While everybody else was pondering the ethics of Eliot Spitzer's now-infamous Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) ad buy, I was wondering about the dollar signs. Let me back up for a second. Earlier this week, the story broke that Spitzer's New York gubernatorial campaign had paid Google so that its website came up in the "sponsored links" column any time someone searched on the word "AIG." The aim, of course, was to snare anyone searching on the insurance company -- likely for information on the still-unfolding scandal -- and hustle him off to the great protector's election campaign.
Most of the press seemed to think this represented a wee conflict of interest. Spitzer agreed, blamed the problem on a low-level staffer, and had the ad buy pulled.
Today, when you Google "AIG," the second sponsored link you get is the New York Times' (NYSE: NYT ) namesake newspaper. For the record, I'm not sure this is the most savory situation, either. But it does show the incredible power of Google.
Sure, there are other paid-search peddlers out there. You've got your FindWhat.com (Nasdaq: FWHT ) . And then you've got your... well, let's see, the rest are being snapped up. AskJeeves went to InterActiveCorp (Nasdaq: IACI ) , Overture to Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO ) .
So the herd has been culled, and Google's incredible brand presence makes it more and more the only player that matters, sort of like eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY ) in online auctions. How much of a stink do you think there would be if Spitzer had purchased his conflicts of interest at any of those also-rans? Would anyone even have noticed? When's the last time you asked Jeeves anything besides, "Isn't it time to get rid of that silly butler cartoon?"
I still think Google the stock looks incredibly pricey, but I also wonder if it can't grow into its big britches, because everything it touches turns to gold. Can we just talk maps for a couple of seconds? Why is it that it we had to wait until Google came around to get a big, legible map right away, without four or five clicks?
In my opinion, Google's not really the innovator that many claim it to be. But it does things right. Every time. And figures out a way to make money off this advantage. Online Search. Online email. Desktop search. Newsgroups. News portal. Click-through ads. Blogging. Image browsers. These are all examples of computerized "stuff" that had been around for a long time before Google invented a better way to do it, or simply bought another company that had already figured it out.
There's incredible opportunity in simplicity, and Google seems to be harvesting it better than anyone else.
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