Barnes & Noble move to Thwart Google AutoLink

44 comments
Thread Title:
Barnes & Noble Overrides Google Toolbar AutoLink
Thread Description:

Danny Sullivan reports that Barnes & Noble have linked all of the ISBN's on their pages - Almost certainly an attempt to Thwart the much hated new Google AutoLink feature.

They could have Javascript solution we posted earlier in the week but this will certainly work just as well as Google will not link text that is already linked.

Comments

no but

the dropdown list in the toolbar will still list every ISBN number and link to Amazon from there....

Am I the only person here...

...who thinks the Autolinks thing is a neat idea, albeit not yet solidly implemented?

I'd like to see:
1) The autolink hyperlinks differentiated from regular hyperlinks (e.g., green squigglies)
2) Option for Webmasters to opt-out.

Other than that... frankly, if someone on B&N wants more info on a book and is taken to a competitor's site, tough titties for B&N, IMHO.

Web pages are not stone tablets. If Web surfers want to use tools to modify Web pages' look and content (e.g., there's CONSENT and UNDERSTANDING behind the changes), well, more power to the people.

My n0follow-notifying, big red...

..."exclamation mark" persistent css sure messes up a couple of otherwise nice-on-the-eyes sites. But so be it.

Seriously, do the autolinks open in a new window, or in the same? My (language-specific) toolbar doesn't support autolink (yet) so it's a bit hard to check...

In short: does the "feature" steal your traffic or add value for the average user?

ThatAdamGuy, what if it mutat

ThatAdamGuy, what if it mutated to an intellitxt with the user's consent (but not the webmasters')? And if that "progressed" into a Longhorn adapted version that interpreted the URL users type in to take them to what Longhorm/IE 7.0 thinks is a better site on that subject? Or modified your link to threadwatch.org as a link to threadwatch.com as a more "appropriate" destination?

The CONSENT and UNDERSTANDING should extend beyond the user and toolbars he installs to include the consent of the owner of the content (Opt-out doesn't qualify ...the onus is on me to perform extra work so as not to have someone deface my pages).

Once you give liberties away you'll find it's often impossible to retract them.

Is that satire, or...

ThatAdamGuy:
>>>if someone on B&N wants more info on a book and is taken to a competitor's site, tough titties for B&N, IMHO.

Are you fucking nuts?

or to put it a little more nicely...

Adam how would you feel if every time the words Lindy Hop appeared on your blog they were linked to a different website? (yes Wit it's the same window unfortunately). And your site isn't commercial - imagine if you were trying to earn a living from that site. Still think it's 'neat'?

So what if it's consentual on the part of the visitor? It isn't for the webmaster. If you wanted them to go somewhere you considered a good resource you'd provide a link. If they want to go double check your info they can go find another site to do it, they have fingers to type in a url. Google encouraging them to visit another site of Googles choice is taking the piss.

And if you still aren't convinced it's a problem then think for a minute. Google are hurting their current profits by offering this - they will be receiving fewer adsense clicks on sites such as book review sites, and they'll be geting fewer searches from people wanting to find maps/track deliveries etc which they now have a direct link to from the toolbar (so fewer ad display opportunities there). There are more subtle ways ad revenue will drop too. Google have a responsibility to their shareholders to make money. They aren't a public service company. What do you think is going to happen in a few months?

I hate to bring up the S word

OK, I don't hate to bring it up at all. I would argue that Google's addition of links to pages that are not theirs is unethical, because it does not take into account the needs of all the stakeholders. (There. I've said it.)

It probably serves G's profits (at least for the time being), but the harm it will do to site owners clearly overshadows that.

Go B&N!

The only way Google will stop and think long enough to realize this is a crap proposition is if the big guys start throwing wrenches in the works (spanners, for you silly non-US-American speakers... ;-)

So more power to B&N, and I hope Waldenbooks, Powells.com, and any other big book sites I can't think of right now follow suit ASAP (or all start using the javascript to thwart it).

Okay, I'll be a bit more nuanced

I do understand and feel some concerns about the autolinks thing, admittedly. In fact, in the past I've been downright pissed at the idea of people modifying my sites' content by using an ad blocker (stripping AdSense ads, for instance).

