Does Google Bar Adwords That Compete With Gmail?

Google has removed an adword on its search engine placed by a competitor to its Gmail service.

AlienCamel, an Australia-based email service (full disclosure: I use the service), applied to have the word ‘webmail’, along with several others, inserted into the ‘sponsored links’ section of Google’s search pages when people entered the search ‘webmail’. After initially accepting the ad, AlienCamel’s Sydney Low says, it was removed without explanation. Other keywords — white list, virus, spam, spamming etc were accepted. “It’s so arbitrary,” Low says.

(Low says an ad for the keyword ‘gmail’ was also rejected out of hand; this could be explained as a trademark issue, though Low points out that Google has stated that it will not adjudicate trademark issues. But I won’t get into that here.)

Any search for ‘webmail’ on Google throws up only one ad for —– Gmail. Google decline to comment on specific cases, but a spokesman replied to my query about the ‘webmail’ query thus:

As you may know, Google AdWords ads have a performance threshold to ensure relevance and protect the user experience and help advertisers get the best return from their advertising spend. That is, if an ad doesn’t receive a minimum click-through rate it is disabled. Again, I can’t comment on specifics but this often happens with general keywords like “webmail”. The advertisers has the option to revise keywords or ad text to continue to run.

In other words, if the advertiser is not getting enough clickthroughs from an ad, Google suspends it. But apparently, without telling them. But even if this were the real reason, is it true in AlienCamel’s case? No, says Syd Low: “They ran my ad on 1 day, between June 8th and 14th, gave it 841 impressions and then killed the ad.” The ad got one clickthrough on that day. Not great, but not awful in the first day. His point: he’d like to see how many click throughs the Gmail ad for the same keyword got. “I bet you it wasn’t any better. My point is that they are negatively favouring their own ads and not applying their own policies.

I would have agree that Google’s answer seems lame. Can it be that no one — AlienCamel aside — wants to advertise on the word ‘webmail’, or if they did, that they can get enough clickthroughs from it to justify the cost? Even the words ‘web mail’ hav some sponsors — I get five on my Hong Kong-directed Google search, three from Hong Kong itself, one Google and another more global. And if this is the correct explanation, why wasn’t AlienCamel told? (At time of posting they have not received any answer to their request for explanation.)

Given that the adword ‘webmail’ does not fall into any of the categories that Google lists as unacceptable content, and it does not constitute a trademark term, which might otherwise have explained Google’s removal of the term, one might be forgiven for suspecting that Google is using its position to elbow out potential competitors to a parallel service it offers. I think Google owes AlienCamel, and us, a better explanation.

Yahoo Grabs Oddpost

I hate people who quote themselves, but here goes: A few months back I wrote in my column about how “eventually, RSS will replace e-mail. Or rather, it will dovetail with e-mail so that it appears in the same place, in the same program, so you can read Aunt Edna’s newsletter as well as the news feed of your favourite football team.” I also mentioned a great little program/service called Oddpost, which I said came closest to this ideal: “One great example of this is Oddpost, a subscription e-mail service that folds nearly all of what I’ve just outlined into one place, from RSS feeds to your Web mail accounts.”

Well, for once it seems I may have not been too far off the mark. Last week Yahoo! bought Oddpost for an undisclosed sum. The folks at Oddpost write that “from this day forward, we’ll be working on a new, advanced Yahoo! Mail product (one that, in press release terms, might be described as “a powerful combination of our award-winning web application technology with the world’s #1 Internet brand and email service”)”.

Unfortunately new users won’t be able to sign up for Oddpost in the meantime, but this represents a significant move for the whole merger of Blogs/email/RSS. In part, of course, it’s Yahoo playing desperate catch-up with Google over Gmail and search. But it may end up as more than that. As Iam Bumpa puts it: “This is about RIAs (rich internet apps), integrated web services and open standards being fused with productivity software, micro-content and social networking and offered as hosted experiences.” In short, putting lots of different bits and pieces in one place that you can really control, and access from anywhere. Think of it as MyYahoo! but one that doesn’t look like something out of the mid 1990s.