Google Tips Irk Firefox Guy

Blake Ross, “one of the key people behind the Firefox browser” has an axe to grind with Google. From Ross’ blog:

    Google is now displaying “tips” that point searchers to Google Calendar, Blogger and Picasa for any search phrase that includes “calendar” (e.g. Yahoo calendar), “blog” and “photo sharing,” respectively. This is clearly bad for competitors, and it’s also a bad sign for Google.

Ross thinks these tips are bad for users. Why?

    The tips are different–and bad for users–because the services they recommend are not the best in their class. If Google wants to make it faster and easier for users to manage events, create a blog or share photos, it could do what it does when you search GOOG: link to the best services.

According to their own web search, Picasa is not the best service for photo sharing. What do you think? After being so loved for so long, has Google finally managed to mess up with “tips”? Does it bother you that they’re shilling their crap? Or is this ok? —MEGHANN MARCO

Tip: Trust is Hard to Gain, Easy To Lose [Blake Ross via The Inquirer]


Edit Your Comment

  1. weave says:

    For another example, search for moblog.

    Have to agree. They could at least put it in the blue “sponsored links” section of the search results.

  2. Tom says:

    Yeah, what a tragedy it is that the providers of a free, nigh-indispensable service insert a single line promoting their own products. My heart, she bleeds.

  3. Meg Marco says:

    Picasa reminds me of a certain episode of Beavis and Butthead, anyway.

  4. Vinny says:

    I have to agree with Tom. Google is…

    Wait for it…


    So what? Do you not know where the search results are?

    If Google wasn’t giving me the results I needed when I searched, then I’d start looking elsewhere. Until then, no one cares.

  5. MattyMatt says:

    This should probably not be classified as a “tip,” since it is no more a helpful, well-intentioned suggestion than an ad on the back of a magazine. Internet neophytes would probably take Google at its word here, and not realize that the “tip” is actually as weasely and worthy of doubt as any other advertisement.

    As manipulative advertising goes, though, it’s only slightly evil.

  6. adamondi says:

    Heaven forbid that Google would want to promote their own services on their own darn site. I would only have a problem with this if they included their services in the regular search results with no indicator that it is actually a promotion of one of their other services.

    Since the tips are labeled and formatted differently than the search results, they are fine. Google is, after all, a business that makes money by providing services and charging to advertise on those services. It is not a public service.

  7. Phyllis Nefler says:

    Yeah, give me a break. On the scale of self-shilling, Gawker Media sites have worse trangressions than this, and I don’t even consider those to be bad.

  8. This is the biggest load of hypocrisy considering that Google was one of the primary pushing forces to get Firefox popularized mainstream.

  9. Michael says:

    It’s just another part of the results page that I’ll automatically ignore, but if I were an advertiser I might be a little peeved. After all, Google said,

    “It’s important to note, however, that our ads are created and managed under the exact same guidelines, principles, practices and algorithms as the ads of any other advertiser…There are no algorithm changes to ‘smooth the way’ for Google’s ads.”

    I have no problem with Google advertising its own products, and I don’t even think they need to compete for prominent placement, as it is THEIR service. However, they’ve told paying advertisers that they are operating under the same algorithms and practices as everyone else on the AdWords system, which is clearly false. Google’s ads… er, ‘tips’… are placed prominently on every page which triggers one, and include colorful icons to pull your attention more to their ads… er, ‘tips’… than those of other advertisers. Since there’s no way for other advertisers to accomplish the same, Google is contradicting its previous assurances.

    Again, it doesn’t affect me personally, but going back on your word to your paying customers is kinda… evil.

  10. spanky says:

    I see his point. Google has built an empire around their “Don’t be evil” philosophy. They’ve been a shining example of how far you can go by providing a useful service and gaining the trust of your customers. Google’s customers trust them to provide fair, disinterested search results, and to make a very clear distinction between neutral information and advertising.

    People do hold Google to higher standards for the most part, but that’s what made them what they are today.

    Is it unusual? No. Is it even unethical? Probably not. But it IS unGooglelike.

  11. FrenchBenj says:

    People need to take a pill here and recognize that a company that takes advantage of a free service it provides to carry advertising for another free service it provides is not evil. Pretending otherwise is pushing the “everything online belongs to everyone and should be free” paradigm a bit too far…

    Even Google needs to make money [shocker!]