But I've mellowed with age. I've come to realize that people will -- and people have the right to -- adapt and change my content to fit their PDAs, their screenreader (for the blind), their preferred language, even (again, if only under their consent) removing or replacing naughty words.

What happens when we Webmasters stiffen up and say "NO! YOU CANNOT CHANGE MY HOLY CONTENT!"? We become like the justifiably hated RIAA: "Yes, you bought this song from Napster/iTMS/MS, but you can use it only under these circumstances, in these situations, on these devices..."

So after a while, I began to sense a rather hypocritical disconnection in the WW / geek world. In the aggregate, we love ad blockers, we love railing against DRM, but we get peeved when someone wants more flexibility with OUR content. It's the NIMWBY syndrome (Not In My Web site's Backyard).

Were Google a monopoly, were the Toolbar mandatory, were the autolinks turned on by default, I'd be up in arms... because there'd no longer be user consent.

Gurtie had asked:

> Adam how would you feel if every time the words
> Lindy Hop appeared on your blog they were linked
> to a different website? (yes Wit it's the same window
> unfortunately). And your site isn't commercial -
> imagine if you were trying to earn a living from that
> site. Still think it's 'neat'?

1) I'd say, hey, my visitors have every right to interpret my content in the way they'd like, as long as there's no confusion (e.g., they understand that I didn't place those links there... and for that issue, I return you to my earlier complaint about the lack of a unique AL formatting).

2) Don't let my goofy hobbyist and blog sites fool you ;). I work with some darn huge companies (international luxury hotel chain, global telecom company, major Mars candy subsidiary) with many millions of visitors a month... and I admit that at least a few of my clients would be hella pissed at the idea of someone viewing their content in a way they didn't intend. In fact, most would be apopletic if words on their site led to a competitor's site.

But you know what? They also everyone to view their site in hi-color, 1024x768, on IE, yadda yadda yadda, for the best experience.

When Webmasters get over the idea of specifying the exact experience others enjoy on their sites, they will be happier.

Lastly, I don't believe in hypotheticals: "What if MS does the autolinks then again, but more evil!" "What if Google starts linking every other word?!" "What if Yahoo starts automatically plastering my site with ads?"

Yeah, what if the sky falls tomorrow? Life is too short. We Webmasters should pick our battles wisely, IMHO, based on what is, not what could be. I realize Google (and the others) have made SOME really boneheaded moves in the past, but on the whole, I still trust the company.

Whew. I feel minorly bad about being a reprobate here in this community, and I do apologize for not having really established much rapport or trust yet (I'll work on it, I'll work on it :D). In hindsight, I've probably jumped the gun a bit. But I suppose every community needs a twit like me, eh? The only difference is that I do believe what I write, and don't blather on merely to stir up trouble. Well, maybe a LITTLE bit of that, but that's honestly not my main motivation :)

The other S word

I think it sucks.

But I'm also afraid that we're looking at our future here, one way or another.

sucks, sucking

Your livelihood must not be tied to online sales. For the big boys like B&N, a divergent link will cost them some income, but they have an economy of scale which the typical webmaster will never achieve.

For the independent online shop a link from within a shopping page can break a company. The only way this will "do no evil" is to make it opt in and to tie it into adsense or adsense equivalent.

"AutoLink can also link ... publication ISBN numbers to Amazon.com listings."

They are already sucking potential customers away from websites. And what is the fate of the independent book stores? This is the equivalent of a WalMart opening up next to the local corner market.

Well, at least it's inevitable :D

I'll tackle head-on the B&N issue.

If I, as a customer, am at B&N and am concerned enough about price that I affirmatively click the autolink button and then, from there, affirmatively visit Amazon.com, and from there choose to purchase from Amazon.com, you're saying that that's wrong... that I, as a consumer, should not have that tool, that choice?

I suppose you also hate Sidestep (the airfare price comparison tool). And Froogle, because it grabs store prices without the consent of those stores and lets people compare prices.

I'm for giving an informed consumer choices. If B&N (or your hypothetical independent bookstore) can't compete with Amazon.com on price, then they'll have to compete on service. Or reliability. Or richness of info. Or goodwill. I don't care.

