February 21, 2005

Oh, please.

I've been reading some of the hubbub about our latest toolbar release on blogs here and there, and I have to say that some people simply need to take a pill. Here are somethings to think about:
  • The user must explicitly download the toolbar and turn on the feature.
  • Since the user explicitly wants to do this, the user is choosing to augment the content of a given website.
  • Since the user explicitly wants to do this, what people who are up in arms about this are saying is this: The user can only have the experience that I dictate when I put my content up on the web.
  • What this means is that the user cannot change font size, browse with a browser that the producer didn't explicitly endorse, cannot change the default linking style, can't run a pop-up ad-blocker (like the google toolbar), can't run a regular ad blocker, can't use DNS tricks to circumvent ads. Can't shut off JavaScript, Java or flash. Can't control cookies. Can't control image placement, cycling, or origination point. Can't control security, for god's sake.
  • Which means that people who have a problem with the toolbar should, in my humble, non-google official opinion, should simply remove their content from the web until #4 is truly possible, which I hope will never come to pass.
  • Finally, Google is not advertising up your page with this technology, we're linking to maps and other useful knowledge. That isn't evil, and we do in fact care about this sort of thing. Remember that the users, your viewers, who turn this on -want- to be able to do this, explicitly. They are adults who turn on the feature knowing what they are doing.

So, in short: Grow up. When Microsoft introduced smart tags for IE, I thought that was unacceptable, as users had no choice. But even then I wasn't worried, because I used Linux and Mozilla, not IE and windows. You see, if you don't like it -don't use it- and add to your TOS on your site that users can't use it and surf your site at the same time, and , while you're at it, use robots.txt to block google's crawl. In for a penny, in for a pound, I say. There are other seach engines out there who do an okay job.

Please note that not everyone is as tedious about this, there are still some smart people left on the internet, it seems. Thank god for that.

30 comments:

Adam Lasnik said...

Amen. I've made the same arguments on WebmasterWorld, though I've been soundly outvoted.

With that said, I sure do wish the Toolbar made the autolinks look different than regular links. Such a little thing, but such a significant difference, IMHO.

Rogers said...

Search Engine Watch:

"It's possible, Google said, that if users push the button, it might decide that the toolbar should always automatically show links rather than make this a page-by-page choice users initiate. Or not, depending on feedback."

Chris DiBona said...

Yeah, I saw that too. Again...the key word for me will always be 'users'. It's not that I don't care about web site publishers (I am one) but I think users should be able to control thier experience. It's also why I own a Tivo :-)

I wouldn't mind changing the auto-link color, though. That'd be okay.

(not speaking for google here, mind you)

Pete said...

[quote]the key word for me will always be 'users'. It's not that I don't care about web site publishers (I am one) but I think users should be able to control thier experience. It's also why I own a Tivo :-)[/quote]

Yah :)

As a user, I want a toolbar that overwrites the Adwords on the right hand side and offers Yahoo search results in their place. That would be really useful to a lot of people.

It's all about the users, right? ;)

Pete said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
hockeyphan said...

So what stops every toolbar publisher from taking on the practice of gen'ing links on another site...and these links are to their advertisers...some who may be direct competitors of mine?

What stops me from developing my own toolbar for my users...and every time they visit my competitor's site...I force links within the page to link to my site?

Chris DiBona said...

Hockeyphan: Nothing, but I'm not talking about 'anybodies' toolbar, but googles.

Pete: If you want, sure, go for it. It is very easy to forsee the result if enough people block ads...people will stop serving content to those people. It's not rocket science.

androbtech said...

I agree with your post 100%

Adrian said...

I'm the publisher of my content. I make some money linking to other sites.

If people wish to change the layout of my site with their own CSS or font size changes through their browser, that's fine. That's between me and the user. I can block this in broken browsers (IE) if I want by using pixels instead of ems and broken browsers (IE) don't allow user-defined CSS.

But this is not a simple layout change. This is a change to the content. A change that I do not want unless the beneficiary pays me.

