On the potential for browsers to replace all local advertising…

03/01/2005

I’m a bit confused by all the kerfuffle around the Google toolbar rewriting links on people’s sites. I mean, for the most part it looks like it’s an opt-in thing and I don’t see that this is a particular problem. Cory posted his vehement defence of the proposal:

Plenty of Cowbell asks whether I like the sight of an ISBN corresponding to one of my books being rewritten. My answer: Hell ya! This shows how an authors’ association like the Science Fiction Writers of America could collect its members’ ISBNs and affiliate IDs for their favorite web-stores and provide plugins that would rewrite every single instance of my ISBNs on pages viewed through the plugin with a link to my affiliate account on Amazon, making me some serious coin. Wanna support an author? Install her plugin and help her feed her kids. Wanna support a charity? Install its plugin and have all the affiliate links rewritten to its benefit. Wanna support youself? Install the plugin that rewrites every ISBN with your own affiliate ID.

So here’s the bit that worries me. We’re talking about plugins at the moment, right? Places where there is no reason why anyone should feel forced to use the device concerned. Now move back to the browser market and lets posit a world where browser market share for Internet Explorer has fallen back to some semi-reasonable level – let’s say 40%. Now in Cory’s model, I can see no reason why Microsoft shouldn’t decide one day to replace every single Google Adword (or similar advertising structure) with its own advertising on each and every web page that you visit. I mean – this could be the way that you finance a new browser, you remove advertising from the page and replace it with advertising that makes you money instead of the content creator. You could do the same with RSS readers.

Now given that there are other browsers in the market, there’s still choice in this picture – you could switch to any of them and not have to experience the world the Microsoft way (or the Google way if they created a browser). Unfortunately, given that it would make apparently no difference to the actual content or design of the page in any way, then I’d doubt that many normal members of the public would really care that much – that is until the sites that they liked to visit started to shut down one-by-one. And that’s before the other browser manufacturers realise they cannot compete with the concept someone milking advertising revenue from every single site on the internet and decide to follow them down the path to mutually assured destruction.

Genuinely and honestly, I would like someone to explain to me why such a situation could not emerge as an evolution of the stuff that Cory’s talking about. Reassure me, if you will. Why won’t this happen??