Google’s AI Results Are A Disaster For Publishing

Hey! Just a heads up that, as my birthday is coming up next week, I’ve decided to make all new paid subscriptions 25% off for the rest of the month. If you’ve been thinking of upgrading, now’s as good a time as any. Thanks!

Last May, Google launched the beta version of its Search Generative Experience, a generative AI-powered search engine. Unlike traditional searches, which result in a list of websites, this feature allows users to enter a query and receive a direct, AI-generated response that aims to answer their questions comprehensively without having to click through to outside links.

Last month, it began rolling it out to some users who had yet to opt into the program. Journalist Molly Taft found this out when they went looking for a 2020 article she wrote about the history of Earth Day for Teen Vogue.

As Taft notes in the replies to their tweet, the summary doesn’t even get the details correct. But setting that aside, this is going to be a big problem for publishers who rely on traffic from Google — which is pretty much all of them.

According to ad sales company Raptive, Google’s Search Generative Experience could lead to a drop in search traffic ranging from 20% to 60%, a potential hit of up to $2 billion in global ad revenue. This isn’t exactly welcome news for a media industry that’s already been struggling.

As usual, the always-brilliant Matt Pearce says it better than I can:

The fundamental reality of the digital experience, the basic fact that we must come to grips with in making 21st century media policy, is that there is far too much information and too much content out there for users to go find what they really need. The major problem and digital infrastructure project of the tech industry on the content front is to figure out how to automate the synthesis and delivery of that information into something that isn’t a huge pain in the ass for users to go looking for.

But what that means is that the hyperlink, which used to be a handshake, a friendly act of cashless barter across the open web, is now the primary means of information-highway robbery. When you reach in for the shake, Google’s hand is already gripping a gun.

Everybody is going to argue about the copyright implications of all this until they’re blue in the face, with varying levels of sincerity or corruption (and I swear to god, you’ll need to ask the people involved in these arguments who they’re getting money from, and how much).

But I am going to say something that I mean sort seriously but not literally: I don’t really care about copyright! I don’t really care about paywalls! I’m okay with it if you only ever see my reporting via a chatbot! Copyright and paywalls are simply means to an end, and that end is the pursuit of human knowledge and self-liberation: the end is our freedom. And one of the principles of human freedom that I hold dear to my heart is that nobody should be providing labor to massively profitable corporations for free.

The fundamental media problem of the A.I.-driven future isn’t intellectual property; the fundamental media problem of the A.I.-driven future is work. Journalism as an action, not a product.



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