There should be a tag which publishers insert to opt in to Google's scumware, sorry, AutoLink system. An opt-out system will not be implemented by publishers who do not have the skills or time to go back over all of their pages and make a change to suit Google.

This is arrogance in its highest form. I for one will be using one of these Google Killers:

http://www.threadwatch.org/node/1562

Adrian said...

"It is very easy to forsee the result if enough people block ads...people will stop serving content to those people. It's not rocket science."

Sounds like you're hinting that Google be giving us an option to stop serving content to people with Google's malware, er, toolbar installed. Can't wait!

Adrian said...

"Finally, Google is not advertising up your page with this technology, we're linking to maps and other useful knowledge."

Will Google be removing ads from their maps pages linked to from my content? Will they be allowing me to put my ads on Google's maps pages, seeing it is my content that got them the user visit? Will Amazon give me a cut of any sales made?

Chris DiBona said...

Well, we're going to have to disagree about your calling the toolbar malware, it simply isn't. It's user-ware, if you want to create a title. I understand that some people don't like their users hitting the autolink button, but people are upset when users use pop-up blockers too.

And yes, I know I sound flip when I say this, but a lot of people are getting steamed up over this and I still feel that the users desires trump the publishers in this case. That said, I'm not the one making the decisions about this for Google, I'm just saying how I feel about the topic. It should be known that people are listening to both users and publishers here in the googleplex.

I do find it telling how eager some people are to be angry about this.

Adrian said...

How can you tell that the user "desires" to go to Amazon? To Google Maps? The user always wants more information. Google has arbitrarily decided where they will get the information.

The toolbar is yours. Do with it what you will. In the end I believe Google will split the difference and go with a drop-down box only.

Whatever happens I forsee more than a few new Google toolbar-killing worms and virii spreading before too long.

Adrian said...

"I do find it telling how eager some people are to be angry about this."

And I do find it telling how eager Google are to spurn requests for an opt-out for publishers.


On pop-up killing:

The basic piece of information on the web is a page. Pop-ups break this convention and should be killed unless manually initiated with the knowledge of the user. Pop-up killers are not in the same league as hoovering up extra traffic from publishers without consultation or recompense.

Chris DiBona said...

I know users want to do it because they've downloaded the toolbar and hit the button. Users know what they're doing. Downloading our toolbar doesn't happen by accident. It isn't shipped by default with IE.

It is worth pointing out that we do care about peoples opinions, but we are trying to get a broad consensus of what is best for our users and for webmasters, and that will not happen over night. It's only been a week, after all, since we released toolbar. (Maybe less?)

As to choices, the toolbar launched with the ability to choose a different map provider in the autolink settings section, and we currently still highlight mapquest and yahoo maps when you search for an address. I do think that the user when deciding to use AutoLink is implicitly agreeing to go to maps or to whomever we're linking to. I also think I'm likely spending too much time on this issue. Back to work for me...

Nicky said...

Just out of interest, you say "People want" this function? Are these people you are talking about from Amazon by any chance!

You can talk until you are blue in the face as to what you consider acceptable or not and so can I. At the end of the day, Google is biting the hand that feeds them. They are out websites, our hard work and our sales.

Just what did you do to justify taking customers away from our pages and call that right and just?

Regardless of you thinking webmasters should just take a "Chill pill" perhaps if it was your livelyhood you would be as miffed as other webmasters.

I would absolutely LOVE to see webmasters remove their websites from your index, but, as everyone knows "currently" website owners have their hands tied behind their backs and in this case, in my "Humble" opinion, Google is taking full advantage of this!

wigsy_1 said...

ok, so we sort of know how it is gonna work.
I am not in books or maps - but i am in mobility scooters, and have excellent prices for worldwide delivery. Do you think maybe if i approach google and make them an affiliate they would make anything with the scooter models names in it link to my site. NO - DONT THINK SO!! Why is it different for amazon? i would pay google a % commission too you know. So it is just trying to profit more and more and more but making it so much more difficult for the small business to do well online. well done google. we all love the big companies ripping us off.

PhilC said...

You (and Google) are very much mistaken, Chris. In fact, you're just plain wrong. It is *not* all about users, as you mistakenly think. It is about publishers as well. When people are in a website, they will see what the webmaster wants them to to see, and not what Google wants them to see. They have no right to anything else. They are free to go elsewhere, but they have no right to have webpages modified by a third party such as Google, and Google has no intrinsic right to modify the content of any webpage. I'm sorry, but you haven't got a leg to stand on.

But we all know where Google is trying to go with this, and it has nothing to do with helping users. It has everything to do with having some control over as many internet users as possible, regardless of where they are on the internet.

Google is a search engine, amd that is all. When people are in your website, they are your visitors, but when they are not in your site, they are nothing to do with you.

Google does not have any control over internet users, and, no matter how hard it tries to gain some control, it will fail, because there is a determination amongst webmasters not to allow a mere search engine to control the web.

And, incidentally, your rude attitude doesn't help your cause.

eleven80 said...

# The user must explicitly download the toolbar and turn on the feature.
# Since the user explicitly wants to do this, the user is choosing to augment the content of a given website.
--- Since you believe the fact that the user choosing to augment the content of our sites without our consent makes it ok, you must obviously also argue in favour of p2p software, which gives 'users' the ability to download music without the owner's consent too, right? Copyright is copyright.

Since the user explicitly wants to do this, what people who are up in arms about this are saying is this: The user can only have the experience that I dictate when I put my content up on the web. --- That's exactly what we're saying. Read our disclaimers, Chris. Our content is our own, it's copyright. By all means, look at it and enjoy it the way we present it to you.. change it? no.

What this means is that the user cannot change font size, browse with a browser that the producer didn't explicitly endorse, cannot change the default linking style, can't run a pop-up ad-blocker (like the google toolbar), can't run a regular ad blocker, can't use DNS tricks to circumvent ads. Can't shut off JavaScript, Java or flash. Can't control cookies. Can't control image placement, cycling, or origination point. Can't control security, for god's sake. --- The new Google toolbar has a feature you are obviously not aware of, Chris. Let me enlighten you of this feature: It changes the way our code is presented to the end user. None of the other stuff you mentioned does that. I agree it 'controls' the way our content is viewed, but it does NOT change it.

Which means that people who have a problem with the toolbar should, in my humble, non-google official opinion, should simply remove their content from the web --- That may be your non-google official opinion, Chris.. but it sounds oh so similar to Google's "we pretty much own the web now, so if you don't like it, shove off" views.

Finally, Google is not advertising up your page with this technology, we're linking to maps and other useful knowledge. --- I'm sure anyone trying to make a living from an online bookstore would disagree with you on that one, Chris. Linking away from one site selling a book, to Amazon selling the same book, is immoral (and possibly illegal, but this we will find out in due course)

Please note that not everyone is as tedious about this, there are still some smart people left on the internet, it seems. Thank god for that. --- yes those guys at MSN are doing a fine job! ;)

Darren said...

I know users want to do it because they've downloaded the toolbar and hit the button. Users know what they're doing. Downloading our toolbar doesn't happen by accident. It isn't shipped by default with IE.Funny, I thought the vast majority of people doing this were webmasters who wanted to see what the fuss was about.

Google is not advertising up your page with this technology, we're linking to maps and other useful knowledge.So linking to an Amazon product page is not advertising?

Must go, need to post some flyers over other peoples property - the public have a right to know my 'additional information'.

Chris DiBona said...

My rude attitude? I didn't think I was being rude to anyone, I'm sorry if it being percieved this way, as it is not my intention.

But let me make this very clear: I understand the position that publishers are putting out there and I know that Googlers are listening to them very closely. I -personally- disagree in this case with webmasters. I'm saying that Google has given a tool to the user that allows them to change their surfing experience slightly. I'm clearly okay with users deciding to change thier experience in this way, I think it's an important right for the user to have, and I think the toolbar is a pretty cool tool that they have -chosen- to use. I wouldn't be against some of the remedies suggested, but its really not my decision. I don't work on the toolbar team after all.

