I fought the Google, and the Google won: the Genesis of PolEcon.net

Apologies to the Clash, the Bobby Fuller Four, and especially Sonny Curtis and The Crickets. • Since 2007, I’ve maintained a little blog, formerly known as PolEconAnalysis.org. It’s gone. You are at its successor, PolEcon.net. You’re reading this, so you’ve arrived here. Welcome. A little explanation is in order.

Blogging is almost free. In the case of this blog, it has been hosted from 2007 to the present, at no charge, at Blogger.com. To give it a recognizable handle, I decided to pay $10 a year for the domain name “PolEconAnalysis.org.” That’s it. Self-publishing has become really possible and really accessible.

However, that domain has to be renewed once a year and, well, I forgot. Life sometimes does interfere with commentary. The attempt to fix the error took me deep into the bowels of the Corporate Internet. It was an interesting trip.

First challenge – find a live person. You won’t (or at least I couldn’t). There is apparently no landline. Emails remain unanswered. Help sites are better labeled “unhelp” sites. One told me to contact the web-hoster GoDaddy, the company which manages domain names for Blogger. I got hopeful. GoDaddy has a landline. I reached a person. He was very sympathetic. But he couldn’t help.

“Sorry. You didn’t buy direct from us. You need to contact Blogger.”

“But Blogger said to contact you.”

“Sorry.”

Next mistake – wait a week. At the end of that fateful week, the issue was no longer GoDaddy. My old domain opened up into another person’s blog – a dummy blog with no content – but a blog nonetheless. I got worried. I went back to GoDaddy. At least they had a landline.

“Tell me what’s happening, please.” They took pity.

“I’ll check,” said the fine young man on the phone.

The results of his research? “It’s a live domain, sir. Someone else owns it.”

I got scared. I had been pirated. My old domain gathered into the arms of a domain name harvester. I went back to the old domain. It was even worse. The pirate who purchased it had stolen my blog summary, “analysis and commentary with a political economy slant.” This was a disaster. How much would it cost to buy it back? Probably more than $10. Maybe I could sue? Maybe I could get a loan? Maybe I could get one of those six-month zero-interest credit card deals? Maybe I could get a home equity line of credit?

Then I got angry. I had really stepped into it, and was mired in the unsavoury underbelly of the world of intellectual property, and about to become a victim of someone else’s attempt at scamming a bit of money. It’s just a name. Who cares? Start over. Ten dollars later, I was the owner of PolEcon.net, a little humbler, a little wiser, and with a little work to do to re-establish connection with folks who read these articles.

Then, I got curious. What are the contours of this vortex into which I had been drawn? What is this company with unhelpful help sites and no landlines? Probably a shoestring operation. Probably unable to afford landlines. Probably living hand to mouth.

That might have been the case a few years ago. Back in 1999, a San Francisco company called Pyra Labs, launched Blogger. Pyra was made up of “three friends … trying to make our own grand entrance onto the Internet landscape … we created Blogger, more or less on a whim.” These three friends carried on through the dot-com boom at the turn of the last century, and “then the bust happened, and we ran out of money” (Blogger). So bad was the bust, that the entire staff was laid off in late 2000. That would explain the absence of a landline.

Except a little cash came to the rescue. In 2003, for an undisclosed amount of money, Pyra Labs was purchased by Google, and Blogger became part of the growing Google empire (McIntosh 2003).

But then, at the time, using the word “empire” was a little bit of a stretch. Google itself only filed for incorporation in 1998 (Google). I heard about it first from my late father-in-law, who called me into his study: “Paul Kellogg. Have you heard about this thing called ‘Google’?” I hadn’t. I listened patiently, but concluded that it was little more than a novelty, or a party trick.

Many agreed. When Google purchased Blogger, there were quite a few sceptics. The only source of revenue for a search engine like Google, is from advertisements, and a common opinion voiced at the time was that “advertising doesn’t support many dot-com Web sites.” The author of that analysis, writing at the time of Google’s purchase of Blogger in 2003, worried that “Google may be stepping down that well-trodden portal path” and asked: “Five years from now, will googling be just an answer to a trivia question” (Morochove 2003)?

The unease did not go away quickly. In 2004, Google decided to “go public,” selling shares in itself through an Initial Public Offering (IPO). In the run-up to the IPO, there was lots of negativity. In August, 2004, one writer commented that “one big brokerage house has already pulled out of the highly anticipated public offering, and many more are grumbling about the large workload and low margins” (Martinez 2004).

Google did, in fact, stumble out of the gate. Originally hoping to sell 25.7 million shares, it had to drop that figure to 19.6 million. It had to cut the cost per share drastically, from a range of $108 to $135 a share, to a range of just $85 to $95. As a result, instead of the hoped for take of $3.6-billion (U.S.), the Google owners were going to have to settle for a mere $1.86-billion (McCarthy 2004).

But don’t shed a tear for poor little Google. The chart here tells the story. August 19, 2004, a share in Google was worth $102.37. That price rose to $280, August 19, 2005; $383.36, August 19, 2006; $500.04, August 19, 2007; and soaring to a high of $741.79, November 7, 2007. It was pulled down to earth during the recession of 2008-2009, share prices falling to $292.96 by November 3, 2008. But February 1, 2012, Google shares were back up to $604.64 (Yahoo! Finance 2012a), giving Google Inc. an enterprise value of $159.48 billion and a market capitalization of $196.6 billion. It had annual revenue of $37.9 billion, gross profit of $24.72 billion, net income of $9.74 billion with $43.33 billion of cash on hand (Capital IQ 2012).

