Hey, did you hear the one about Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG) Q1 earnings report ... ?

No, seriously -- this is not a joke. Did you hear about Google's earnings report? Because I sure didn't.

You see, last week, Google broke nearly new ground on the PR front. Since 2008, the Securities and Exchange Commission has permitted companies to publish news updates on their websites alone, rather than through tried-and-true distribution channels like Berkshire Hathaway's (NYSE: BRK-B)(NYSE: BRK-A) Business Wire service. Taking advantage of this newish rule, last week Google publicly announced its first-quarter earnings report in the form of a three-sentence "notice and access" release over Marketwire. In it, Google:

  • Confirmed that its Q1 results are out
  • Instructed anyone interested in them to visit the company's investor relations website
  • And furthermore confided that: "Google intends to make future announcements regarding its financial performance exclusively through its investor relations website."

It's a brave new world ...
Now, plenty of companies have tested the waters of the new SEC policy. Boeing (NYSE: BA), General Electric (NYSE: GE), Wal-Mart -- even Google itself -- have taken their messages to the blogosphere in recent years, communicating directly to investors via their websites. But last week, Google joined an exclusive club inhabited by only a handful of "pioneers" such as Marathon Oil (NYSE: MRO) and BGC Partners (Nasdaq: BGCP), who've taken the SEC's permission and really run with it.

... and just a bit more evil
Why are companies moving their investor communications "in-house?" BGC Partners says it costs $5,000 to issue an earnings release via one of the wire services -- $20,000 a year that could have been put to better use. So cost-cutting is certainly part of the story here. Be that as it may, though, the fact remains: If you wanted to know what was up with Google's numbers last week, you had to go to the source to find out. And call me a critic, but I consider that evil.

The company that once promised to simplify, organize, and unify all the world's information in one place has now taken a great leap backward, setting a precedent that will only promote more fragmentation.

I truly dread the day when other companies follow in Google's gigantic, trendsetting footprints. Thanks largely to the SEC, but now also to Google, investors could soon be forced to scan the websites of every company they own, daily, continually, to be certain of not missing out on important news.

For shame, Google. We expected better of you.

Fool contributor Rich Smith doesn't have a position in any of the stocks named above. You can find him on Motley Fool CAPS, publicly pontificating under the handle TMFDitty, where he was recently ranked No. 699 out of more than 160,000 members. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy

Google is a Rule Breakers recommendation. Berkshire Hathaway and Wal-Mart Stores are Inside Value choices. Berkshire Hathaway is a Stock Advisor pick. The Fool owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway.