Jeff had an article in the NY Times discussing Google’s influence on search, and later testified before the US State Senate anti-trust hearing for Google. Below, Rick and Jeff discuss these events and the implications of Google on online search.
Rick: Hello everyone, my name is Rick Backus and I am the CEO of CPC Strategy. Today I am joined by Jeffrey Katz, who is the CEO Nextag. How’s it going, Jeff?
Jeff: It’s going well. Thanks.
Rick: Good. We’re glad to have you on this interview. It’ll be cool to kind of, expose your point of view to our blog audience. So, I’m just going to jump right in to the questions. You testified in a Senate Judiciary Committee on September 21st, 2011, as part of a hearing titled The Power of Google Shopping Serving Customers or Threatening Competition. Can you real quick, just summarize your argument on that day, in front of the Senate of what you presented to them?
The Power of Google Shopping Serving Customers or Threatening Competition
Jeff: Well, my position today and to sort of the marketplace, which means stakeholders and e-commerce, but also users, shoppers, browsers, is that everybody benefits from a level playing field. And, my strong urge to the Senate Committee was to do their part to ensure that the internet and e-commerce, and our shopping sector in particular, is served by a level playing field. And, that was the essentiality of what we tried to push forward in our arguments and discussion.
Rick: Okay. Awesome. So, it’s been about a year and five months since that hearing, has your stance on Google evolved since then?
Google Shopping’s Evolution
Jeff: Well, I still think it’s super important that the marketplace support a level playing field. The government’s role in that has sort of been a very clarified in the United States, and that is that they don’t have any action that they’re going to take. And, so I think it’s for the marketplace to do what they can do, which it sort of determines our actions, your actions and Google’s actions for sure. And the competition is happening, or the marketplace is evolving. So, my stance hasn’t changed. I still think a level playing field is important, I don’t think in the search ecosystems there is a level playing field. I don’t know anybody who actually thinks it’s a level playing field, which is not to say that Google isn’t a bunch of good people and a great product. It is, but I do think that it’s not a level playing field, that users don’t see exactly what they probably think they’re seeing.
Rick: Yeah, I mean we see that a lot with our retailers and other agencies. Everyone has a very strong stance about Google until it’s going to go public, and then it seems like they kind of change their tune and it’s scary. You don’t want to necessarily piss off Google, because those are not the people you want on your bad side, but yeah.
Online Search Playing Field
Jeff: You’ve got to do the right thing in life and to me I certainly know, I’ve known Eric Schmidt for a long time. He’s quite an outstanding individual and I’m sure the Google people are also, but you have to stand up for what’s right. And, I think that a level playing field is really hard to argue now. There’s some contention, what is level playing field, and my view is that’s not what we have in the shopping arena. So, I think what we can do from here, is just really try and do a great job for our customers and hope that the marketplace endorses that as we do it.
Rick: Yeah. So, at the time there was just a lot of press on TechCrunch and Search Engine Watch and Search Engine Land, where I felt like a lot of the articles were, kind of, painting you in a negative light. Almost like you were kind of being whiny about the whole process. Did you think that the press treatment, I don’t know if you read any of those posts. If I were you, I’m not sure I would have or not. But did you think that the press treatment of what you were saying was fair?
Jeff: I mean, there were some, there was some balanced writing. There was some perhaps, not balanced writing. I think what was good about the process, is we really elevated the discussion to a national level. I mean, the fact that my op-ed was in the Wall Street Journal on the topic, that ‘s huge the fact that this is covered extensively in the New York Times. In the traditional media it’s huge and the blog coverage, I think was expansive and heated. So, I thought that we elevated the issues well and I hope that in doing that everybody benefits. Certainly, what I would love to see happen in the search environment isn’t happening as I would script it, but I think in elevating the contentiousness, hopefully we’re heading more towards a level playing field. Ultimately, it’s my very strong view that as smart phones and the whole world of applications and as the huge world of social commerce now begins to evolve, the competitive factors will moderate what’s happening today which is where a very strong player of a good player, named Google who does really dominate the shopping process in search.
Testifying at The Power of Google Shoping Serving Customers or Threatening Senate Hearing
Rick: Yeah. Got it. Yeah, I think that, I didn’t necessarily agree with everything that you were saying, but I do agree that it’s a really good conversation to have. And, in that regard, I respect the stance that you took, and that Nextag took publicly, because it’s a difficult stance to take. So, I do think that it was a really good conversation to have. My last question about that Senate hearing, is, just how was testifying? That’s something that most of us will probably never have the opportunity to do. How was that experience?
Jeff: Yeah. Well, I was happy not to be there for tax evasion, let’s just say that. This was my second time testifying before the senate. Interestingly, the first time was when we were starting Orbitz and our long standing competitors, in the form of Expedia and Travelocity at the time, made a case that Orbitz, which actually didn’t even operate a website at that time, was going to be an anti-trust situation. It was kind of funny to have a non-operation viewed anti-trust concern. But, this is the second time and it’s exciting, and it’s humbling at the same time. You’re made in the halls of government to feel little. So there’s big [inaudible 06:40], senators with the big names, like Al Franken or Carl Levin, who was the chairman committee and powerful individuals. And, you’re there in a chair that has the same more or less height as the chairman of Google. So, it’s humbling and it’s exciting and I think it was an important opportunity for my company and for this issue to get that kind of visibility. I like to say that it helped [inaudible 07:10]. Ultimately, people are more knowledgeable, I mean, we’re all more knowledgeable about the issues and challenges.