But you haven't addressed my other issues, littleman: to what extent are we Webmasters to be insistent on controlling the user experience? To what degree will we scream about tools which empower the consumer? There's selfishness, and there's simply shooting ourselves in the foot. Do we WANT to end up like the RIAA?

Oh, and for the record, if my clients aren't getting good conversions (often sales) because of my assistance, they will stop paying me. So I'm no stranger to getting results. ;) I'm just able to wear two hats here... a work hat and a consumer hat.

>> 1) The autolink hyperl

Quote:
1) The autolink hyperlinks differentiated from regular hyperlinks (e.g., green squigglies)

I agree with that.

Quote:
2) Option for Webmasters to opt-out.

I think the option should be for webmasters to 'opt in'. IMO every 'service' should be 'opt-in' to be considered above the board.

Not opening up next to the local store,

Close littleman, but actually, this is the equivelant of someone placing WalMart ads on the local corner market shelves without permission.

Additionaly, if "You-Beaut-Search-Engine" suddenly started interfering with the Google Serp displays and inserting links to other pages without Google's consent, I wonder how long it would take for Google to get their C&D department in full swing? Not long me thinks. Goose and Gander comes to mind.

Content

Adam, price comparisons dont come into it, and you're either assuming I'm stupid, or are not thinking your arguments through properly to suggest such a ridiculous thing.

Google is changing the content of MY webpage - And no, it is not the same as stripping out images to make it work on a PDA etc...

And if you're on Amazon?

Quote:
If I, as a customer, am at B&N and am concerned enough about price that I affirmatively click the autolink button and then, from there, affirmatively visit Amazon.com, and from there choose to purchase from Amazon.com, you're saying that that's wrong... that I, as a consumer, should not have that tool, that choice?

Yes, the consumer is being given the choice between not-Amazon and Amazon. If the user is already on Amazon, does the toolbar allow them to oh so easily and conveniently comparison shop? Or is this about funnelling traffic to the site that paid Google?

This isn't about choice. It's being led by the nose to where they want you to go.

Should I be allowed to go ins

Should I be allowed to go inside someone else's store and sell my wares? What is the difference?

Would it be okay in any circumstances?

What if Google made the autolinks clearly different from your regular links? Or added a little clickable "g" icon next to addresses?

Is it the potential confusion that bothers you? Or is it simply the act of changing your Web site without your permission or control?

I've read about extensions which add links to Wikipedia into BBC pages. Is that okay because the Wikipedia is non-profit? Or is that still evil?

What about a tool that pops up English translations for words on a non-English Web site?

Where do you draw the line? Is it NEVER okay for a third-party tool to alter the content of your site? And WHY are ad-blockers or Flash-blockers okay, but added links not okay?

And no, I don't think you're stupid, nor am I intentionally trying to avoid answering your arguments. And in a way, I fear that I may have stumbled into an irreconciliable debate ("Pro life!" "Pro choice!"), though on other sites where I've posted these arguments, I've found that at least I'm not the only one with such opinions on this matter :D.

Addressing the new posts since I started writing this note:

1) Google has claimed that they received no compensation from Amazon as a result of the deal. I believe them.

2) I agree that it'd be nice if people using the Toolbar could choose -- better yet, be affirmatively asked -- where they'd like such links to link to (Amazon? Powells?).

3) The selling wares in someone else's store is not, IMHO, a valid comparison. I'm inviting the GToolbar into my computer, my home, not your server or your store.

Other sites

What kind of sites where they?

WW is seemingly 15/85 for the Gtoolbar

And on non-WW related sites (peoples' blogs, comments on the recent CNET article, etc.) I see much more balanced arguments.

Google Huggers

WMW is well known for it's teeny bopping Google Huggers...

and Cnet is most likely commented on by people that do not make a living from building ecom sites.

The difference here Adam, is that 99.9% of the people are actively making a living from selling online.

If we're going to extend the

If we're going to extend the analogy to its end, and prove just how silly analogies go:

The selling wares in someone else's store is not, IMHO, a valid comparison. I'm inviting the GToolbar into my computer, my home, not your server or your store.

