Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Why Google Bought Frommer’s (For Nothing)

The news Monday that Google is buying Frommer’s elicited a gut reaction that’s starting to feel familiar: Google is a search company, so what the heck is it doing buying content?

What’s Google doing? What it has been doing for years: YouTube has put up hundreds of millions of dollars for video production; Android’s Andy Rubin licenses music and magazines for Google Play; Google even was in the bidding to buy Hulu from its major media company owners.

The “Star Trek” computer Google execs dream of. This image is relevant, I swear.

Let’s also not overweight this one particular deal, even as it’s pushing down the stock price of larger players in the space, like Yelp and TripAdvisor.

Frommer’s may have a well-known name, but the buy is only costing Google a reported $23 million — or basically nothing in Google terms. The property will be absorbed into Zagat, which reportedly cost all of $125 million.

What’s slightly different about the Frommer’s deal is that the travel guidebook creator had an editorial team to write its content, whereas Zagat was perhaps one of the first user-generated content services.

But if you look at the language Google is now using, it’s grouping all this local and travel content as “reviews.” Google said the Frommer’s deal will help it fill in reviews for venues all over the world.

The reason Google wants to bring this particular type of content in-house? Search is increasingly about answers — at least as long as those European regulators don’t get in the way.

That’s especially true on mobile. When you’re traveling and you just want to find a good restaurant nearby, you don’t want to scroll through links. You want a paragraph that tells you where to go and what to order.

Google has put years of work into a “Knowledge Graph” that slurps content from Wikipedia and elsewhere into at-a-glance guides to all sorts of topics that show up on the search page to save users the trouble of clicking through. Well, guess what? Google needs content to fill up those little Knowledge Graph boxes.

This is particularly relevant for travel, a rich category where people actually spend money. Looking for travel content has long been one of the worst Google experiences, due to all the search-engine-optimized crap that pushes its way to the top.

And though Google dominates search, supplying answers is the way the non-Google world is going too. Microsoft, whose Bing has pushed this approach from its early days, had been an active Frommer’s partner. And Apple’s Siri is all about parroting relevant bites of information, not options that require fuller attention.

The future of search is the “Star Trek” computer in your pocket, ready to speak a personalized response to any query, a Google search exec said last week. Until we have artificial intelligence, human-created content is a pretty good substitute.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik