Did Google Just Jump the Shark?
In case you missed it, Google broke a cardinal rule of its famously clean white-space design Tuesday morning. For the first time, the company put an animated banner ad on its sacrosanct search homepage.
“The playground is open,” the ad, for the Nexus 7 tablet, declares. And indeed it is — the home page just became a playground for Google’s legion of marketers. The question is, can it ever close again?
As my colleague Lauren Indvik pointed out earlier, Google has previously pushed the boundaries of its homepage design with tiny text ads.
Here is the ad for the Nexus One phone from 2010. It was relatively clean and unobtrusive. The text outweighed the icon.
It fit into the advertising ethos that made Google so successful in the first place: you get more genuine interest from a subtle text ad than a screaming banner. But now we have the first advertising animation on the homepage, the size of the Google logo itself.
This, as AllThingsD pointed out, flies in the face of a promise made by former Google executive Marissa Mayerback in 2005: “There will be no banner ads on the Google homepage,” she wrote on the company’s official blog.
“There will not be crazy, flashy, graphical doodads flying and popping up all over the Google site. Ever.”
Why It Matters
You may well ask: why does it matter? Who even visits the Google homepage any more anyway?
Answer: roughly a billion unique visitors a year. That white space is some of the most valuable real estate on the web. You may visit it only when there’s an interesting doodle; you may use a search bar in your browser. But many millions of computers still have Google.com as their default homepage.
And until today, the company had an unspoken contract with those visitors: you just get the search bar you need, a whimsical (and often educational) drawing, and maybe another easter egg, such as a replacement for “I’m feeling lucky.” But we will resist the siren temptation to do anything else with all that beautiful blank white space, that oasis of calm in your busy life.
Until now, the white space was like Central Park — extremely valuable real estate, deliberately never developed.
Google = Microsoft?
Now we’ve got nothing against the Nexus 7. It’s by far the best Android tablet out there, as we said in our review. But here’s another consideration: should Google be using its monopoly power in one market — search — to push its product in another?
You may remember that Microsoft spent years fending off the Justice Department, and losing, over just this sort of thing. The software giant used its monopoly in operating systems, ie. Windows, to push its browser, Internet Explorer.
To redress that, the judge in Microsoft’s case forced the company to bundle the rival browser, Netscape, with Windows. Should Google be forced to advertise the iPad on its homepage too, then? This is the kind of thorny issue we would rather the search giant not get into.
True, the iPad itself is a monopoly product, dominating the tablet market. You could forgive Google for wanting to redress the balance using every tool at its disposal. But this is like Apple putting a pop-up ad for Mountain Lion on the home screen of the iPad. Hard to imagine the company ever doing that.
Do you think Google will be able to resist putting more ads on the homepage now? Should they start selling off that extremely valuable white space real estate? Give us your take in the comments.