Run a Web search and what do you get? Often it's a lot more than you bargained for. I'm not talking about the reams of irrelevant, redundant and irretrievable data that often gets tangled in your throw net. (You should know by now that you're bound to get a certain amount of this stuff no matter how you phrase your query or what search engine you use.)

I'm talking about the way good old capitalism has worked itself into our Web searches. Do a search on desk printers and you'll be greeted with a Hewlett Packard banner ad at the top of your search results.

There's nothing new about this. Long before Yahoo! started selling keywords, real-world retailers were giving prominent shelf space to paying sponsors. And of course you know that the big ads and the bold-faced listings in the yellow pages aren't for layout purposes. Exposure is vital to advertisers, and they'll pay dearly. Likewise, if you want a free service, you have to pay another sort of price.