Sunday, August 5, 2012

The meaning of owning your work and Google Mobilize

Google has an involuntary service called "Mobilize", which will render a web site for you optimized, theoretically, for mobile phones.

I discovered this involuntarily the other day when I was web surfing with my Android tablet, and when I tried to click on a search result link to a Wikipedia page, I noticed it was formatted particularly badly and had a little disclaimer at the top:

"This page adapted for your browser comes from and is not endorsed by Google."

At first I thought, "That's odd, I thought I'd requested a Wikipedia page."  And then I looked at the URL bar and saw I was still on Google's domain.  So I hit the Back button and saw that I had indeed clicked a Wikipedia page.  Clicked it again and to my shock I saw that indeed, Google had misdirected me to their Mobilized version of the page.

This is wrong on so many levels.

First, it sucks.  They do a crappy job. It looks like hell. And they were wrong about me being on a mobile device.  I mean sure, it was a tablet, but a tablet has a nice large screen and I do not need a Mobilized version of a web page presented to me.  What I actually asked for would be the ideal, nay, mandatory response.

This is the sort of nonsense I expect from Yahoo, and increasingly from Google, too.  Yahoo Mail thinks I'm on a mobile phone when I use the Opera web browser on my PC (well, they think it when I log out, but not when I log in...which is exactly the sort of thing I hope their incoming CEO can fix for them).

Point being the internet is not supposed to work that way.  If I request something you advertise as existing, you should send that actual thing.  Period.  Anything else is false advertising, and just poor net behavior, a bait and switch.

So Google, despite having just released an Android tablet of their own, will assume that Opera on Android is also a tiny screen, and Mobilize web sites and display them for you, and provide no way to get what you actually want (short of copy/pasting the URL from the search results, which is what I ended up doing).

So now on my Android tablet (that's Google's own operating system, too, btw), I use Duck Duck Go search engine, which I am happy to recommend to anyone looking for an alternative to Google.  The vibes I'm hearing about it are sounding a lot like Google's vibes several  years ago. Google is starting to malfunction this way a lot, so maybe it's worth checking out.

Anyway.  Fair use and copyright and all that jazz.  So if maybe they just had a "get the Mobilized version!" link next to the search results, I might think that was actually a pretty cool idea and might even take advantage of it when it would be useful to me, say, when I'm web surfing on my phone.  But the way Google did it actually rendered their service useless (and maddening) to me.  But even then it's a bit questionable--should you reformat a website and present it to people without permission?

By my own reckoning, the answer to that should be a resounding Yes if you aren't making money from it.  Which in the case of Google, I'd have to say the answer to that question is probably a No.  But it's an interesting debate....

Still, the downside of this for web site creators is, for example, that they won't get hits on their website, since Google is deceptively linking to their modified, cached version of the site.

So users can be deceived into thinking they're looking at the actual site, web site owers won't get traffic on their sites (losing potential ad revenue of their own (AdWords?!), stats, etc.), and the output is really, really shitty looking.

This kind of navel gazing and self-uninteroperability is something I've certainly seen before, and generally signals the beginning of a decline for a company, in my experience.  I remember trying to bend over and start getting all Sony stuff, just so I could be sure it would interoperate well:  and failing--their own stuff didn't work with their own stuff.  Sad.  Disgusting.  Stupid.

For God's sake just pass on the click to the website.  You've got your data, now get out of my way!

This whole thing does just feel wrong to me.  I search for something.  You give me results.  I click on a link clearly labelled with the URL of another web site--and you fetch me something from your own site.  That looks like crap.  And you're wrong.  And you're sensing your own OS and assuming it's always a tiny screen device.  And you block potential AdWords hits for those web sites.  Stupid.

Stupid.  Stupid.  Stupid. Stupid.

While I'm ranting.

Google Gmail now hides the signout button two clicks deep--which I assure you Google knows quite well is immoral.  Signing out of accounts is a pillar of personal information security.  But Google doesn't want you to do that, because they want to be able to track your surfing habits.  More and more they are doing these things when in the past they had the enlightened self interest to serve your interests, first.  And so we trusted them.

Hell, even the disclaimer that dissembles, "this page comes from" is a new level of  simpering semantic BS.  It implies that it was done with Wikipedia's consent, which I'm pretty f*cking sure is not the case as they did it to my game website, too!  I don't have a problem with somebody doing that as a voluntary service, but using my data as part of your profit engine (and so incompetently to boot) is quite offensive.

So you can see, again, that I'm certainly not blind to all forms of creator's rights.  Not by a long shot, I assure you.  If someone were to plagiarize my game and somehow start making money with it, without my permission, I'd be very impressed true but I'd also get out the lawyers.   I spend a lot of time in this space telling creators to get over themselves, and I do mean that, but as I said in my very first post there are some obvious distinctions--things that most people I'm sure would agree with.

Evil and just maladroit moves like this are changing people's trust in Google in a hurry.  They're looking like another Yahoo or Sony or Ebay now more every day.  I'm just the canary in the coalmine....

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