In reading this stuff, you'd think Google was kicking someones dog or something. There is so much anger being expressed at Google, and I have to say it is not proportional. Lets try to have a reasonable debate, okay?

Another thing that doesn't really appeal to me is this talk of visitors to a website as chattel that can be stolen or belong to you in some way is a little off too. User loyalty isn't taken away by the autolink feature that the users have chosen to invoke with our toolbar.

I'm personally commenting not because Google needs me to defend it, but because I think that if we allow only the voice of the website producer to express itself, then we ignore an important voice, that of the user. And being a user of the internet, I'd like to defend my ability to surf freely using whatever environment I choose. Be it Firefox, IE with the toolbar or something like w3m, I'm not interested in having someone control my experience so much that I can't use helper programs like AutoLink or pop-up blockers. but don't make this into you vs. me or the web vs. Google, as it just doesn't need to be that way at all.

Nicky said...

Hang on, this isnt an "Us v U" debate. This is a response to your initial post, regardless of where and who you work for.

You say the toolbar is good because the "User" is in control. Really? So the user has control on what sites the toolbar links to then? No, of course not! This is not the user being in control, this is Google being in control, Google changes their surfing experience by directing people to websites of "Googles" choice away from the site they naturally landed on.

What you dont seem to be interested in, webmasters put hard work into marketing their websites and in lots of cases, alot of money. I myself tested the toolbar, I searched online for a particular book, I ended up on the purchase page of that site, Google linked the ISBN number to Amazon. I clicked on that link, which took me away from the UK site, to Amazon.com, a US site. The book was not even for sale on Amazon, so basically, if this was a real case scenario, Google would have completely wasted my time, and took me away from a perfectly good site to one which would have been totally unrelevant.

In the case that Amazon had what I wanted, the poor folk on the original site, would have lost a sale, and you call that fair and just and wonder what all the fuss is about? My goodness.

So if a burgular enters your property and takes your TV for their better viewing experience, you would have no problem with that? Of course you would, that is your property. The content on someone's website, it their property, what is the difference?

At least we agree on one thing, visitors to a page are not property, however, something we most certainly do not agree on, CONTENT IS!

Websites belong to the webmaster, not to a search engine. If webmasters want links to their competitors on their site, it should be THEIR choice, not Googles. I'm just sorry you cant see it.

Chris DiBona said...

I think I see what you mean. The reason I say the user is in control is that the user has control over the default behavior of using or not using the toolbar and using or not using AutoLink. So at its base, I consider the user as still being in control.

Yes, it would be cool if we had the same kind of granular control over which bookstore and such that we provide for the maps (as you know you can choose maps.google.com, mapquest,etc..). It would have been better had the toolbar team launched with such customizablity.

That said, the insensitivity to geography should be fixed, even thought I know a bug report wasn't your goal with your post, I appreciate it.

Mel said...

So how exactly does the toolbar "enhance" the users experience?

I build a website promote it and offer for sale products, and over the course of time refine my offerings to reflect what vistors want at the price they want. A visitor comes to my site as a result of a search in say, Google, after reviewing several choices and is presented with my page which sells a book on the art of macrame which they are intersted in, but the user has installed the Google toolbar (possibly because Google in the past has had a good reputation) and hey presto Google whispers "pssstt... I can get you a better deal click here" and the visitor and a potential sale is gone.

Now you know nothing of my site or the deal I offer, but you can see the potential for some profit from Amazon, so what the heck who cares about the gonzo who built the site, lets take the profit regardsless if the visitor gets a better deal or not.

The mistaken conclusion that Google can enhance the content of my site without knowing a thing about it comes very close to ultimate arrogance.

Google should change thier motto to
Do no evil - unless its profitable.

Sunny Monkey said...