It seems that Google (and Blogger) could actually afford a landline. Maybe they are hesitant about installing one because, once you start to hire people, some of that net revenue might just disappear. Or maybe the new economy is not just about the Internet. Maybe the new economy is also about replacing people with computers and machines (although to be fair, Google does employ 32,467 full-time employees) (Yahoo! Finance 2012b).

How do do they make all that money? That question is answered with just one word – advertising. In 2010 and 2011, advertising comprised fully 96% of Google’s revenues. In 2009, that figure was 97% (Google Inc. 2011, 10). And as is well known, this is “targeted advertising,” shaped to the individual user through the masses of data Google has gathered about us, and our Internet-browsing habits.

They keep urging all of us in the blogging community to get in on the action. “Monetize your blog” they say. They will sculpt ads according to the information they glean from the articles written here, and the people who read them.

Could become a clearing-house for books on ALBA (the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas), or maybe Joel Bakan’s film “The Corporation.” Maybe get a cut from sales of Frantz Fanon and W.E.B. Dubois. I wonder if there are ads ready to go for C.L.R. James and Raya Dunayevskaya? How’s the market for chachkas from Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Palestine?

No, no – this is not about money, it’s about “analysis and commentary with a political economy slant.” We’ll pick up the thread from last year’s conversations, and carry on.

And corporate or not, – it’s still only $10. I’ll do a little blogging, tell a few stories, and see who’s interested. It won’t be a problem to reconnect with former readers. I’ve got lots of email addresses, and I’ll send out a bunch of messages.

From my Gmail account, owned by Google.

Suppress that thought – return to the story. Please look at the Youtube videos, which appeared at the beginning of this article. The title of this blog entry is a rip-off from the title of a great song. The Clash version from 1979 is the one I knew. The original was from 20 years before that. The third version here, a reprise done in 2003, is just priceless.

Oh yes – Youtube is owned by Google, purchased October, 2006 for $1.65 billion (U.S.) (Thaw 2006).

Not to worry. I’ll bypass both Gmail and Youtube. I’ll do an end-run around Google. I’ll contact my Facebook friends, and we’ll all soon be back in touch. Facebook isn’t owned by Google. It’s owned by that 20-something guy in the U.S. They did a film about him.

Oh yes – Facebook is about to go public – rumours are it will be a $100 billion affair, and will instantly create 1,000 millionaires (Bensinger 2012).

Welcome to the Corporate Web.

© 2012 Paul Kellogg

References

Bensinger, Ken. 2012. “IPO to Create 1,000 Millionaires; Facebook Tiny Stake Pays Off Big Time for Workers.” The Gazette, February 12.

Blogger. “The Story of Blogger.” Blogger.com.

Capital IQ. 2012. “Google Inc. (GOOG), Key Statistics.” Yahoo! Finance.

Google. “Google History.” Google Company.

Google Inc. 2011. Form 10-K. Annual Report Pursuant to Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. United States Securities and Exchange Commission.

Martinez, Michael. 2004. “Google IPO Irks Wall Street.” The Ottawa Citizen, June 29.

McCarthy, Shawn. 2004. “Less-hopeful Google Slashes IPO Price, Cuts Share Supply.” The Globe and Mail, August 19.

McIntosh, Neil. 2003. “Google Buys Blogger Web Service.” The Guardian, February 18, sec. Business.

Morochove, Richard. 2003. “Will Search for Revenues Destroy Google?” The Toronto Star, March 10.

Thaw, Jonathan. 2006. “Google Buys YouTube for $1.65B U.S.” The Gazette, October 10.

Yahoo! Finance. 2012a. “Google Inc. (GOOG), Historical Prices.” Yahoo! Finance.

———. 2012b. “Google Inc. (GOOG), Profile.” Yahoo! Finance.

3 thoughts on “I fought the Google, and the Google won: the Genesis of PolEcon.net”

  1. Haven't investigated e-commerce and globalization, Shawn. But we're in the middle of something really, really big. The Information Communication Technology revolution is making actual something about which Marx could only speculate — the dominance of abstract labour over concrete labour. E-commerce is one aspect of this. The capacity now exists, in real time, to compare tiles made in China with those made anywhere else in the world — and reduce both of them to the actual quantity of labour in the abstract contained in both — allowing the consumer (you) to make a buying decision. This technology is used, under capitalism, to violently accelerate economic restructuring. But — we need to incorporate it into our theories — because it actually makes the opposite equally possible — the intelligent, systematic, equitable apportioning of the products of labour on a global scale. The "only" barrier to that happening is this thing we keep bumping into — I think it's called class society. But except for that …

  2. Ha ha – that's quite a tale of woe, Paul. But every misery is a good story waiting to be told, so thanks for suffering for our entertainment – and enlightenment as to the economics of the internet. Have you ever looked into the economics of e-commerce and globalization? We're renovating our main floor and I've been astounded by the sophistication of e-commerce – having chatted with sales agents for tile companies in China (and ultimately purchased tiles from Texas for cheaper than it would have cost to drive a kilometre to my house – including shipping), we've witnessed some of this first hand. It's a bit awe-inspiring from a personal perspective but I haven't looked into the macro-economics of it. Love to read on the role of e-commerce on the circulation of capital. And you're just the man to do it… 🙂

    welcome back to blogdom

  3. Good to read you again – I cleaned up my e-mail the other day and came across a couple of old posts and thought, "I wonder why I don't get these e-mails any longer?" I know why now! Thanks for persevering.

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