a myopic summary of that entire interaction.

I hope your next article takes the level of insight and wit back to an acceptable level.

Richard | Nov 05, 2007 | 10:15AM

A quick search shows that little helpless free411.com or 1-800free411 is a service of Jingle Networks, itself a portfolio company owned largely by seven different private equity investors-hardly a "little" guys.

Further, when a company takes a peak at another under NDA it is much like a home buyer going into 30 day escrow: you don't buy the place if it's riddle with termites and you can build a non-termite brand new home for much less.

Nate Too | Nov 05, 2007 | 10:22AM

This should be a lesson to all those little companies that are either set up for the specific purpose of being bought out -- or get big $$$ in their eyes when the the idea is floated by a google or microsoft.

Not sure why someone posted about Gmail.

Tom | Nov 05, 2007 | 10:25AM

I think you should give credit where it is due:
The master thief of IP belonging to others is and has been IBM! Indeed, probably most large corporations have phony "Venture Capital" arms devoted to that very mission.

Dr.BobHacker | Nov 05, 2007 | 11:00AM

There are other explanations to consider...

This article neglects the possibility that Google changes its algorithms because of the eternal arms race: that is, in response to spam, mis-labeled sites, and other deceptive tactics. Instead, it jumps to the explanation that Google tweaks its algorithms to please Wall Street (though it's not clear why Wall Street would be pleased by algorithms that do worse).

I'm not saying Google is perfect, but this article does not acknowledge the messiness of the world they work in, or the scrambling they have to do just to keep their search quality stable in the face of increasingly sophisticated deceptive tactics by others.

Karl Fogel | Nov 05, 2007 | 1:35PM

These companies should ALWAYS make a big company pay them a ton of money to see their books etc. If they don't then they're being reckless.

John Owens | Nov 05, 2007 | 1:57PM

You'd think the conversation would come back to the inbox, and it does sometimes. Sometimes it doesn't. I didn't realize that until people complained I was ignoring them. Go look through your archive and I'll bet you find some lost messages. The search does work pretty well. The desktop search feature is a massive power hog as is the one with vista.

Frank | Nov 05, 2007 | 2:27PM

One time does not a pattern make. People who recognize repeated behaviors do not have to wait until someone does a study to see the handwriting on the while. The human capacity to rationalize the obvious away while insisting on research to prove they're being fleeced before they'll even consider the possibility never ceases to amaze me.

When you open your eyes and accept the obvious you'll see the games for what they are and then and only then can you decide whether to play them on your own terms or take your coins and walk away.

Google is paternalistic - they tweak their algorithms to punish and reward us as though we were Pavlov's dogs - to get the behavior that makes them the most money and rationalize it as being for our own good.

Point well taken Dr. Hacker. I worked for IBM for 23 years and would love to confirm the story I heard there that IBM bought the patent for hologram technology used in supermarket scanners from someone's garage for $10,000.

I saw a newspaper clipping on the wall of a brilliant Engineer I know personally about him winning a science contest at age 17. The article described how a laser printer worked. I recognized it because I repaired them at IBM. Panasonic contacted him and "helped him" protect his invention right into their own patent portfolio.

On another wall he had a commendation from the Navy. I asked about it because he had waist length hair and was clearly too peaceful a soul to have ever been in the military. It was for suggesting the use of lasers as sonar.

Brilliant people have got to wake up and start supporting each other's efforts so that they and everyone else are no longer sheep to be fleeced and controlled. We have got to stop acting like children and allowing others to "parent" us into submission.

Rose Sylvia | Nov 05, 2007 | 3:53PM

An interesting post. It should be noted that Google's algorithm is not the only one at issue here, though it is the most pervasive. Other companies use algorithms for risk calculations, deciding which offer to make or customer to retain. Companies should not be allowed to hide behind these algorithms either. While algorithms are generally less biased and more reliable than human judgment, they are not infallible and companies that use them must be held accountable for them.

