March 20, 2006

this is utterly appalling:

Kinderstart sues Google over lower page ranking.

SAN FRANCISCO, March 18 (Reuters) - A parental advice Internet site has sued Google Inc., charging it unfairly deprived the company of customers by downgrading its search-result ranking without reason or warning.

The civil lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in San Jose, California, on Friday by KinderStart.com seeks financial damages along with information on how Google ranks Internet sites when users conduct a Web-based search.

KinderStart charges that Google without warning in March 2005 penalized the site in its search rankings, sparking a "cataclysmic" 70 percent fall in its audience- and a resulting 80 percent decline in revenue.

So people have a constitutional right to Googlejuice? So Googlejuice = Free Speech? That to me seems an insult to the notion of Liberty.

Can somebody more consitution-savvy than me help me out with this? I'm confused.

[From Talkshop:] "That said, I also think it's fair to say that if an 80% revenue decline can be attributed solely to your Google rank, you've pretty much lost control of your business."

Posted by hugh macleod at March 20, 2006 2:32 PM | TrackBack
Comments

This shows the danger of relying too much on one type of marketing. The irony is that if they'd waited another week or so, their search results might have been better than before. I think it's a basic lack of understanding about how the engines work, they're dumb machines that process information, not evil doers out to get anyone. Agreed it's an ill-judged lawsuit. Even if there are human editors at the search engines, there's no possible way they could censor every single company in google's index. That would be control freaking on a superhuman scale!

Posted by: Sarah Fenwick at March 20, 2006 3:00 PM

IANAL.

As far as I can tell, the argument is that Google is an "essential service" and therefore should be regulated. It is parallel to saying that the only eletricity company in town has no right not to serve you.

This fails on a number of levels, of course. It is highly questionable if you could consider an online search service to be an essential service.

Even if you could, there are many other search services, such as MSN and Yahoo. So they would have to prove a monopoly.

But if a company's entire business relies solely on Google, then it is a poor business. That's not really Google's fault. They are still a private company and could in theory go bankrupt and cease operations at any time.

FWIW, a similar lawsuit was tried about a year ago and failed.

Yehuda

Posted by: Yehuda Berlinger at March 20, 2006 3:06 PM

I believe that in the US it is much easier to sue someone than in Canada or the UK. Therefore, if in doubt, sue; even if it's spurious.

Posted by: Harold Jarche at March 20, 2006 3:08 PM

From a legal standpoint, the suit has no merit. It's a publicity stunt by KinderStart to try to get some traffic after they stupidly put all their eggs in the search engine basket.

Unlike across the pond, we Americans can file a lawsuit just to get attention.

Posted by: Brian Clark at March 20, 2006 3:22 PM

This is a good example of one of the core problems with the US court systems. You can basically file suit against anyone, for anything, almost regardless of merit. This one seems to have made a larger blip on the radar because it targets google, but there's thousands of similar frivilous lawsuits wasting the courts time all over the country. It usually comes down to who has the best lawyers, and in this case, I don't think google will have anything to worry about.

It's a shame that the kinderstart people didn't hire a decent design team to fix up their shoddy website, and perhaps get an SEO guru on board.

Posted by: Jesse at March 20, 2006 3:36 PM

Jesse nailed it. This is a classic example of typical American "I suck, so I'm going to blame someone else for my shortcomings by suing their asses."

kinderstart.com is coded like it was 1994. Multiple nested table tags, no use of search-engine-friendly header tags, no alt attributes on images, etc. No wonder their Google ranking plummeted.

Maybe they should take the money they're spending on a lawsuit and hire me to rebuild it, instead. That way, everyone wins.

Posted by: Scotty at March 20, 2006 4:01 PM

Well, now kinderstart can be sure of a better ranking in google with all the searches that will be triggered by the news :)
PR via the court system. Why not? Don't get me started!

Posted by: Sarah Fenwick at March 20, 2006 4:09 PM

Yep, this is pretty blatant PR whoring.

It could also be an attempt at extorting Google to reveal some of their algorithms, whcih would of course be disastrous. A court may want Google to show their algorithms in order to prove that the dropping of Kinderstart.com was in fact an automated one based on their algorithms and not a subjective, manual change made by the company - which could classify as discriminations.

This is how they could be thinking, I don't know. The case is not strong enough for this to happen, though, for the reasons that have been pointed out here and elsewhere on the blogsphere.