  12. zentec says:

    As opposed to Microsoft pushing the update to IE7 and it neatly resets your home page to MSN? Google is promoting their own services on their own web pages. Microsoft is promoting their own services on YOUR computer.

    Which is worse?

  13. Paul D says:

    This complaint is ridiculous. Google is free. They provide their services and software (largely) for free. It is only natural and proper for them to advertise their other services on their own site. You do not OWN your search results; and therefore cannot dictate what appears before your eyeballs when you search using Google.

    And as for this:

    the services they recommend are not the best in their class

    I strongly disagree. I have no experience with Blogger, but Google Calendar and Picasa are utterly indespensable in my online life. I couldn’t imagine using anything else; certainly no other free software, and there is absolutely nothing in those areas that I would pay for.

  14. spanky says:

    I agree that he may be a little over the top in his judgment of Google for this, but he does have a point.

    Google has been astoundingly successful, largely if not wholly because they have consistently provided users with a superior product. Their whole business was built up around buzz marketing–not the manufactured kind, but the organic kind, in which real, enthusiastic customers (me included) told other people about their search engine and its clean, reliable, trustworthy results.

    Even when they did start running ads, they were careful and consistent about ensuring that they were unintrusive and clearly labeled, so that it didn’t affect the quality of their service. These ‘tips’ aren’t like that. They’re not labeled as sponsored links. They just appear at the top of the search results, even though they aren’t really search results.

    I think the little logos and the ad copy text actually mitigate that, though, just because they serve to differentiate the tips from the search results.

    Again, it’s not the end of the world. I just hope it doesn’t become a trend.

  15. delaen says:

    Google has such a large user base because they haven’t succumbed to such temptations and always makes sure what shows up on their pages is what provides the most value to their users. This goes against that.

    I don’t know if it’s “evil” per say, but it’s a bad sign that they’re starting to let go of some of the values that made them such a phenomenon in the first place in exchange for a few extra users of their other services. I doubt it will be worth it to them in the long run.

  16. Isn’t Google a shared, tradable company now? As such, aren’t they required to do what they can within reason (and the law) to increase their stock values? Isn’t this one of those things? I don’t think they’re so intrusive that people will stop coming to Google, but they are pitching their own stuff. This would mean not losing customers, but gaining customers. Seems logical to me, and only a fraction evil.

  17. Michael says:

    Google engineer, Matt Cutts, weighs in with his feelings about the article on his personal blog:

    His main concern: that the tips are poorly targeted due to overzealously matching on substrings.

  18. raindog says:

    My problem with the practice is simply that it’s an advertisement being presented as a technical “tip”.

    But it’s merely irritating, like those dip recipes on the back of Ritz Cracker boxes that call for KRAFT cheese and BREAKSTONE sour cream (their caps, not mine) as though the recipe won’t work unless you use only products made by Nabisco’s corporate bedfellows. Are you REALLY being screwed if you buy Breakstone sour cream instead of paying 17 cents less for the store brand? Are you REALLY being taken to the cleaners if you post your pictures to Picasa instead of Flickr? It’s disingenuous and makes people more cynical, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it unethical.

    Then again, R. J. Reynolds isn’t making 75% of its revenue from advertising as Google is, so maybe Google should be held to a higher standard.

  19. madderhatter says:

    It’s THEIR search engine – they can put whatever they want on it. And what does FireFox have to do with it anyway ? IE7 spits out the same thing.

  20. Xkeeper says:

    Oh, no! Google’s advertising themselves with a tiny one-line link to people who might not have any idea!

    Let’s throw a hissy fit instead of just, you konw, sending an email to Google themselves and informing them of your opinion.

    If they do nothing about it, then throw a fit, but until then, shut up.

    This guy’s even better since Google’s 99% of the reason Firefox is more than “just another internet browser”. (More reason I wish Opera came out on top instead of that aparrently hypocritical trash)

  21. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    I don’t see anything wrong with Google advertising their own services, but it should be clearly differentiated as an advertising link, not as one of the returned search strings.

    I did the search my self for “photo sharing” and the link to Picasa appeared exactly as shown. As a long-time Google user, I wasn’t fooled, but I could see how an average person would have been.

    Just tell it like it is and don’t disguise it as a “tip.”

  22. bobvilla says:

    thats an idiotic complaint. They’re presenting their services to users who might benefit from them. Google’s, while innovative and unique, is a business, and one of their goals is to increase their user base. what’s wrong with that?