JT

James Taylor

Author of Smart (Enough) Systems

James Taylor | Nov 05, 2007 | 4:27PM

re: Android . . .

Remember how the "microcomputer" environment looked when IBM entered the fray with a new design (it's "PC")? A desperate (and disparate) mob of manufacturers, each marketing its own unique architecture, competing on technology, was offering a veritable Babel of incompatible choices to a market bursting with untapped potential.

Then, the most "open" computer hardware standard of its time was promulgated, and happened to be backed by the biggest name then in computing: IBM. Once competing (but compatible) BIOSes became available, the small-computer market rapidly devolved to two camps: Apple, and the PC clone makers. Remember, it wasn't a particularly elegant or advanced design -- the PC's architecture didn't win on technology.

It won because it provided a level playing field on which the game of competition could be played. And *played* it has been, to the point that PC's have become mere commodity (read: "low-margin") items.

So, it will be interesting to see whether Google, throwing its weight behind an "open" initiative, in a fragmented market that's swollen with untapped potential, will induce similar dramatic effects.

I won't be a bit surprised.

Paul Brogger | Nov 05, 2007 | 7:02PM

I just got an email account at Gmail on my son's advice who has used them for years - mainly to grab the free space to store my blog backups and such. I've been working with computers a long time and I don't hate Microsoft or Google but I expect this sort of thing from big companies. As I read your post, I realized that I use XP as a backup operating system to run the programs I have a long term learning investment in like Corel Draw but do most things with Ubuntu. And I will be keeping my main mail account at fastmail because by paying $20 a year I get a small company whose only business is email. Perhaps these Alpha companies could select a random group of smaller customers and reward them for telling all about their customer experience - like what is happening with their Adword revenue. Call it Omega testing.

Lorenz Gude | Nov 05, 2007 | 11:08PM

Google has what I call an algorithmic view of the world. In their view, if something isn't optimal it means either a) the algorithm needs improvement or, b) you're not a savvy enough user to find the answer you need. If your ads are no longer working or your site no longer climbs high enough in the search rankings it is because you are irrelevant--the algorithm says so.
While this view creates a very good search engine, it is dangerously anti-human. For at its core it means that anyone who manipulates symbols other than computer code--editors,writers, directors, teachers--are really only needed because the right algorithm hasn't been invented to replace them.

Phil Hood | Nov 06, 2007 | 1:00AM

Google has what I call an algorithmic view of the world. In their view, if something isn't optimal it means either a) the algorithm needs improvement or, b) you're not a savvy enough user to find the answer you need. If your ads are no longer working or your site no longer climbs high enough in the search rankings it is because you are irrelevant--the algorithm says so.
While this view creates a very good search engine, it is dangerously anti-human. For at its core it means that anyone who manipulates symbols other than computer code--editors,writers, directors, teachers--are really only needed because the right algorithm hasn't been invented to replace them.

Phil Hood | Nov 06, 2007 | 1:00AM

Where's the devil's advocate? Isn't it at least plausible that Google was in negotiations with these guys because they wanted to get into the business and then at the last minute free411 dug in their heels and demanded some multiple of the YouTube transaction price? And if they truly think they're worth that then they should have done just that. Does that mean Google's barred from entering the business unless they cave to the high demand price?

A friend of a friend once interviewed with this company but during negotiations when he asked for a very reasonable term in his employment agreement they shut off all communications with him abruptly. I told him he just saved himself a few years of pain. So it's not shocking to me that something like this could happen.

Of course, we don't know. Maybe Google totally went after them like rabid vampires. But, we don't know, so there's an interesting situation here, but nothing upon which to make any judgments. When it becomes a pattern, like Microsoft, then we're onto something.

Bill McGonigle | Nov 06, 2007 | 9:05AM

My company spends $250,000 per year with google on adwords and we don't even have a sales rep. We wanted in on an ad serving beta and our supposed "internal" rep was a no-show on the call he set up with us - have not heard a word from him since, no apologies. I guess he was doing us a favor.

