"Alea iacta est"' (the die is cast) is what Julius Caesar is supposed to have said as he famously crossed the Rubicon river in Northern Italy, marking the beginning of events that would cause him to become "dictator for life."
Susan Mernit on her blog said the following about the AOL deal:
[I]n a year, we'll be watching a very different Google–one that may have morphed into something alot more like AOL was back in the day, when they were fat and sassy and thought no one cared about search.
John Battelle made the more dire prediction that Google's agreement to show image ads in search results and give "favored placement" to AOL content "throughout the site" potentially represented a watershed moment — known in recent American pop culture lore as "jumping the shark" (originally referring to the 70s-80s TV show "Happy Days").
There are two implied scenarios here, neither of them (according to Mernit and Battelle) favorable for Google's long-term health.
The Caesar reference is mine and suggests that this deal coincides with a period — how long is uncertain — in which Google's market share dominance in search simply cannot be assailed or overthrown. But to continue my Roman Empire analogy (and to pick up on Battelle and Mernit's concerns), perhaps Google is, with this deal, showing the potential to undermine the user experience that got the company to where it is today: fast, clean and relevant (no paid inclusion) search results.
If this moment is in fact akin to "jumping the shark," then an opening is created for a new Google to come in and do simply and elegantly what Google did several years ago when all the other search engines were corrupted by "overmonetization" or otherwise fat and lazy.
Of course, this time, Google (or Yahoo! or MSN) won't allow a new Google to come into the market — or will attempt to acquire new potential Googles before they can scale. (But recall how Microsoft allegedly tried to acquire Google early on and Sergey and Larry said "no"?)
I'm not convinced that this deal will ruin Google — the company is mindful of the consumer experience to an extreme degree — but the rapidly evolving, hyper-competitive marketplace and the pressure to grow revenues may take Google in directions that the company never anticipated. Perhaps this is one.
Here's the "day 2" story in the NY Times (reg req'd)