You are in actuality, inviting Amazon (or at least, a representative with a photographic memory) to join you while you sit in Barnes and Noble, whispering "We do this too, but for a potentially better price" as you peruse the bookshelves. I do not see that B&N would appreciate that. I imagine thats why it doesn't happen.

Boil it down

Why bring up if your opinion is supported by the population at large? That has nothing to do with an opinion being right or not.

Take out the morality judgment, you agree that this "feature" will have a result of Amazon (and whoever else Google cuts a deal with) making more sales and retailers who are not part of this system losing sales? I think we agree on that. Believing that that is a good or bad thing tells a lot about who you are.

Why take the broader view?

Littleman and Nick, you comment on the fact that I've brought WW and other opinions into the mix.

Part of the reason why I've done so is because if the vast majority of CONSUMERS think this is a good idea, then that suggests that Webmasters fighting this could be a rather losing proposition.

I'll also admit bias up front in favor of Google, which I probably should have done here earlier (I list it prominently on my blog under "DISCLAIMER" and so on).

In a nutshell, my current affiliations with Google:
- I help clients with their PPC campaigns (both on OV and AW, but vastly prefer working with AW)
- I live near Google and have many friends there (this puts a human face on Google's "Evil" plans to take over the world)

And yes, in the short term, this will result in Amazon getting more sales and other companies getting fewer sales. I've already stated above that it'd be a good thing if Google offered a preference setting for which bookstore is featured.

Vanguard

Google is a business, businesses will do what they can to make as much money as possible. That is the way business works. As consumers it is our right and obligation to complain when a company crosses a line. As webmasters we are the Vanguard -- as well as Google's lifeblood.

Well Said Litte.

Well Said Litte.

consumers

>Part of the reason why I've done so is because if the vast majority of CONSUMERS think this is a good idea

Judging by sales of say nike shoes they also think it is a good idea to pay people a $1 and a bowl of rice a day.

On this issue I think it matters not if the site being infected is commercial not, in some cases I can see a non-commercial webmaster being more upset. What I think does matter is that ultimatly this is being done for commercial gain and involves two of the biggest companies on the www. They already have a great deal of power and influence to shape the web, this move imho puts them more in the gator camp than it would in the ad blocker camp.

>Is that okay because the Wikipedia is non-profit?

No, its OK because the BBC is non-profit. Get it now?

So which one is it?

> On this issue I think it matters not if the site being infected is
> commercial not, in some cases I can see a non-commercial webmaster
> being more upset.

and

> No, its OK because the BBC is non-profit. Get it now?

No, I honestly don't.

No, I honestly don't.

I know.

I'll take one more stab.

Taking your wikki example, have they attempted to block the BBC "tool", I would guess not. Maybe that is just because it has so little usage. Lets imagine that it has the huge user base that the G toolbar has. I still don't think they would block it. If on the other hand it was used to direct users to say a pron site when the word sex was mentioned or everytime the word buy was mentioned it offered a link to amazon or every time the word bid was mentioned it went to ebay etc etc. Maybe in those cases it would make them want to block the tool.

------------------

NFFC: My father is no different than any powerful man, any man with power, like a President or senator.

thatadamguy: Do you know how naive you sound, NFFC? Presidents and senators don't have men killed!

NFFC: Oh. Who's being naive, thatadamguy?

Less options

Quote:
CONSUMERS think this is a good idea, then that suggests that Webmasters fighting this could be a rather losing proposition.

Consumers will see less competition and have reduced options. Content production costs money. Bandwidth costs money. How long would anyone continue working if someone else took home their pay-check?

Wow.

And they say you can't hear the acid in text online....

As a consumer here (and one who generally shops for the best buy around, though Walmart is NOT always "it"), I have to say that I would feel.... ummmm.... "sold" if I were visiting B&N (my bookplace of choice) and some sleaze-ball slithered up to me as I'm looking over the latest fantasy on the shelves, whipping open his trench-coat to show me that Amazon had the same stuff exactly at $.95 per book less (which is about the average difference on the stuff I buy).

Good thing I neither use toolbars, nor depend on Google for search.... and that JasonD and DaveN produced a "stopper".

Opt-in is the key.

"And Froogle, because it grabs store prices without the consent of those stores and lets people compare prices."