JC | Nov 06, 2007 | 2:16PM

My company spends $250,000 per year with google on adwords and we don't even have a sales rep. We wanted in on an ad serving beta and our supposed "internal" rep was a no-show on the call he set up with us - have not heard a word from him since, no apologies. I guess he was doing us a favor.

They're getting a bit arrogant. Stock will run for 5 more years but they are headed the way of Mister Softy

JC | Nov 06, 2007 | 2:17PM

Companies worldwide will be able to contribute to new products so long as they forge the right business alliances. Whats really going to be interesting to observe in the next few years is the Gphone makes all media more ubiquitous. That can benefit both consumers and investors. The NewsVisual article on Googles Open Handset Alliance http://www.newsvisual.com/newsvisual/2007/11/google-and-moto.html implies that its really personal connections among business leaders that determine future success in the competitive marketplace. But consumers can also benefit from the new products those alliances spawn.

Bill Leary | Nov 06, 2007 | 7:00PM

It would be beneficial for Google to have a reporting page where users can notify them of obvious link farms. Such parasitic and unhelpful sites need to be nuked out of existence.

Sam | Nov 07, 2007 | 10:46AM

To put it in perspective, Google is Anakin Skywalker about to take the next step up to Darth Vader after learning how to slaughter younglings (i.e. trusting Adwords customers) from the Evil Emperor . We're all going to end up smoking skeletons on Tatooine by the time they're both done.

Kevin Daniel | Nov 07, 2007 | 11:38AM

Google is becoming a victim of it's own success. It happened so fast, nobody gave serious thought to how to manage the future.

To put it another way, unplanned growth in the body is called cancer.

thomas fredrick | Nov 07, 2007 | 1:57PM

That seems to be the case with Dell, too. The NewsVisual article on the deal http://www.newsvisual.com/newsvisual/2007/11/dell-and-equall.html shows the personal connections among the leaders of these two companies. Those connections could have played a role in reaching the deal. But they will also help tell gain a foothold in a new market.

Bob High | Nov 07, 2007 | 4:38PM

I have to agree with several other comments. The speed at which Google has grown is certainly contributing to Google's inability to cope with the continuing failures in its IT system. For this reason, I think that Google might not be worth their current $700/share and if more people were aware of its shortcomings, their worth could drop dramatically.

Mike Mothner | Nov 08, 2007 | 1:22PM

The issues with Adwords and spam web content are bad business, it's as simple as that.

Google needs to take these problems seriously. If it doesn't fix them, someone else will.

KJN | Nov 08, 2007 | 2:48PM

Two things: First, Google is no Microsoft; while Microsoft charges hundreds of dollars for stuff I can get for free, Google charges me nothing for stuff I can't get at any price.
Second, it's November 9th 2007, where is NerdTV????.

John | Nov 09, 2007 | 6:14AM

Will Google enter the handheld gaming market? Whats really going to be interesting to observe in the next few years is the Gphone makes all media more ubiquitous, and how that ubiquity will impact company profits. That can benefit both consumers and investors. The NewsVisual article on Googles Open Handset Alliance http://www.newsvisual.com/newsvisual/2007/11/google-and-moto.html implies that its really personal connections among business leaders that determine future success in the competitive marketplace. So I imagine they wont want to miss out on the lucrative gaming market.

Bill Leary | Nov 09, 2007 | 11:02AM

Are you looking for morality in a gung-ho super successful business?

stephen javna | Nov 11, 2007 | 11:48AM

Opera - watch what happens in three months

Kevin Kunreuther | Nov 12, 2007 | 7:39AM

The embrace that kills is so-o-o-o MS. Leaves me wondering what happened to their 'do no evil' principle.

another bob | Nov 12, 2007 | 9:01PM

PBS Fails at comment spam blocking...

Nice one.

You may want to look into something like...captcha or simple questions like what color is an orange? Or have someone occasionally read your comments and maybe delete spam like the last several comments have been.


hyrcan | Nov 15, 2007 | 1:49PM