Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/08/16/icomp_astroturf_or_serious_research/

Australia Institute: we’re all mindless sheep

What, there’s a second page of search results?

By Richard Chirgwin

Posted in Business, 16th August 2011 23:00 GMT

Search dominates how we shop on the Web, Google dominates search, big names dominate Google results, and most people don’t bother looking beyond the first page of search results.

Those are the key, and remarkably unsurprising, results of a paper called What you don’t know can hurt you, researched and published by the Australia Institute, and sponsored by the Microsoft-led Initiative for a Competitive Online Marketplace.

The study says only 15 percent of respondents go beyond the first page of search results; since 46 of respondents admit that search order influences their Internet shopping decisions, and since 37 percent said they were unaware that search engines display paid advertising, the report concludes that the combination of user ignorance and search placements gives brands with spending power the chance to “dominate the Internet”.

More than a third of users are also unaware that “search rankings will change depending on which search engines are used,” the study says.

The report could also have concluded that people are too lazy, inattentive, ignorant or uninterested to find out how the world works, but it didn’t.

The report’s sponsor, iCOMP, recently fired its first shots in Australia against Google with a submission to the Productivity Commission’s retail inquiry, noting that “competition in search affects Australian online businesses and consumers.”

That stance is reiterated by the Australia Institute report, which states: “The more that one search provider dominates the market, the more that its own algorithm – and any idiosyncrasies that may be built into it – will shape online behaviour in arenas far beyond search.”

The paper also says “transparency” should “underlie a range of policy interventions”, or as iCOMP put it in its PC submission, there is a “need to foster an Australian regulatory framework which promotes greater choice, transparency, fair prices, and protection from unfair practices from search engines with significant market power.”

Even users, the Australia Institute reports, are in favour of regulation: “In addition, most respondents (63 per cent) preferred the government to intervene if necessary in the interests of competition”, it states.

“It may be that the principle of ‘search neutrality … is as important as network neutrality in determining the manner in which the Internet evolves”, the Australia Institute report says.

The Register awaits a counter-stroke from The Chocolate Factory with interest. ®