Are You a Commodity for Google?

    January 12, 2008

Many SEO Book readers have seen Google Trends before, but did you know that Google Checkout also has a trends feature? Google has those touch-points, email data (now with a mailing list feature), AdWords bid data, conversion data, analytics data, and search referral data.

A recent research paper reviewed Google’s internal Prediction Markets [PDF]. Three key quotes from that research…


Google’s prediction markets are reasonably efficient, but did exhibit four specific biases: an overpricing of favorites, short aversion, optimism, and an underpricing of extreme outcomes. New employees and inexperienced traders appear to suffer more from these biases, and as market participants gained experience over the course of our sample period, the biases become less pronounced.

Arbitrage opportunities

As further evidence of short aversion, in order book snapshots collected each time an order was placed, we found 1,747 instances where the bid prices of the securities in a particular market added to more than 1, implying an arbitrage opportunity (from buying a bundle of securities for $1 and then selling the components). In contrast, we found only 495 instances where the ask prices added to less than 1 (implying an arbitrage opportunity of buying the components of a bundle for less than $1 and then exchanging the bundle). The median duration of these arbitrage opportunities was about 2 minutes.

The effect of proximity

An important caveat to our results is that they tell us about information flows about prediction market subjects, many of which are ancillary to employees’ main job. this may explain why physical proximity matters so much more than work relationships – if prediction market topics are lower-priority matters so much more than work relationships – if prediction market topics are lower-priority subjects on which to exchange information, then information exchange may require the opportunity for low-opportunity-cost communication created by physical proximity. Of course, introspection suggests that genuinely creative ideas often arise from such low-opportunity-cost communication. Google’s frequent office moves and emphasis on product innovation may provide an ideal testing ground in which to better understand the creative process.

Google’s new mailing lists wipes out the need for many boutique email services. They know what features they are going to roll out before anyone else does. And they have market moving data before others do. Google’s AdSense is the fuel that drives web innovation. And they can decide at any time if a competing service is no longer viable to push it toward its demise.

Virgin real-time data + arbitrage identification algorithms + understanding investor flaws + algorithms to target mental flaws + direct and indirect market influence = $

As I see it, competitive forces between traditional publishers, market saturation from the bottom, and market influence from the likes of data hoarding companies like Google are going to quickly commoditize anything that is sold as information. To survive you need emotional touch-points that consumers share.

A friend of mine was a leading affiliate for an information product, selling over $300,000 worth of someone else’s service. How did they reward him? They cloned his sales channel and killed his business model. Everything that is not a memory, brand, or experience is becoming a commodity. What prevents you or I from becoming a commodity?

You become what you surround yourself with, and when you push out you attract the right people or the wrong people. Threadwatch, for example, attracted the wrong people, or perhaps the wrong mood and tone from the right people. But you could also engineer the silicon valley in your industry if you work hard enough.

In the information age, where marketers

  • have granular controls
  • can remain anonymous
  • can market brands in minutes
  • leverage reverse billing fraud and computer destroying viruses
  • can distance themselves from the fraud via affiliate programs or pushing blame on algorithms

there are a lot of scams to be wary of. Especially when there is so much information being produced to where content is published in biased sound-byte format to whore for attention. The stakes for calling someone out are big, because you need attention to profit, and unfortunately, the structure of the web has changed:

Google and it’s copy-tition were designed 10 years ago. But the web has changed significantly in the past decade. Google was built to index a web that no longer exists… a web where people still engaged in social linking behavior, for one thing.

But there are lots of experts who keep learning and change with the markets. Some people give because they like to learn and they are not driven by short term profits. Teach a man to fish, etc.

Each day we chose who we want to listen to, who we want to be like, who we want to like us, and why we want them to like us. Those relationships are the only thing that prevents us from becoming commodities.

"You’re lucky in life if you have the right heroes. I advise all of you, to the extent that you can, pick out a few heroes. There’s nothing like the right ones." – Warren Buffet

My web heroes thusfar are Tim Berners-Lee and Seth Godin. Who are yours?