Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Forbes Looks at "Google Hell"

Andy Greenberg, writing in Forbes, points to a place where the Google gatekeepers will send sites that...what?...look too much like spam?

Google Hell is the worst fear of the untold numbers of companies that depend on search results to keep their business visible online. Getting stuck there means most users will never see the site, or at least many of the site's pages, when they enter certain keywords. And getting out can be next to impossible--because site operators often don't know what they did to get placed there.

Google's programmers appear to have created the supplemental index with the best intentions. It's designed to lighten the workload of Google's "spider," the algorithm that constantly combs and categorizes the Web's pages. Google uses the index as a holding pen for pages it deems to be of low quality or designed to appear artificially high in search results.

Interesting reading.

Google is a free service. And for all practical purposes so is the Internet.
So when people with something to sell depend on a free service to do their advertising, they sometimes get exactly what they pay for: nothing.

Businesses that depend on a free ride to stay profitable are hitch-hiking. If they want to have dependable transportation, they need to hire a cab or buy their own car. What's not to understand about that?

Google is on to these games and is doing a worthy job of keeping internet content clean, easy to access, pertinent and relatively free of garbage. I recall the early days when just about any search term returned a crazy mixture of everything from literary trivia to porn and everything imaginable in between. I can't recall the term, but I was once shocked to see it turn up (thanks to a Google search) buried in a chapter of a Dickens novel! Cute, but useless information. And surprising. I never realized the Google people read Dickens but it made me feel better that they did.

After spending a career in the food business I can tell you a thing or two about people trying to get something for nothing. I heard Neal Boortz complaining one morning about QT convenience food stores (one of my absolutely favorite places to go) not furnishing his favorite coffee sweetner. All they have, he said, were sugar and the pink stuff. Other than that, he indicated theyr were a classy operation. Just too "cheap" to put out the good stuff.

That's how people sometimes think who never have dealt with the public. The reason for their product mix is more likely stealing.

What? People steal? Surely not! Most people are not that cheap. That's right, most people aren't that cheap. But enough freeloaders are out there that the rest of us have to be subject to tighter controls than otherwise might be the case. I have two favorite stories about the public's expectations of what is meant by the word "free."

The first concerns lemons, as in lemon wedges for iced tea. I learned early in the game that when a product was unavailable that is paid for by the customer, it may be bad business to let yourself be out of stock, but the results was not altogether terrible. Being out of chicken -- even for ten ninutes or so -- was always a point of frustration, but there were lots of other entrees available, or the guest could always choose a different entree, soup & salad or a vegetable plate for lunch that day. Ruffled feathers, of course, but nothing unforgivable.

"Unforgivable" is running out of something "free."

"Whaddya mean, you don't have any butter? You always have butter!"
"No lemons! I can't drink tea without lemons. Just give me some water. I can't believe there are no lemons..."

...and so on. I only ran out of lemons ONCE. After that it was worth a trip to the grocery store and whatever price was necessary to avoid ever running out again. We never let ourselves run out of condiments. I can't imagine what might happen if there were no ketchup. Or steak sauce. Spare me the humiliation.

The second example is about crackers. Saltines for soup.

My associate manager worked on Sundays and I was scheduled off on Sundays and Mondays so I rarely got to meet the Sunday crowd except when the associate manager was on vacation. My dining room staff told me about a family that was stealing crackers and I reacted by being blad that it was on Sundays. "The associate manager will handle it," I told them. "He's the man in charge on Sundays."

The day came, of course, when I had to be on duty when this family came in. A couple of the staff came whispering up to me...."They're here! That's the people who are stealing crackers. Right back there in the second booth!"

"Chill out," I said. "Let me check into this...." [Why ME? I thought. I always get stuck with the stickiest public relations problems.]

Sure enough there was a family of four. Two kids (watching and learning from the example of their mother), Mom and Dad. Mom had brought a purse that looked like a converted school lunch pail. Cute. Just the right size. And sure enough she had picked up an inventory of saltines and was getting them organized to pack into the "purse." Stacked up neatly on the table like poker chips, about six or eight to the stack. They fit perfectly in place. It was about half to one-third the size of a standard box of crackers.

What to do....

I put it off, trying to think how best to confront the situation...or maybe ignoring it altogether and telling the staff that we have to overlook stuff like that because some people are just that rude and selfish and we need their business just like everyone else's. (Kinda like smokers who insisted on lighting up in a non-smoking section. Always, it seemed, only a few feet away from a child with asthma---or so Mama said. This was before the ban on public smoking.)

As they left, Mom took the girl child to the restroom and Dad went up to pay. This is great! Mom was the problem and Dad didn't seem to have anything to do with it except letting his pushy wife do her thing. As he was handing the check to the cashier I walked up and said "Ann, give him back his money. I want him to be our guest today."

The cashier was well-trained and instantly handed him his money, waiting for me to say something.

"I hope you all enjoyed your lunch today," I said. "And anytime you get soup, please have as many crackers as you want to eat. But I have to ask you not to take out as many crackers as you took because we need to have the same rules for everyone. Mostly, if my staff sees customers carrying out food without paying for it, they think it's okay to do that and you can see what that could lead to."

He was mortified. Poor guy. He got in trouble because of what his wife had done. He mumbled something weak, like, "I understand. Thanks for mentioning it..." and left quickly with the son.

Whew! That was easier than I thought.

But wait. About five minutes later I saw the woman coming in. Walking down the line of waiting customers and making for the dining room. I pretended not to see her...She made her way through the Sunday crowd and came directly to me. I smiled at her and said, "Hello, what can I do for you?"

"Here," she said stiffly, dropping a check for their meal on a tray that I was carrying. "Go buy yourself some crackers." She turned and left, saying nothing more.

I never saw them after that. I can imagine what happened when that poor, hen-pecked husband had to face his pushy wife, telling her how embarrassed he was at the checkout. I double that even he was prepared for her reaction. I toyed with the idea of mailing her check back to her jsut to underscore my point, but I decided to deposit it instead. The point had already been made. No reason to add insult to injury.

For me it was yet another footnote in a long history of meeting, serving and loving that great American Public. Thank God, I'm getting close to retirement.

And as for so-called "business people" and "marketers" looking for a free ride with Google: Get over it. If you find yourself confined to what you call "Google Hell" just know you got there on your own. Google didn't do it. You did it to yourself.

Next time, take only the crackers you need and leave some for others. Some of us are "just looking."

No comments: