Google’s CEO is ’empathetic’ to content creators that Search has wiped out

According to Sundar Pichai, CEO of Alphabet and Google, we are in a disruptive moment. While he’s optimistic that Google AI Overviews and Search will drive more traffic and engagement, that’s no comfort to the many content creators who have seen their websites destroyed by Google in recent months.

In a new interview, Pichai discussed concerns about Google hurting websites and businesses, as well as the future of search, content and the web.

“These are disruptive moments.” Pichai was asked about publisher concerns following the announcement of the AI ​​Overviews rollout at Google I/O. He compared this AI shift to concerns around the transition from desktop to mobile and the introduction of featured snippets:

  • “I remain optimistic. … As a company, we realize the value of this ecosystem, and it is symbiotic. If there isn’t a rich ecosystem creating unique and useful content, what are you curating and organizing? So we feel it.”
  • “But I understand the sentiment. It’s a big change. These are disruptive moments. AI is a major platform shift. People project themselves and people put a lot into creating content. It’s their business. So I understand the perspective [and] I’m not surprised. We are dealing with many players, both directly and indirectly, but I remain optimistic about how things will actually turn out.”

Damned companies. Pichai was asked specifically about two sites that were loudly complaining about losing more than 90% of their Google traffic, including HouseFresh and Retro Dodo.

  • “It’s always difficult to talk about individual cases, and ultimately we try to meet users’ expectations. Users vote with their feet and people try to figure out what is valuable to them. We do it on a large scale, and I can’t answer the specific site…’
  • “It is not clear to me whether that is a uniform trend. I need to look at data on a generator [basis]So anecdotally, there are always times when people come into an area and say, ‘I, as a specific place, have done worse.’ But it’s like an individual restaurant saying, ‘I got fewer customers this year. People have stopped eating food, or whatever it is. It’s not necessarily true. There may be another restaurant opened next door that is doing very well. So it’s difficult to say.”
  • “Maybe you’re making a secondary point about small sites versus more aggregating sites… Ironically, there are times when we’ve made changes to actually send more traffic to the smaller sites. Some of those sites that complain a lot are the aggregators in the middle. So should the traffic go to the restaurant that created a website with their menus and such, or to people who write about these restaurants? These are deep questions. I’m not saying there is a right answer.”

Empathy. In an interesting moment, the tables were turned for Google and Pichai was asked what it felt like when OpenAI transcribed more than a million hours of YouTube videos to train GPT-4. The point is: Google is doing the same thing to millions of websites: using their content, without permission, for profit. Comments from Pichai:

  • “Look, whether they’re website owners, content creators or artists, I can understand how emotionally transformative this is. …”
  • “The way we’ve taken this approach in many of these cases is by putting the creator community at the center as much as possible. We’ve been doing that with YouTube for a long time. Through all of this, we’re trying to figure out the right ways to go about this.
  • “…yes, I understand people’s emotions about this. I definitely have a lot of empathy for how people are experiencing this moment.”
  • “Over time, because of this AI moment, there will be players who will outperform the content creators their platforms support, and whoever does better will emerge as the winner. I believe this will be a tenet of these things over time.

AI content and ranking. Google is in a unique position, where it helps generate AI content (via Gemini) that can be used to flood the internet, with the aim of ranking higher in search results. Pichai said he thinks “using AI to mass produce content without adding any value is not what users are looking for,” adding:

  • “Every time you have these disruptive platform shifts, you go through a phase like this. I’ve seen that team invest so much. Our entire Search Quality team has spent the last year improving our ranking systems, etc., to better understand what constitutes high-quality content. If I take the next decade, [the] people who can do that better, who can sort through that, will, I think, win.

AI overviews. Pichai continues to emphasize the idea that AI overviews increase search usage. Pichai called it “one of the most positive changes I’ve seen in Metrics Search.”

  • “…In many cases, part of what makes people respond positively to AI summaries is that the summary we provide clearly adds value and helps them look at things they might not otherwise have thought of. When you add value at that level, I think people notice that over time, and I think that’s the bar you’re trying to meet. Our data shows that, over 25 years, if you don’t do something that users find valuable or fun, they let us know right away. We see that time and time again.”

While this may be true, it seems like it shouldn’t be true, as I discussed in Google AI Overviews: More Searches, Less Satisfaction. Pichai also completely dodged two questions about whether Google will make this data public so people can verify whether Google’s claims about the AI ​​overview’s click-through rates and traffic are true.

A richer web. Pichai was asked what the internet will look like in five years:

  • “I hope the web is much richer in terms of modality. Today, I feel that the way people consume information is still not fully encapsulated in the web. Nowadays things exist in very different ways: you have web pages, you have YouTube, and so on. But I hope that over time the Internet will be much more multimodal, much richer and much more interactive. It is much more representative, which it is not today.”
  • “The way I see it, while I fully recognize the point that people can use AI to generate a lot of spam, I also feel like every time there’s a new wave of technology, people don’t quite know how to use it. When mobile came along, everyone took web pages and put them into mobile applications. Later humans evolved [into making] truly native mobile applications.”
  • “The way people use AI to actually solve new things, new use cases, etc. is still to come. If that happens, I think the Internet will be much, much richer too. So: dynamically put together a UI in a way that makes sense for you. Different people have different needs, but today you don’t create that user interface dynamically. AI can help you do that over time. You can do it badly and the wrong way and people can use it superficially, but there will be entrepreneurs who come up with an extremely good way to do it, and great new things will come from that.

The interview. You can watch the interview or read the full transcript on a tech news magazine.

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