Update 9/10: Matt Mcgee reports on Searchengineland that Google has returned the philosophy page back to its original wording and disagrees with the assessment that they are a portal. I would note that regardless of the content of their philosophy page or any denials, if it walks like a duck….. etc. etc. etc., it is still a duck and while they may or may not be a portal, they are in fact directly a great deal of traffic internally.
Eric Goldman highlights a recent and interesting “philisopical change” on the part of Google. One that confirms recent history and codifies their new(ish) behavior:
Google maintains a page entitled “Our Philosophy: Ten Things We Know to Be True.”
On June 3, 2004 (per archive.org), the page said “Google may be the only company in the world whose stated goal is to have users leave its website as quickly as possible.” (emphasis added)
On September 6, 2010, that same line now reads “We may be the only people in the world who can say our goal is to have people leave our homepage as quickly as possible.” (emphasis added)
Since the separation of business listings from Maps into a stand alone Places pages, Google has steadily and regularly added new “features” that direct users laterally back into Google rather than to a business’s website. Nearly every recent Maps/Local development (Buzz, Nearby Places, Tags, OneBox Enhancement) have all, in one way or another kept traffic inside of Maps instead of sending it to another website.
Google has always contended that their #1 guiding principal is to “focus on end user“.
I would contend though, that Google, in that focus, is not immune from the immutable laws of capital accumulation. Google, like all companies, either needs to accumulate capital at a greater rate than other companies or capital will move away from them.
Google’s main (and very successful historical) way to accumulate this capital has been to show ever more ads. Obviously there are a limited number of ways to show more ads. In the past, Google has relied on increasing numbers of users. If this can’t be accomplished with more unique traffic than it needs to be accomplished with more page views.
I think going forward, virtually every change you will see to Maps/Places will continue this recent trend of driving more pageviews to Google itself.
Does this make Google evil? No, it makes Google a capitalist. That being said, perhaps truth in advertising should require them to change their “focus on the user” mantra to read “focus on the user AND do what is good for Google”.
Google has acknowledged their intent to keep folks at Google. Now they need to acknowledge “the rest of the story”.