Shark Jumping: A Historical Perspective

Have you ever walked around with a good joke or pun in your back pocket, just waiting for a situation where the punch-line is appropriate, waiting until someone happens to say the right phrase? That recently happened to me. A couple months ago, I was reading the AOL coverage and I was struck by the “jump the shark” meme going around. At the time, I was thinking about giving webmasterly advice about how to attract links. I wanted to make that point that link attraction is sometimes simply a matter of putting in some elbow grease to collect data or pull a lot of different pieces of info into one place. I decided that to demonstrate that point, I’d collect a few other allegations of Google jumping the shark.

Then today, when Battelle said “When you make the cover of Time, the shark has been jumped,” how could I resist an opportunity like that? Let’s do a historical perspective on Google Shark Jumping:

  • In December 2005, Siva Vaidhyanathan says Google is jumping the “fair-use shark.” As you may know, the fair-use shark swims around and quotes small excerpts from other sharks.
  • Also in December 2005, Battelle wonders whether AOL will cause shark jumpage.
  • The Agency Blog concludes in October 2005 that Google has “officially jumped the shark” because of a collaboration with NASA that will include research and real estate.
  • ReveNews asks in September 2005 whether Google Blog Search is the occasion for a shark to watch as Google jumps over it.
  • August 2005: Google jumps the shark on muni-nets. What’s a muni-net? I’m not 100% sure. If a company jumps a muni-net shark and no one really notices, has it really jumped that shark?
  • In May 2005, Physics Geek reads about a change that attempts to improve the scoring of Google News and interprets that to mean that Google will slant its news toward big media. For variety, the shark jumps over Google this time.
  • A Usenet poster in May 2005 suggests that the personalized home page is when the Google logo should be displayed leaping over a shark.
  • believes in April 2005 that the introduction of a line of GoogleGulp beverages marks the instant of shark jumpage. The author apparently did not notice that GoogleGulp is an April Fools Day joke.
  • Ben Hammersley contended in the Guardian in March 2005 that Google may have vaulted over a member of the superorder Selachimorpha because of increased mojo levels at the Yahoo!-plex.
  • Battelle speculates in December 2004 that Froogle may hop a shark if Froogle starts to collect commissions on sales.
  • Stupid Human Programming states in September 2004 that Google has jumped the shark. Why? Because of speculation that Google is developing a browser.
  • Freethinker’s Paradise wonders in January 2004 whether Google-provided email would be the sharkiest of jumps.
  • Bill de hÓra ruminates on the general nature of GSJ (Google Shark Jumping) way back in January 2003.
  • My personal favorite is a February 2001 Usenet post stating that Google definitely jumped the shark when it acquired data from DejaNews.

What’s the takeaway lesson, other than the shark-jumping meme may have jumped itself? Personally, I learned the most from the earliest reaction, when Google acquired data from DejaNews. At the time, Google was working hard to bring not just the Deja data back online, but also to bring up a large chunk of Usenet data going back twenty years or more. In the mean time, user support was getting royally flamed by angry Usenetters–and you haven’t really been flamed until you’ve been flamed by Usenet folks. 🙂 I remember Wayne Rosing saying something like “Look, there are situations where you do the best you can, and outside people won’t know all the work you’re putting in. That’s how it is sometimes.”

Along with the memories of those emails from Usenet people, that notion from Wayne has stuck with me. I figure that if Google keeps doing the best we can, things will turn out alright in the end. Plus getting flamed doesn’t bother me as much as it used to.

36 Responses to Shark Jumping: A Historical Perspective (Leave a comment)

  1. It’s a good thing you’re developing a thick skin for flamings, cause you (not you personally, but Google) are not having a great PR year so far.

    On the plus side, the privacy/censorship/US Gov/China stuff will all be old news soon enough, and it’s early enough in 2006 to be ‘forgotten news’ when people reminisce over what Google did in 2006.

