Google – Read, Right? Edit

Suppose you ran a Web site, and got a little money in advertising. And then suppose someone came along, and said: “I can give you more readers, and extra advertising!” – would you be grateful? Especially if this was genuine, and tested out? Well, Russell Buckley isn’t grateful.

His moan sounds silly, but effectively, his gripe is that when Google Mobile take pages for his site and configure them for mobile phone surfers, they take out the adverts, and put their own adverts on. And he’s complained to Google about this, and blogged it, and still, they don’t respond.

He has, nonetheless, a point. His actual argument, when you strip away the egotism of comparing his complaint about Google with the collapse of Kryptonite business, is that Google is actually editing his page, not just formatting it.

The Kryptonite comparison, summary: inhabitants of the InterWeb Blogland discovered you could steal a bike locked with Kryptonite even if all you had was a ball point pen, and Kryptonite dismissed those quaint Bloglanders as irrelevant. Well, yes; if you sell a product which is shown to be non-functional, you need to deal with the bad press.

But the comparison viewed in one way is empty. Google is doing nothing of the sort – its product works, and works as described. It adds extra revenue to the Web site owner’s income stream, and it does it by making a sensible call on how to format pages.

Viewed from another position, you might think that Google should start of listen to the buzz on the blogs (it’s not like they don’t have the tool to find out is it!), in the way that Kryptonite _didn’t_.

That said, Google is arrogating to itself a decision which you’d normally expect the Web site manager to make: what appears on the Web page. And it really ought to have the consent of the site manager to do that. And if it hasn’t, then it should talk.

Now, I can see Google’s point. “What is this guy’s problem?” you might say. After all, most adverts on Web pages are there without the explicit consent of the site manager. One-click and other advert providers post adverts “on the fly” and track the individual user. Click on one advert for fast cars, and they’ll probably show you more next time you visit; and they don’t ring up the Web site manager and ask specific permission. They just download the advert. (Eventually. When you’re almost out of patience, and thinking of switching to Firefox and running Adblock. Another story…)

What Google is doing is even more sensible. They are saying: “This advert is simply too big to run on a mobile phone. It will cost the phone owner real dosh to download, it won’t render properly, the advertiser will be horrified to see how it looks, and it will hide the actual page content which the subscriber wants to see. We’ll hide it, and show a Google Adsense advert instead.”

And frankly, most of us would say: “Exactly what we want you to do!” – and at the end of the day, the site owner gets a share of the Adsense revenue, from readers who wouldn’t have seen the page otherwise.

But if Russell told Google he didn’t want them to do that. He’s entitled to do so. And he blogged it when they ignored him. And yes, his blog got some traction – in that other bloggers linked to it – and Google still ignored him.

I get the impression his bona fides are not altogether clear, here, because someone who ought to know, has said that Russell has (or has had) an association with a rival outfit – Yahoo. It would be good to hear his response to that – but if true, it’s definitely something he should have disclosed. We’re pleased to say that Russell did get in touch, and we thank him for that. He assures us that he has no connections with Yahoo, and therefore has no axe to grind on this one.

At the end of the day, whatever the rights and wrongs of his approach, and whether he’s exaggerating the influence of his blog and the blogworld, or not, he has a point: Google is being arrogant. It is making decisions which its mobile clients have not asked for, and even, have specifically asked them not to do – and when they complain, it isn’t responding.

It may be small beer to Google, but it’s exactly this “faceless bureaucracy” which is its Achilles heel. Anybody who deals with the company will tell you that getting a real person to respond, is harder than getting a refund out of City Hall; and that the “don’t be evil” motto appears to be one which Google parses according to its own standards, not necessarily those of the rest of us.