February 23rd, 2005

Talk nerdy to me!

The Google Honeymoon is Over

I like Google, a lot. They do good things. They do cool things. They give their employees time during their work week to work on personal projects. They're minimalists who put function over form. They build toolbars that block pop-ups. They've pioneered tasteful internet ads. They're quirky. They have a sense of humor. I've always liked them.

But now the honeymoon is over. They've done that made me do a double take. Was this the Google I'd always revered?

Google ToolBar version three is in beta now. It contains a new feature called Autolink that recognizes information, like ISBN's and addresses. Upon turning on the feature, Autolink takes those bits of information and makes a link out of them to, say, amazon.com where that book is being sold. It alters the webpage and replaces the text with a link, a link that takes the reader away from the site and allows the to buy instead through Google's kickback tracking. So websites that are supported by kickbacks from redirected sales or advertising links to other sites will potentially lose money as it's diverted to Google.

It feels like an abuse. I'm angry, yes, but I'm also shocked. I don't know why I'm shocked. I should have known, but I'd placed Google on a pedestal as a paragon of business virtue, an example of a business that could make absurd profits but never compromise on issues of unobtrusive advertising and putting content-creators first. Until now I didn't mind that Google was big, really really big, and could affect so much with just a change of code. Many people are comparing this to Microsoft's Smart Tags.

Conversely, the reader has to actively select the AutoLink button to activate the feature, which means that they still have a choice. If they didn't want to buy from your site, they wouldn't have anyway.

AutoLink does, however, take advantage of reader laziness. If they don't want to look for a link themselves, Google will do it for them. And by exploiting reader laziness, they will be able to scoop up a lot of extra revenue that might otherwise be going to the content-creators.
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