    One thing you could do to speed along the ‘bad press’ is to translate all google services into that weird ‘sms language’ kids use. They’re a huge, growing audience, and who’s got more time for Google then tomorrow’s unemployed? 😀

    Anyone who flames you personally is just jealous of your mighty sword 😉

  2. Now, Matt, is that really a fine way to spend your Sunday afternoon? Researching all the times anyone, ever, anywhere has mentioned Google and shark jumping in the same sentence? Maybe some time in New England would do you good, so you can spend those long Sunday afternoons shovelling snow instead. :p

  3. Ben,
    the bad press is in part because of Google’s success and reach. As far as China, they have to do it: virtually every US company has a presence there, and in order to do so, they must obey Chinese laws and be in good terms with Chinese officials.

    Google and privacy is another thing though. These are self-inflicted wounds, and Google seems to have lost the PR war; releasing the new desktop software in the middle of the privacy debate didn’t help them.

  4. SMS-speak; I like it. We used to have a leet hackerz interface. 🙂

    Peter T Davis, I resolve to spend the rest of the evening doing more constructive behavior. Since there’s no snow to shovel, maybe a little Dance Dance Revolution.

  5. OK, I was about to say nice case for “no sharks jumped”, but after reading comments and seeing “jealous of your mighty sword” and “Dance Dance Revolution” referencing you in the same post I’m kind of wondering…no offense here… if you’ve PERSONALLY jumped the shark?

    If so I fear for big G it’s it’s only a matter of … time….

  6. Not trying to be too off-topic (and pious), but Sunday afternoons (if not mornings) are really good for Church. Hey, I went.

    I thought I would include the definition of “jump the shark” that helped me (of course I read the whole thing before I knew what it meant):

    jump the shark v. In a television show, to include an over-the-top scene or plot twist that is indicative either of an irreversible decline in the show’s quality or of a desperate bid to stem the show’s declining ratings. Also: JTS.

  7. Being that my native language is spanish, and that an direct translation of “jump the shark” is “saltar al tiburón”, which doesn’t make any sense at all, I wonder what would the correct translation be for this? I don’t believe to be a slang expression in spanish which encompasses for the definition Michael posted…

    The Altavista Babel Fish translates it as (yes, I still use it since 1998):
    “salte el tiburón”…


    Luis Alberto

  8. “SCHMIDT: We try very hard to look like we’re out of control.”

    I like that quote from the Time interview you referenced.

    Jumping the shark gets too much airtime. Epic is what you shoot for.

    Setting the record straight re: TP is epic.

  9. Luis,

    A Spanish equivalent (with the same literal meaning) would be “esquive el tiburón”. The Web site defines the expression as: “It’s a moment. A defining moment when you know that your favorite television program has reached its peak. That instant that you know from now on…it’s all downhill. Some call it the climax. We call it jumping the shark.”

    It sounds to me like the phrase has taken on a few new meanings.

  10. Good morning Matt

    “a little Dance Dance Revolution”. Maybe you just wrote those words for fun. Or maybe you are refering to an algo update underway. Maybe an update to be applied on the new BigDaddy infrastructure!!

    Would you be kind to elaborate more on that “Dance Dance” 🙂

    Wish you a great day and a successful dancing-spam week.

  11. bmw Comments off why ?

    google is corupt !

  12. Usenet, used for flaming? Never. Next thing you know, putting on a hat will be perceived as less than difficult.

    Personally, I don’t see what the big deal is in all of this. It isn’t like you guys have done Survivor: Googleplex or anything like that yet (although if you do, I get full royalties because it was my idea. 🙂 )

  13. Dance Dance Revolution in a public place? Humiliations galore! DDR in your own home? Just a bunch o’ fun. Perhaps you skeptics missed West Virginia’s Dance Dance exercise class. WV is just one state over from Kentucky! 😉

    Thanks, Kirby, I appreciate that.

  14. Hi Matt

    You just keep more distance to that high energy Bacon Polenta things of yours, and there will be no need for Dance Dance through those neon blinking Kentucky streets 🙂

  15. “At the time, I was thinking about giving webmasterly advice about how to attract links. I wanted to make that point that link attraction is sometimes simply a matter of putting in some elbow grease to collect data or pull a lot of different pieces of info into one place.”

    Sounds a lot like aggregation which I thought was disapproved by Google, so I eagerly await your thoughts and advice on the subject.