It seems that users are already working out ways to stop the bar from being used on the pages, essentially a home-brew opt-out system.

http://www.zeldman.com/daily/0205f.shtml

This is all well and good, however I would venture a guess that only realyl clued up publishers are even going to find this and make use of it.

I am not on either site of the fence for this new update. My personal feeling is that as long as the ON PAGE content isnt modified then fine. :)

Just my thoughts and thingies.

Sleep Easy All!

Sunny Monkey said...

Also a snippet from the long coverage here:

http://blog.searchenginewatch.com/blog/050225-104317

May be of interest to you...

"The links that we add do look different. We work hard to help the user understand that this was a link added by the Google Toolbar, that it wasn't a native link. We do this through a mouse rollover that is visible when you mouse over the link."

From my end, the mouse rollover isn't enough, little Google color "bubbles" or "balls" added to the hand icon, along with link pop-up text that says "Google Toolbar AutoLink." That's because before you hover, these links look identical to native links -- and some people are just going to click rather than hover for very long.

A different color or a double-underline or something would help. But while I certainly agree that links are far more intuitive, whether they look radically different from native links or not, they simply clash too much with publisher rights, in my view, and at this moment.

PhilC said...

But the on-page content IS modified, Sunny Monkey. That's what everyone, except Google, finds so abhorent. They don't even open the target pages up in new windows - they replace the site where the visitor was. They hijack site visitors.

Yes, you were rude, Chris. "So, in short: Grow up." I don't think I need to expand on it.

I'll say this again - I don't believe for one moment that Google is trying to enhance user experience, as they claim. I fully believe that Google is trying to enhance their own influence on the web, and that this is just the thin end of an anticipated very big wedge. How long will it be before Google is getting paid for the traffic? I don't think anybody believes that it won't happen.

"There is so much anger being expressed at Google," Mass anger only happens when somebody does something very wrong.

"Another thing that doesn't really appeal to me is this talk of visitors to a website as chattel that can be stolen or belong to you in some way is a little off too." Nobody is talking about visitors in that way. People are talking about their property in that way - property that Google imagines it has the right to redesign.

It's really very simple. If a webmaster wants to give visitors the ability the change the content of a page, s/he will do. Nobody else has the right to do it - not visitors, not Google, not anybody.

Sunny Monkey said...

Sorry I should have made myself slightly clearer, my bad! :(

I know about how the content is changed, I was just saying that if it is not then I dont care if someone is able to push a button to do so. Same way I dont care if they copy and paste text to search for a product on a search engine or indeed another site etc.

I would assume that the biggest gripe here is more to do with Advertising and Revenue than it is to do with anything else.

If you site is not there to make a profit then who cares, blogs are an example etc.

But if you are selling products, or if you simply display adverts on your website, you would not want people leaving through links you did not make etc.

Eitherway, things will play out as they play out. :(

Chris DiBona said...

PhilC: Mass Anger? No, I've seen both sides of this issue, not everyone is mad about this, in fact, most people are not. I don't think that's all that important, personally.

Here is where we disagree, you and I:
"It's really very simple. If a webmaster wants to give visitors the ability the change the content of a page, s/he will do. Nobody else has the right to do it - not visitors, not Google, not anybody."

You're wrong. The user has rights. Other wise, you don't get to have any users. Like I said in an earlier post, webmasters don't enjoy that kind of control on the internet and I don't think they ever will. If users exercise too much control, content goes away, if publishers exercise too much control the users go away.

"Oh, Grow up". is a little rude, yeah, I can see that. But it doesn't change the fact that the user has rights and denying them is a poor idea. As is denying publisher rights, which is what people are accusing google of doing by providing this tool to thier users.

Sunny: Little dots would be cool :-) I don't know how you'd do that, but I'd imagine someone from maps could make dancing monkeys appear at your house and hand you a link wrapped in gold foil.

Chris DiBona said...

Hey, so I'm closing out comments, post em on this story This more recent AutoLink story.