Microsoft thinks it has found a way around Google's dominance of search, a way to make its Bing search engine a winner.
(No, not that Bing. That's Detroit Mayor Dave Bing.)
Microsoft has quietly suggested to high-traffic news sites, like those owned by News Corp., that they de-list from Google -- writing robots.txt files that keep them out of Google's index -- in exchange for Microsoft cash and placement on its Bing search engine.
Ironically the news organization that broke the story -- Britain's Financial Times -- keeps its stories behind a registration firewall.
If Microsoft is ready to take the next step, and build something like Google News for those sites it's paying for placement, with enough advertising to make up its costs from paying for links, then the search competition has a new front.
Bing may finally have a chance.
(No, no, that's the late crooner Bing Crosby.)
This can, in fact, be done.
ZDNet does this for me. They make enough from a page view at ZDNet Open Source that they can pay me. The more page views my content generates the more money I make, and the more ZDNet makes. It's a good thing.
Now what if ZDNet decided to take Microsoft up on its offer, and my stories at Open Source magically disappeared from the Google?
According to Google Analytics, one-fourth of my Open Source traffic comes from Google sites. I would take a short-term hit to my traffic, and so would ZDNet, if they took this deal. I would lose money.
But Microsoft might use co-op advertising to try and bring this traffic back to ZDNet, running ads reading, say, "read Dana Blankenhorn, only through Bing," maybe with my picture. (I need to get a new picture.) Some of these ads would run on ZDNet, so in addition to the link payment there's ad revenue coming in to the publisher.
Now let's assume that, instead of compensating me based on page views, ZDNet just paid me a straight salary, and divorced me from its business model. Now its search deal with Microsoft becomes none of my business, just as its relationships with the advertisers on my page are none of my business.
Maybe I'll get a raise, but that decision won't ride on my traffic but ZDNet's view on my writing, on my editorial contribution, on how I help make them look good.
You start to see how this works. But it starts with Microsoft getting its investment back. Can it generate enough ad revenue from general news searchers at Bing to make up for whatever it pays News Corp., ZDNet, or any other content provider?
And how might Google then respond? Will it add video ads to Google News, and share that revenue with the sites who link to it? Will we then have to use two news search engines in order to find out what's going on in the world?
I don't know. (No, no, no, that's a Bada Bing poster, available framed from $49.99 at Allposters.com.)
I am not certain Microsoft has thought this through, any more than it thought about its new search engine's name, but it will be fun to watch. Unlike some I'm not going to condemn dumb ideas until they're proven dumb.
(As dumb as naming your Web site for an adult film star? And no, no, no, no, the link just goes to a Wikipedia page. I may be a screwey rabbit but I'm not going to Alcatraz...)