U.K.-based KinderStart.com, a "search engine" for parents of young children, has sued Google on the basis that its organic search ranking apparently declined in March 2005, allegedly because it was unfairly "penalized" by Google. According to this Reuters article, the site lost "70 percent" of its organic traffic when it was "downgraded." The lawsuit seeks financial damages and asks that Google reveal the methodology behind its Page Rank algorithm.
Having read only the coverage and not the actual complaint, I’m struck by a couple of things that are amazing about this lawsuit. First, I think it’s dead on arrival. I think the company probably knows this and either hopes for a nuisance settlement or is looking for publicity.
The suit contends that its rankings did not change on Yahoo!, MSN or other engines. But it seems to be saying that these other rankings don’t matter, because Google is responsible for the lion’s share of its traffic. There’s a sense of both dependence and entitlement here — and how search engine rankings can be "life or death" for an online business.
If Google were truly the only search engine and there were some unjustly punitive action that was directed toward KinderStart (and provable), perhaps this claim might have a chance. (Even then the damages would be highly speculative.) But given that there is a competitive marketplace and other engines can equally be used to find KinderStart, it’s unlikely that any court would rule in KinderStart’s favor. Think about the precedent: It would be the end of organic search — every other site would litigate when its ranking fell. Finally, given that it’s a trade secret, KinderStart is also audacious in asking for Page Rank to be revealed. There’s zero chance that this aspect of the suit will succeed either.
Update: just found out that KinderStart is seeking to be certified as a class action (another one!). Still haven’t found the complaint online (although I’m told it’s there now). One of the implications of the suit is that Google should effectively be treated as a public ultility, in other words become a regulated monopoly. Again there’s a sense of "entitlement" to an organic position here. I think the implications of finding in favor of the plaintiffs are just to sweeping. Once I actually read the complaint however, I’ll post some amended thoughts.
Still haven’t read the complaint . . . but another thought I had was: Why didn’t these guys buy paid search on Google, then users presumably would’ve been able to find them when their organic link was down. There’s an obligation on the part of injured parties to "mitigate" their damages. None of the stories I’ve seen have reflected that KinderStart attempted to or was buying paid search. To me that suggests a "failure to mitigate."