Since when? Froogle allows stores to submit datafeeds of their merchandise, after the store formats it into proper Froogle format... Froogle is opt-in. This is not.

If I want to recommend a store or product to my visitors, I will. If my visitors want to block my ads, they will. If a for-profit company wants to distort the content and intent of my site to push other people's wares and information without my consent or endorsement, they can go to hell.

This is like someone from Waldenbooks going into Barnes & Noble with a bunch of coupons and promo flyers, and stuffing them in every single book on B&N's shelves... or more to the point, someone's earlier example about what would happen if someone made a toolbar that inserted their own links into Google's search results. You'd better believe Google would stop them immediately.

actually....

Froogle does scrape and show results without people using a submission feed, less so now I think but it did when it started, resulting in some pretty funny products/prices. BUT that's very different - that is Google allowing people selling online to advertise their products in a new marketplace, in the same way as search the implicit deal is "we use your content and we return you traffic" - if we don't want that we can exclude the 'bot.

You're right Adam - I'm thinking about the future, and believe me I'm a very 'live for the moment' person but sometimes you have to go through the 'what ifs' - this asolutely reeks of a backdoor to adding links from other words.

I'm not against the concept - if they want to make it opt in then I'll probably be bidding on words like anyone else - but in the same way as I use adsense to sell but don't have it one our sites I want that right to choose, that's all.

If you believe the consumer has a right to choice that's fine but they already have several ways to exersize that choice, the website owner also has a right to choice, and to be honest I choose not to spend $$$ promoting my website to come top on Google Adsense for the term "Harry Potter" to discover that Google has then added a link to my site taking the visitors to Amazon. Giving them the choice in a drop down of Amazon, B&N and E-bay wouldn't make that any better.

What Mivox..

said, what Mivox said, and what Mivox said.

Sure it might seem good for a consumer but there are lots of things that would be good for consumers that are just simply not done. Legal and all comparisons to offline businesses aside, I have a little agreement with google. I agree to let them use my content as a part of their listings (so they can make money from adsense, and please their visitors) in exchange for the possibility of receiving some traffic from them (so I can make money...). I don't see where in this deal there's give, just a whole lotta take.

From a users point of view i

From a users point of view i would rather the toolbar said “buy from Amazon” and not “show book info” I just tried it on a children’s book review site and Amazon USA didn’t know about 2 of the books, on average had less info then the review site, other books only had the publisher blurb.

Nice to see the toolbar doesn’t pick up the ISBN’s on my favourite book review site www.accu.org/bookreviews/public/

Google should not be able to get away with this, it’s just the start.

Equivalent of you TV showing you alternative products whenever a commercial came on.

More bad press

More bad press for the evil toolbar...

spaces :)

>>Nice to see the toolbar doesn’t pick up the ISBN’s on my favourite book review site

spaces in the ISBN number, that's a nice workaround for the moment for people with a specific problem :)

Are you nuts?

Ditto that LM

It's a sign that G are now too powerful... I guess they just dropped the No from the tagline.

If this turns to advertising

If this turns to advertising it will only help consolidate online retail power into the hands of a very few massive e-retailers. The little guy will be cut off from the trough by big money interests.

Where is my cut then

So google are using my site to advertise products, where is my cut then?

The more and more I watch this type of game unfold the more I think....b***ocks.....I tried to build real nice content sites to draw traffic into a site and make revenue, whilst helping google build a reputation for quality results. Now you want to steal my traffic....stop being greedy.

What option do I have then, open that auto content generating, link spamming tool and just let the bloody thing go. So what if I don't make money I can have fun watching my crap sites rank sometimes.

Google you are making enemies, you can have all your phd's, but many seo's in this world know they can beat you even if it is for a only a day or two.....how many fires can you put out.

Hitler had the greatest army in the world, but he got greedy and extended his reach too far. The UK let him invade most of Europe and then he attacked Poland.

I keep more and more going on about this, but you can't keep doing this stuff. I can't complain you have been nice to me and hence generally I have been nice to you...but that trust is wearing thin.

DougS

Godwin's law

Oh for crying out loud, is it Godwin's Law time already (re: Hitler)?

