Discussion Points:Searchblog; Silicon Valley Watcher; Jeremy Zawodny's Blog
To analyze these arguments, one could either talk about the companies mentioned, or delve deeper into the abstracted issues. The latter appears more logical as it allows us to look at this discussion from variety of perspectives.
Some of the key discussion threads center - implicitly or explicitly - around the following issues: online information availability, media, information management technologies, paid search, pay-per-click advertising, information consumption, lead generation, lead qualification, lead conversion, information vs action, human-computer interaction, and eventually technology vs human intervention.
Online Information Availability and Information Consumption
The stark reality is that there seems to be a gold-rush towards making more and more information available online. As this information is made accessible by search engines, and they build business models based on making the information available, the distinction between media and technology is bound to stare them in the face. In a way, this debate is not new - from the beginning of printing presses, technology has had a profound effect on how media is created, marketed, distributed, and consumed.
Online availability of media is in a way bound to create issues on use, consumption, and exploitation of that information. You can see issues lurking behind in terms copyright (e.g. Geico v. Google trial) or free vs paid access to information, the question of information-hoarding monopoly, and so on.
When information is being made available, the act of making it available comes with certain amount of responsibility. We have seen issues around search engines trying to filter out results in terms of crime, political hate-campaigns; we have seen issues around aggregating news in countries like China, etc. Information availability will also (or has started to) define how we consume online information vs the nature of information use off-line, we already see that in information-intensive markets, these two are merging together.
Information Management Technology vs Media
The technology vs media argument stems from the fact that search advertising, has become a bigger revenue model than access to media. So far very few companies have been able to make money through other models of media distribution on the net.
So may be the distinction between a media company or a technology company is not very relevant till newer revenue models emerge to exploit the information that is being made available. It is possible that the real distinction may be the type of inter-mediary a company wants to become. Does it want to be an advertising agency, a content provider, or a combination of both? Alternately, there could also be another path where one starts with advertising and then gets into direct-selling of media.
Online information consumption now provides a value-chain starting from making the information available to creating new types of information; to exploiting that information towards business gains. Revenues right now seem to be around the aspect of making the information available, and not so much in information creation or information selling.
It also makes sense to understand what a company wants its users to do with the information being made available? Is it ok with the company if the users go away to the desired destination or it wants them to engage with that information: through paid search based model the users ramble away to their desired destination, whereas through a more media oriented model the company can hold on to the users and make them do things with the information it offers, or owns.
Besides, anybody who has worked in a technology or a media company would understand the world-view of different groups who run the company. Technologists, for instance, have a particular viewpoint and would naturally look at solving problems with technology-based automation. So whether one wants to agree or not, the differences of world-views do exist and come into play. It seems that companies that have succeeded are the ones that do not impose technology solutions onto the problems, but allow the solutions to emerge out of real needs of users.
It is interesting to watch the recruitment trends in these companies. Technology oriented companies are either hiring for technology or sales. Whereas media-oriented companies seem to be including editorial staff as well as domain experts in content category like music or broadcast - along with their technology hiring.
Technology and Human Intervention
If a company is in the business of allowing people to generate leads through search technology, human intervention will be last on its agenda, except when things get out of hand, or when some very serious globally accepted ethical issues are involved.
Despite the opinion expressed to the contrary, information management technology can serve as a de-politicizing factor in some very sensitive subjects. If one leaves aside the politics of selection (e.g.. selection of website as news-worthy or not) and the information hegemony, making information available can be done in a fairly neutral manner. Basically search technologies are about indexing information; they could be neutral to what information is indexed.
But, again, if one is in the business of content creation and content selection, then technology will have to be governed by the editorial control. Most probably there are no two extremes in this case, in order to provide a functional solution in information management one would need to strike a balance between technology and human intervention.
This entire debate is going to be interesting in the near future as major players start making the distinction as a matter of their competitive advantage, or start merging the distinction to outsmart each other.