Google On An “Evil” Trip?

By Nathan Weinberg

Google’s been doing some unpopular things of late:

  • They ran “tips” above search results, basically ads for Google services on any remotely related search, ones that no one could compete with and that appeared on searches that were completely irrelevant, like “tips” for Blogger on searches for “blogoscoped”. There were very unpopular, and eventually Google had to remove them, although them may return in a less agressive form.
  • Google cancelled the Picasa referral ads program, rolling them into Google Pack referrals. The old Picasa ads now read “Organize your digital photo album with the free Google Pack”, essentially turning Google Pack into bundled junk ware by advertising a program and delivering it in an installer with many other programs that were unadvertised and not wanted by the user.
  • Google added a line in its product search OneBox that gives special placement to stores that use Google Checkout, giving them added visibility because they participate in a different Google program. This is unfair because all stores participating in Froogle deliver their inventory and pricing to Google for free, letting Google build a service over their submissions, and now Google is taking back some of what it used to give those stores.
  • Google has removed links to competing mapping services on maps-related searches, leaving just a OneBox for Google Maps. While Google has no obligation to link to its competitors, those links were certainly useful to its users, and the removal is a conscious decision by Google to block out other companies, at the expense of utility.
  • AdSense updated a lot of their policies, mostly for good (no ads with student term papers), but one change is quickly angering publishers: AdSense ads cannot be run on a website that uses other ads that look similar, even if those ads are run on completely seperate pages, or run at seperate times. This means publishers who used to rotate Google and Yahoo ads in the same location, not have to change the look of one of them so that they do not look the same to frequent visitors. This change makes little sense, since most publishers make their ads match the colors of their site, and if they have to change the look of half their ads, which will make them less money, or force them to stop using Yahoo ads (probably what Google hopes).

Now, no company is perfect, and Google has dome some particularly heinous things in the past (remember Web Accelerator) and we all forgave them. Still, I’ve never seen this many things hitting at once, almost as though Google made a commitment that in 2007, Google gets agressive. If that is the case, I’d be afraid, because such a decision, no matter how well-intentioned by the Google founders (who, let’s face it, are basically decent guys) becomes a license for some of Google’s less scrupulous and more competitive employees to do some pretty evil shit.

2007 is shaping up to be a turning point for a lot of tech firms in a way 2006 never shaped up to be. The easiest prediction about this year: It won’t be boring.

Posted:
January 18, 2007 by Nathan Weinberg in:
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8 Responses to “Google On An “Evil” Trip?”

  1. Tim Says:

    This is definitely a shame.

    And I bet it would be solved if giving feedback would be easy - I’m pretty sure my recent feedback hasn’t been read. I’m afraid the only REAL feedback option Google still has is commenting on Matt Cutts’ blog. And I very much doubt that’s the official way to go.

  2. michaelzimmer.org » Archives » Google’s Recent Evil Doings Says:

    […] Nathan Weinberg outlines some recent actions by Google which arguably flow against their “Don’t be evil” mantra: […]

  3. Adam Lasnik Says:

    Hey Tim, we actually have a large number of very-public groups online that are designed to enable Googlers and users of Google services and products to chat with each other… share feedback, ask questions, etc.

    Examples:
    http://groups-beta.google.com/group/Google-Calendar-Help
    http://groups-beta.google.com/group/Google_Webmaster_Help
    http://groups-beta.google.com/group/Google-Labs-Reader

    Also, via the online Help sections of most products, there’s a way to offer feedback to the teams.

    Perhaps we could make this easier, the groups more visible? We’re open to suggestions!

  4. zmarties Says:

    Nathan, I think you have got the facts wrong on the Picasa referrals.

    Existing referrals continue to work, and continue to be for just Picasa, not the Google Pack. No existing ads have been changed at all.

    It’s true that if you now go to the Google Adsense site, the selection of ads offered are only the ones for Google Pack - so new people offering ads for the first time are likely to do so for the Pack - but that’s very different from cancelling and changing existing ads which you claim.

    If you want to see Picasa ads still, just visit my blog!

  5. Tim Says:

    Hi Adam,

    Thanks for your reply!

    I do indeed have some comments.

    1) I am not aware how to hide my Gmail address *completely* when posting to those groups. I have not dared use them for that reason alone. With regular support, I’d still be able to use my main account, because I’d be reasonably assured my mail address would not be publicized.

    I have read http://groups-beta.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=46456&query=address&topic=&type=

    2) Usually, fellow users have been of very little help to me. They will come with suggestions that you’d have tried a long time ago already. I realize that for a lot of other people, this might not be an issue (most likely the kind of people who don’t ever try searching the help section). From Google, I expect more, if only because you guys have access to the code of your products, so you can give me answers, help resolve bugs, and accept feature suggestions.

    3) I do realize that due to the “brand exposure” Google has, it might be nearly impossible to continue old-style support (non-public inquiries). I still feel I should at least be able to use my main account then, while *completely* hiding my mail address to other members.

