Get it All

In order for you to see my stuff on Google+, you have to have me in a circle and I have to be posting to a circle with you in it.

As a wise denizen of Google+ recently pointed out, Google+ is a “project,” not yet a “product.” It still has miles to go before its complete and features are yet to be added, I am sure. But at first blush, the nacent social network looks promising and I’m certainly on-board with it as a means of personal communication.

But as a means of branding? Of the kind of public blogging persona I have built over years on my blog, FaceBook and Twitter? I’m not so sure.

On the one hand, the fact that I can cleave my stream into multiple “Circles,” targeting content to specific audiences, means the potential of significantly simplifying and enhancing my social experience. I can create a circle for this blog, one for my political blog and one even for my creative writing and musical experimentation. Then only the people I wish to see my content can tune in to those specific facets of what I’m doing.

But isn’t that exactly backwards, as a marketing tool? Don’t I want to put out different channels of content and let the audience decide what they see? Yes, of course I do. I don’t want to have to be responsible for saying, “this person shall only see my computer stuff,” because if they feel like checking out my music, I’d be happy to let them. Also, the onus is on me to know what they do and do not want to see, which I can hardly be expected to know beyond my immediate circle of friends.

And now we come to an even bigger worry: the Double-Blind Circle. In the Double-Blind Circle, I’ve added people to a Circle that aren’t actually interested in what I have to say. They don’t have me in any of their Circles, or worse yet, they have me in a Circle for jerks (see what I did there?) that they never look at. Now I’m spending my time and going to the trouble of developing content specifically for a Circle that is completely useless. Its Double-Blind, get it?

Yes, click-throughs will tell me who clicks on content; comments and Plus1’s will tell me who is interacting. But headline readers and lurkers abound. Just because a person on Twitter isn’t retweeting, commenting or clicking on my headlines in no way means they’re not engaged and reading. How do I know if the same is true or not on Google+?

I only ask these questions because I’m actually quite excited about G+ and am itching something fierce to get at the API once its released. But in the meanwhile, its worth asking the questions, especially since so many of my friends and connections in the world of Social Media are doing the same types of promotion and marketing that I am.

I can’t imagine how much worse this could possibly be. Google’s new plan, announced on it’s AdSense blog, is to allow it’s widgets to read site user’s cookies and advertise to them based on their browsing preferences. To restate: visitors to your website will have their cookies read by a third party and then they will see ads based on their own search history rather than your website’s content.

Let’s walk through the reasons that this is a bad idea:

Site Content Integrity

While its certainly true that Google’s AdSense ads very often make almost no sense to your site’s content in the first place, there is at least a keyword similarity which, while not always actually relevant, at least provides some amusement for you and your audience. But with Google’s new plan, content completely unrelated to your site will appear on your site – without so much as even the veneer of relevance.

Ads featuring Spider Man comics on a breast cancer site are bad enough – they’re non-sequiturs, but basically harmless. But consider what happens when a person browses to or – two politically Conservative websites – and then browses to they see a bunch of ads supporting Conservative causes or promoting Republican politicos on a site that’s supposed to be Liberal. The reverse is just as bad, of course.

The person browsing your website may not be savvy enough to know that their cookies are being read. As a result, they question your dedication to a cause based on the advertisements that seem to directly contradict your stance.

And maybe worse than that, what happens when the politically active user browses to a mainstream news website? Now that news website is advertising for politically-biased goods and services. That’s not a good precedent to set.

Parental Control vs. Uncle Google?

There are lots of other scenarios which are just about as bad. One such scenario might be a user browsing porn sites and then visiting a child abuse website. But honestly, I’m sure Google must have thought this part through, right? Right?

And what about a shared computer for a family? Does a user with kids really need to see Dora the Explorer crap on WebMD? What about the reverse? What adult content – not necessarily porn – do you want your kid to be introduced to by Creepy Uncle Google?

Privacy Issues

This one’s pretty clear-cut: Google is making changes to it’s own code for advertisement that violates Internet user’s privacy. We just got done illegalizing SpyWare not too long ago, now Google wants to start snooping your cookies again? How can this not be illegal?

And here’s the real joke: they expect us as web masters to make changes to our own privacy policies because of their illegal behavior. That’s right: Google makes the changes, you wear the egg on your face. And clearly, if they want you to update your own privacy policy, there must be at least some potential legal backlash. And since they sent you an email, well, it’s not their fault anymore. You’re on your own.

Follow the Money

All these things being equal, it’s hard to imagine most reputable web site owners really being comfortable with this new advertising regime. Irrelevant content on your site, violating the privacy of your users, potentially being open to litigation for someone else’s wrong doing. This is not a good scenario.

So what does that leave us? Well, the only people who don’t care about irrelevant content would have to be Sploggers and other black-hats making money off Google Ads. After all the talk about not wanting to reward these types of websites, Google goes ahead and launches a new program which cannot possibly benefit anyone else.

This is not going to happen, I can almost feel it. The backlash is already pretty fierce. Once news of this program makes it’s way to the main stream news, it’s done for. Google, my advice to you: don’t be evil.