    “When you make the cover of Time, the shark has been jumped,”

    Well, I don’t know about that. I can think of one man who made his greatest ‘contribution’ to Western Civilization after being Time Magazine’s Man of the year (and cover boy) in 1938. Adolf Hitler.

    No comparison intended. I would take deserved and expected bows and ignore nay sayers.

  16. It’s apparent that you U.S. people having no idea what a “jump” means in the UK, and very the idea of jumping a shark is most definitely over the top 8(

  17. Another day, another slashdot discussion on Google and privacy.

    Hurry up on the sms-translation, no privacy or any other issues will be noticable with a few hundred million teenagers on myspace/blogs/forums saying “oh my god g%gle tlkz lik us & gmail iz so kewl nw lol dis iz :)”.

    I found a cool little site that translates to ‘lingo’,

  18. Matt – just don’t pull at Tom Cruise and “Jump the Couch”, OK?

  19. Bah ! … is registered. It was going to be a site that lists celebrities and the PR fiasco’s that defined when they went off the deep end.

    Also as a coincidental side note the original captcha challenge for my post was JMPK. I had to refresh to see if it stayed the same.

  20. I thought the Matt Cutt’s blog was Google jumping the shark as it would seem that such a high profile engineer like Matt should be writing more code and less blog 😉

  21. ” If a company jumps a muni-net shark and no one really notices, has it really jumped that shark?”

    A blog post with Zen and a Buffy The Vampire slayer reference! Awesome!

    On behalf of all the sharks everywhere I publicly state, “We don’t jump and we ain’t gonna! Don’t believe us? Put out your puffy pink little hand!”

    If you learn to swim with the sharks you sleep with the fishes. A rolling dome matters no mas.

  22. “Jump the Shark” comes from that great 70s TV show “Happy Days”. Fonzie jumped a shark on water skis (yes, wearing his leather jacket). This was seen as the defining moment of the demise of the show. “Jump the Couch” is derived from this (and is much funnier) and has happened only that one time.

    My reference to it on Revenews with respect to Google Blog Search was that historically, Google has released product where v1 worked but made no revenue, v2 worked better and Google may have considered revenue and v3 worked and made lots of money. This is in contrast to Microsoft where v1 didn’t work but made lots of money, v2 worked a little (but not really) and made even more money and v3 worked enough that people could start using and still made money.

    I found Google Blog Search to be a disappointment especially given the better alternatives out there. It was my hope that Google would do a better job. Then again, Froogle was pretty bad when it was released and has improved a great deal since then (and should continue to).

    [Note: It’s nice to meet you, Matt. Maybe we can do so on better terms (i.e. not a reference to Google jumping the shark) some time soon.]

  23. Hey, a metaphor mashup!

  24. How about the first appearance of “jump the shark” on Usenet? Searched via google groups, of course.

  25. Matt: _Used to_ have a leet interface? It’s alive and kicking to me 🙂

    Nice to know that you play Dance Dance Revolution too, it’s the funniest kind of traning there is 🙂

  26. Pontiac/Google ad? That’s my ‘shark jumping moment.’ It made me think that all this ‘seo’ and algorythm(sp?) brick-a-brack can be fixed in one simple step: advertise google in a national television commercial and find your site at spot one (okay not the correct terminology PR1 I believe) Matt, any thought’s on the “google pontiac” commercial. Wow I sure used quotes alot. Keep writing and I’ll keep reading ’em. You make the tech fun. (more photo field trips please)

  27. Sorry for the off-topic post, but one that has been coming up lately (and I’m probably not the only one):

    Is there anything in the ToS of GMail (or any rule for that matter) that would disallow SEO companies from using GMail to promote their services? Because I keep getting a bunch of these from one particular email account and it’s really starting to get old.

  28. Matt,

    Web Spam for what it is!

    I hope I am not giving undue credit where it belongs in the wake of the current “consternation storm”:


    “Definition of consternation (noun)
    amazement or terror that causes confusion; shock; dismay; alarm

    Examples of consternation
    The look of consternation on the child’s face caused her father to panic.