    4) I used to use the Help sections of your products, and given enough people providing support, I consider this a superior option. The problem is that the impression I’m starting to get that it’s become completely understaffed over time - and not done efficiently. It used to work perfectly, however. I’ll tell about my most recent experience with Gmail:
    I followed the directions (I probably sent an e-mail), and received an e-mail telling me I should go somewhere else. I copied the text, and re-entered it in the web form. I think I received an automated reply afterwards, and never heard about it again. Please note that this was not a question, it was something I still consider to be a vulnerability in Gmail (you might argue it’s not, though). I have never been notified that this issue has been fixed.

    Please also note what Matt Cutts (I believe) has said: people compare the competition to Google, but compare Google to perfection (possibly not an exact quote, it’s done by heart). I completely agree with the point he’s making, but it doesn’t make the issue that’s been bothering you any less annoying.

    I’ll quickly describe what I’d consider to be the best way to receive help and support (most of it can be deduced by fixing the things mentioned above).

    - One web form per service, perhaps some drop down boxes to sort the different issues people are having (make sure to include an “other” option!). This way you can add one of your accessible CAPTCHAs if spam becomes a real issue.
    - Do not provide an e-mail address if it’s only going to send autoreplies informing people of web forms they are supposed to use instead.
    - Make sure the level of support is as good as it was during, say, 2004. Back then, my experience was positive: I’d always get a reply, and even if Support could not resolve my problem, it would be clear they were trying. If the people working there have a way of communicating with the people that worked on the actual code, or are familiar with it, most issues can probably be resolved.
    - Selecting a default reply is okay, but only if they really answer the question asked. Don’t blindly assume that because you see two keywords applicable to a FAQ entry, that the FAQ solves the user’s problem. (I would not expect this from Google, but I have seen it multiple times with other companies).

    You could even decide to add support via IM (Google Talk, perhaps third-party networks), but I doubt that’s going to be worth the added effort.

    I’m sorry for the lengthy reply, I just felt I needed to explain my own ‘external’ recent experience with Google Support. Thank you for your reply here, and if you have any questions or comments about what I said, please reply!

  6. Tim Says:

    It appears my comment was lost (I thought logged in users didn’t need to go through the moderation queue?)

    Anyway, luckily I copied it before submitting, so I’ll repeat it here.

    Hi Adam,

    Thanks for your reply!

    I do indeed have some comments.

    1) I am not aware how to hide my Gmail address *completely* when posting to those groups. I have not dared use them for that reason alone. With regular support, I’d still be able to use my main account, because I’d be reasonably assured my mail address would not be publicized.

    I have read http://groups-beta.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=46456&query=address&topic=&type=

    2) Usually, fellow users have been of very little help to me. They will come with suggestions that you’d have tried a long time ago already. I realize that for a lot of other people, this might not be an issue (most likely the kind of people who don’t ever try searching the help section). From Google, I expect more, if only because you guys have access to the code of your products, so you can give me answers, help resolve bugs, and accept feature suggestions.

    3) I do realize that due to the “brand exposure” Google has, it might be nearly impossible to continue old-style support (non-public inquiries). I still feel I should at least be able to use my main account then, while *completely* hiding my mail address to other members.

    4) I used to use the Help sections of your products, and given enough people providing support, I consider this a superior option. The problem is that the impression I’m starting to get that it’s become completely understaffed over time - and not done efficiently. It used to work perfectly, however. I’ll tell about my most recent experience with Gmail:
    I followed the directions (I probably sent an e-mail), and received an e-mail telling me I should go somewhere else. I copied the text, and re-entered it in the web form. I think I received an automated reply afterwards, and never heard about it again. Please note that this was not a question, it was something I still consider to be a vulnerability in Gmail (you might argue it’s not, though). I have never been notified that this issue has been fixed.

    Please also note what Matt Cutts (I believe) has said: people compare the competition to Google, but compare Google to perfection (possibly not an exact quote, it’s done by heart). I completely agree with the point he’s making, but it doesn’t make the issue that’s been bothering you any less annoying.

    I’ll quickly describe what I’d consider to be the best way to receive help and support (most of it can be deduced by fixing the things mentioned above).

    - One web form per service, perhaps some drop down boxes to sort the different issues people are having (make sure to include an “other” option!). This way you can add one of your accessible CAPTCHAs if spam becomes a real issue.
    - Do not provide an e-mail address if it’s only going to send autoreplies informing people of web forms they are supposed to use instead.
    - Make sure the level of support is as good as it was during, say, 2004. Back then, my experience was positive: I’d always get a reply, and even if Support could not resolve my problem, it would be clear they were trying. If the people working there have a way of communicating with the people that worked on the actual code, or are familiar with it, most issues can probably be resolved.
    - Selecting a default reply is okay, but only if they really answer the question asked. Don’t blindly assume that because you see two keywords applicable to a FAQ entry, that the FAQ solves the user’s problem. (I would not expect this from Google, but I have seen it multiple times with other companies).

    You could even decide to add support via IM (Google Talk, perhaps third-party networks), but I doubt that’s going to be worth the added effort.

    I’m sorry for the lengthy reply, I just felt I needed to explain my own ‘external’ recent experience with Google Support. Thank you for your reply here, and if you have any questions or comments about what I said, please reply!

  7. Tim Says:

    Okay, I’m going to try waiting to see if my comment shows up in the feed, for now I’ll save the text I entered.

  8. Tim Says:

    Comments broken. Unsubscribing feeds.

    Adam: please read tinyurl dot com slash 3cseg7

    Sorry.

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