Easy Google win now, although I don't like the look of it. What if the situation I describe above could actually hold up some time in the future? A company saying, "pay up or reveal your technology".

Posted by: Haarball at March 20, 2006 4:14 PM

I think that google could skate around the attempt at discovering algorithms pretty easily. They wouldn't necissarily have to prove that the algorithm lowered the page rank, all they would have to prove is that no single employee did it. For kinderstart to claim damages against action taken directly by google, they should have to be able to prove that it was done intentionally, and probaly prove that that intent was malicious.

My personal opinion is that this is just a completely meritless case. Google page rank is merely and indicator of a sites worth, much like the NYSE is an indicator of a companies worth. If DOW chemical saw their share price drop by 80%, it certainly wouldn't be blamed on the NYSE maliciously devaluing it.

Posted by: Jesse at March 20, 2006 5:22 PM

KinderStart should probably have just hired me (or anyone) to make them a blog if they wanted more google juice.

But, hey, if they'd rather become world reknowned for acting like whiny, self-important losers with a chip on their shoulder I can see how the ideas central to blogging wouldn't be as appealing as just siccing a lawyer on someone. Obviously, they'd have a hard time with diplomacy, transparency, integrity, authenticity, etc.

I don't think I'd want to work for people like that. Glad I'm not a lawyer. My clients tend to behave a lot more like adults than these people.

Posted by: john t unger at March 20, 2006 6:01 PM

They have, if not a constitutional right, then a legal right to equal treatment. If and it's a big if, Google staff or its algorithms can be shown to be discriminatory then there is a case.

To adjust Jesse's analogy - if NYSE somehow indicated overnight that Dow stock was not readily tradeable then Dow could blame NYSE for the subsequent price fall.

A low Google ranking will adversely affect a comany's throughput of potential customers - if that ranking is not achieved in a scrupulously equitable manner (on both sides) then sadly I think there might be an argument for discrimination.

Posted by: john at March 20, 2006 6:11 PM

That the attack is bordering stupidity is evident, but you have to ask yourself what kind of people would think Google is out to get them? I mean, out of all the companies, institutions or governments on the planet you take on the one that has "Don't be evil" as it's motto. It has disaster written all over it.

Posted by: Walter X. Ego at March 20, 2006 6:23 PM

two minutes of my life i will never get back
http://theheadlemur.typepad.com/ravinglunacy/2006/03/kinderstart_and.html

Posted by: alan herrell - the head lemur at March 20, 2006 6:33 PM

I can't help but to be amused by the outcome of thise companies action. Rather than having people stand behind them and champion their cause, they've effectivley become the laughing stock of the blogosphere. What little dignity and brand recognition they might have had will be permanently soiled by these escapades.

I don't see how the kinderstart people can emerge from this victorious in any way, but if anything good comes of it, it will be that other companies have a wonderful case in point of what not to do.

Posted by: Jesse at March 20, 2006 7:36 PM

Yes the coding reveals that whoever did this knows nowt about today's Search Engine requirment.





KinderStart - Because Kids Don't Come With Instructions!

Pathetic. Shall we offer our coding services?

Posted by: Robert Bruce at March 20, 2006 9:38 PM

This is a straight up, blatant, move to get links, visibility and visitors to their low-quality site.

And it is working brilliantly (in a low-brow kinda way) From the looks of things this company has little to lose anyway.

More bad blogs on the net, more spam emails, more frivolous lawsuits in the court systems - welcome to our world fair citizens :)

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Posted by: 寒境 at March 21, 2006 12:56 AM

Disturbing to me today is that we New Zealanders are moving toward a more litigious society, bypassing civility for clogging up the courtsí system. But I have to agree with many posters above on this case. I wonder if the plaintiff even regards its filing suit as being unusual, given the frequency and seeming ease of suing in the United States. And tell me, what sort of a company is foolish enough to place its entire marketing mix online?

Posted by: Jack Yan at March 21, 2006 9:03 AM

I can't help but wonder what Ayn Rand would've had to say about this...

Posted by: Martin at March 21, 2006 1:57 PM

I work for an Internet company, and can tell you that all our clients go absolutely crazy for Google page rank, no matter if it brings customers to their website or not. We even got sued by one of our clients, claiming we "guaranteed" the highest position in Google for some keywords.
Why are people getting so crazy about it - couldn't it be our (us=web people) fault?

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