Google, Paid Links, and the Day of President Lincoln’s Assassination

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Enormous Profits

The world was profoundly changed. A web connects the country and a communications giant controls almost 80% of the market share of that web. Huge amounts of information are delivered at speeds never before seen by mankind. The costs involved in creating the infrastructure to create this spider-like system grant it a near monopoly and the company makes enormous profits with margins approaching 30%.

This company is held in the public mind as providing an invaluable service and projects the belief that the information it provides is not tainted by preferential bias from outside parties.

The “Victorian Internet”

The name of the company is Western Union. The year is 1869. It is the age of the telegraph and the “Victorian Internet“.

On August 16,1869, Western Union puts out its monthly journal that states, “There has been, unquestionably, much progress made in the promotion of greater efficiency in telegraphic operations,” and further states that, “The difficulty in making such a service as this possible…which requires that no such message shall have preference over another, and that each must take its turn.

A Financial Empire

Just a few years earlier in 1865, a Western Union telegraph operator had provided news of President Lincoln’s assassination to a favored Oregon newspaper ahead of other competing newspapers on the west coast. The Oregonian newspaper that had paid off the telegraph operator scooped its competition, and thus enjoyed higher sales.

The owner of that newspaper built a financial empire, in part, by gaming the system.

Paid Links and the Lincoln Assassination

Jump ahead 146 years from the Lincoln assassination to February 12th, 2011, the anniversary of Lincoln’s birthday. The New York Times breaks a story about fortunes made by a company gaming the system of a communications  giant that has a near monopoly of a web of links. Now, information is delivered with a preferential bias via paid links that have artificially boosted the rankings of a company  allowing it considerable profits for a time.

This time, the offending links were found out.

The company that is today concerned about its public perception is Google and no longer Western Union.