Is it even worth it for me to argue the other side here, or am I just pissing off everyone and not changing anyone's mind? Am I being like an affirmative-action-proponent spouting off at a meeting of Young Republicans? Be honest, I can take it.

In the meantime (and, perhaps, for the last time), I'll note the following:
1) I like Marissa Mayer. I've only had a brief (pleasant) interaction with her in person, but I believe that she's super-smart, she means well, and she means what she says.

2) I think it's rather telling that uber-geek Cory Doctorow (of boingboing fame) thinks that autolinks are a good idea.

3) After reading a lot of the thoughtful arguments on this page, I now (still) feel that the autolinks concept is superb, but Google's current implementation is mediocre. Lots of good points have been made about how it's broken (though -- people! -- it's a BETA!) and how it could be made better.

4) I'm frustrated that people continue to spread misconceptions about the tool, and it's clear many haven't even tried it. It doesn't automagically change ANYTHING on a Web page. There's no consumer confusion whatsoever. The autolinks don't persist upon a page refresh, much less from page to page.

5) I keep seeing flawed analogies like: "I have to say that I would feel.... ummmm....'sold' if I were visiting B&N (my bookplace of choice) and some sleaze-ball slithered up to me as I'm looking over the latest fantasy on the shelves, whipping open his trench-coat to show me that Amazon had the same stuff exactly at $.95 per book less." No. It's as if you were visiting B&N, looked at a book, and whipped out your cell phone, where you already had Google's number pre-programmed: "Hey Google! See this book I'm looking at? Can you give me more details about it?" Does that make YOU sleazy? Or your cell phone company? Or Google? How 'bout "None of the above"?

Google isn't forcing anything. There are (at least in concept) no surprises, no deceptions, no proactive "psst... check this other site out."

The example was brought up, in a pejorative context, of "[your] TV showing you alternative products whenever a commercial came on." I agree, in a way. It'd be like me buying a special remote control, and then when watching a commercial for something that interested me, clicking a special button that says "Show more info" and then being transported -- perhaps to an ad from a company of my choosing or of the remote control company's choosing -- to an alternate ad for that product.

More consumer choice. As I said before, sounds good to me.

And if Google abuses the whole shebang by cluttering up pages with obnoxious amounts of links or if people get sick and tired of being transported to a site not of their specific choosing when they click on an autolink, one or both of the following will happen:
1) People will stop clicking on the autolink button.
2) People will either uninstall, or (via word of mouth) never install the Google Toolbar.
and perhaps even...
3) Another organization (Yahoo!, eBay, Fred's ToolShed, Irma's Cooking Site) will create a toolbar that is viewed as more useful, and Google's toolbar will fall by the wayside?

"Oh no!" you argue, "Google has too much power." Oh yeah? Like Microsoft, the famous monopolist, has had all of their products become successful? Yeah, right.

Build a better mousetrap (toolbar, whatever), and -- excepting huge barriers to entry -- people will come. And since the switching costs re: toolbars is practically nil... well, you get my drift.

the new remote control will be auto updated :)

Of course the concept is superb - as an advertiser I'm loving it. How much would I pay for a link from my major keywords on every competitors sites? (even accepting that it will only show for people with the toolbar installed and who click the button - but then I can encourage them to install the toolbar and to click the button in a hundred different ways).

That's the entire reason that it has to be opt in for webmasters - if some geeky girl with no SE background and the flu understands the potential there is no chance that Google, every other search engine around, every toolbar provider, every adware manufacturer and most importantly googles shareholders do not GET this. If Melissa Meyer, lovely as she undoubtedly is, genuinely doesn't get it then I imagine she'll shortly be replaced by soneone who does.

There is an option

If you live in Europe, you can lobby the EU to have a look at this. It is not a difficult process, however, it would be helpful to have a large European bookstore on your side.

I personally think that the EU will take this case up. I know that a question was asked in Scottish Parliament this morning on this very subject. I am sure that other questions in other parliaments will be forthcoming if they have not already started.

Consolidating

Ok guys, time to move to a new thread as the current ones are getting rather large and it would be nice to have less concurrent discussions on the same topic on the [ulr=http://www.threadwatch.org/tracker]recent posts[/url] list.

You can link to comments in this thread by clicking the title of the comment and grabbing the address there.

Thanks!

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