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Microsoft and Murdoch ganging up on Google?

Microsoft is in talks with Rupert Murdoch's News Corp to discuss paying the news company to keep out of Google, a move that could threaten the search engine landscape

Microsoft is planning to pay Rupert Murdoch to pull his content from Google. The software behemoth is reported to be in high-level talks over a connivance with News Corp that could fragment the Internet.

The Financial Times reports that News Corp is driving the high-level talks with Microsoft. Murdoch wants to withdraw News Corp stories from Google News, which he views as stealing his content. Microsoft clearly sniffs an opportunity to leverage its own search engine Bing, and has approached other major content providers with similar plans.

Murdoch plans to construct a paywall around News Corp news sites including The Sun, The Times and the Wall Street Journal by spring of 2010. We're not yet clear on how that's going to work, and it probably isn't exactly crystal for many people within the company either. What we do know is that without News Corp content appearing in Google, it won't be accessible to the vast numbers of people who hit Google as their first port of call for finding out information. Murdoch reckons the lost traffic will be offset by a more favourable advertising situation inside the paywall.

We can't see it working as a business model -- after all, information wants to be free -- but that's Murdoch's look-out. He didn't get to be 132nd-richest person in the world by making dumb decisions. We will, however, miss knowing what Krystal, 24, from Essex thinks about global economic policy.

We're more concerned about the Microsoft tie-up because of the possibility that it could fragment Web search. The great thing about Google, Ask, WolframAlpha or whichever search engine you prefer, is that they search the whole Web. You pick an engine, you click 'search' and in a fraction of heartbeat you're finding your way into a subject. The raft of results around most keywords will include a mixture of news and reference, and random stuff that builds a context around whatever you're interested in -- and we've reached a point where search engines are sophisticated enough that just the smallest amount of search nous will usually find you what you want.

If Microsoft has its way, you may have to search different engines for different subjects, or search each engine to get a different perspective or different types of content. How will you know which engine is best for what you want to know? On top of that, if search engines are forced into paying for content, how will you know which is the best content and which is just the content that engine has a deal for? Search engines may need to rely more heavily on advertising to deal with the increased cost, which means more intrusive ads for us and a harder advertising climate for everyone on the Web. Then what if content providers switch search engines for a better price and users have to follow?

It sounds a real step backwards from open accessibility to closed, fragmented confusion. Pulling your own content out of Google is one thing -- destroying the user experience of the entire Web is another.