Readers in London may have noticed in the past couple of weeks, posters on the tube and elsewhere advocating an ‘Information Revolution’, in response to the fact that one company allegedly controls 80% of the information on the Web. No more information is given, but the ad suggests a visit to information-revolution.org to find out more.
Sitting on the tube, opposite such an ad, I figured that there were only two possible companies which could be accused of controlling 80% of information on the Web; it could plausibly refer to either Internet Explorer’s market share (and would therefore be an advert for Firefox) or Google’s market share. Since I knew Mozilla wasn’t planning any advert like this, I assumed that it was a competitor to Google, and concluded it was probably Ask (since neither Yahoo or Microsoft would manage to think outside the box to such an extent). However, I dismissed that idea instantly as it seemed so unlikely that a well respected company would attempt such a pathetic campaign, and that therefore it must be some new search engine with far too much venture capital. By that point I had lost interest, and began examining the ventilation panel.
I didn’t think any more about it until a storm erupted on the blogosphere a few days later. Ask guilty of astroturfing! screamed the headlines. The search engine had launched a deceptive marketing campaign (astroturfing because of the attempt to impersonate grass roots activity – get it) without disclosing that they were behind it. Finally getting round to looking at the campaign Website, I discovered a blog, including a post on why the ‘revolution’ had been forced to ‘go underground’:
The regime supporters are telling us to “advertise” the features we have, rather than wage an underground revolution. If only we had a choice! Everyone knows that: A) you have to try a feature to really understand it, and most people have been brainwashed that they don’t need to try another search engine’s features and B) advertising doesn’t work anymore!! That’s why we had to go underground.
Not to mention the factually inaccurate statement that the Internet is 15 years old – the world wide web is 15 years old. The Internet, as we all know, was born well before that. But we can’t blame them for the mistake, because, apparently ‘The Red Bull ran out at 1am on Saturday, so this post may not make much sense!’
My encounter with this revolution, which will inevitably result in a world changed forever in about a week’s time, was last Saturday evening, when a nice man from Ask offered me a free badge and a T-shirt in Covent Garden, from a peculiar-shaped trailer. I declined the gift, although I was very tempted to make my evening out more exciting by making use of their free Internet access inside the trailer. I was interested to see, however, that they had responded to the blogosphere by plastering an Ask logo on the trailer. Maybe the revolution felt that it was gaining enough momentum to come out into the open.
I didn’t tell the nice man from Ask this, but I have a suggestion to the revolution which I will tentatively put forward here (although those nasty spies from Google might also pick it up); build a better product. The route to market domination is not through silly campaigns where no-one can work out what is being advertised, but through making a product which is such an improvement over the existing market leader that people are prepared to switch. A departing thought; if Ask does manage to build a better product, and become the new monopoly, I wonder whether they will continue to advocate using search engines other than the most popular?