    The Time Magazine Interview sure didn’t sound like it was presented from a “panic” perspective.


  29. Adam, call them.

    I’m sure if you have the time, you can waste hours of their time getting them to do free keyword analysis, explain their services etc..

  30. In the late Eighties In my second year of Uni we were given access to Usenet. Besides basketball, football and gambling my favourite usenet was alt.flame. I think I learnt by best arguing techniques from that feed mainly. Dont write something that people can come back and use against you.

    In terms of Jump the shark that phrase came into my radar from ESPN’s bill simmons and as a long time internet surfer I would bet that Simmons had the biggest influence in making that phrase mainstream.

  31. As for “jumping the shark” (which I had to look up in the English Wikipedia), I think this is just one way how people try to show they are so cute, they even can say: “Seen that? Now they’ve jumped it …”.

    I’d like to get a bit OT and hope not be flamed (yes, I can confirm that “you haven’t really been flamed until you’ve been flamed by Usenet folks”, been there …) and say: If it turned out true what I today read about “GoogleBowling” at SEO Black Hat (I won’t link their probably illegal offer …), this may be a point when search engines and their fight against spam “jumps the shark” … I would really like to hear sumthing reliable from a qualified source, it’s really disturbing me to think this may be working.

    “Dance Dance Revolution” is this game where you gotta dance like crazy with a machine, right? Now, I recently found a little video about dancing, which I find one of the nicest short videos I’ve ever seen. What a journey, “Dancing”:


  32. Tell me… does Google China count as a “jumping the shark” incident?

  33. Adam, call them.

    I’m sure if you have the time, you can waste hours of their time getting them to do free keyword analysis, explain their services etc..

    Can’t do it, Ryan. They don’t give me their phone number. They just keep filling out my web design contact form (I’m gonna have to start collecting IPs from that).

    FROM: “vianetworks” <>
    DATE: Tue, 14 Feb 2006 05:24:39 -0500
    TO: <my email here>
    SUBJECT: Link Request

    vianetworks at web hosting has left the following
    questions/comments/suggestions using the comments form:

    Dear Editor,

    I have come across your website while browsing and find the website resource quite interesting and relevant to one of our business partner’s website. I would request you to please list the below mentioned Website under “Links” section (

    I’ll include some variations of our link details at the bottom of the email. Please chose whichever you like.

    Title: Windows Hosting
    Description: Offering dedicated hosting : managed windows, linux, coldfusion dedicated web hosting and unmanaged windows, linux, coldfusion dedicated web hosting.

    Title: Reseller Hosting
    Description: Offering dedicated hosting : managed windows, linux, coldfusion dedicated web hosting and unmanaged windows,linux, coldfusion dedicated web hosting.

    Title: Linux Dedicated Servers
    Description: Offering dedicated hosting : managed windows, linux, coldfusion dedicated web hosting and unmanaged windows, linux, coldfusion dedicated web hosting.

    I hope this is of interest to you and look forward to your response.

    Best regards

    vianetworks can be reached by telephone at 7844457744744, in addition to replying to this email.

    They’ve also been “neboweb” and “marketworks” (both dot com) in the past.

    And I don’t think that phone number is legit, although for some reason all three companies share it. 😉

  34. Matt, keep it up brother. You’re doing an awesome representing your brand! You keep a human face on the corporate monster and we’ll keep calling ’em as we see ’em. 🙂

    giovanni (

  35. Did you know your blog is the top Google hit for “the internet jumped the shark back in about 1998” (without the quotes?)

    Usenet jumped the shark. So did Google. So did everything else.

    It’s true. Sad to say.

    Penguins and Lemurs are our only hope. Look to them, my friend.

  36. Someone just sent me this blog and I’m confused why we’re mentioned in the comments here? NeboWeb is an interative company in Atlanta, GA and I’m one of the principles

    We’re not affiliated with companies named Marketworks or VIA Networks. And that’s definitely not our phone number.

    I’ll be happy to get to the bottom of this if you can help me by identifying where these posts are coming from and who is sending them in.

    thanks and best regards,

    Adam Harrell
    President, NeboWeb