Google & the Ajax Experiment – A Rational Look at the Problem

A few days ago I started getting page references to this site from “Google.com” in my web analytics.

Web Analytics – A tool that measures and analyzes web data such as how many visitors are going to a site, what they are viewing, what site referred or linked them to the page, and what search terms were used to find the site. Web analytics are fairly ubiquitous on the web (this isn’t a malicious big brother thing).

This wasn’t shocking, Google is the 800 pound search gorilla, but it was unusual. Typically I get more specific information about what term the user searched. I use this information to figure-out what you, my reader is coming to find. I try to provide more content based on what it seems you are looking for. The goal is to make this site fun and interesting for you… I’m not looking to shout into the void without any purpose or audience.

I started digging into the phenomenon when I found these two posts on Techmeme:

Google’s new Ajax-powered search results breaks search keyword tracking for everyone

Google AJAX Search Results = Death To Search Term Tracking?

If you want to delve into the more technical descriptions of what’s going on here, you can read those sites. I will give you a short summary of the problem and my analysis.

Basically Google is silently testing a new form of search using their Ajax technology that is basically invisible to all current analytics tools. The new form of search has some possible benefits, but they aren’t really the point of this post. What matters is that this presents a problem for web administrators like yours truly. 

I rely on that search data. I need it to be accurate and complete. Additionally, this is threatening to the whole web analytics business.

The nightmare scenario that I’ve been reading about all over the blogosphere is a Google lock-in. If this were to happen, Google would switch all of their searches to this new method rendering analytics tools obsolete because Google controls such a monstrous volume of search data:

Then, they set up a proprietary workaround that only allows Google Analytics to read Google search data (or they license the workaround to their competition). Either way, it would mean huge profits for Google, and it would cripple all of Google’s web analytics competition. It is a legitimately scary scenario.

Here’s the problem with the scenario. If Google did this, it would annihilate a lot of the trust that Google has built with it’s customer-base. They would completely alienate the geeks who run web sites (many of whom advocate and extensively use Google services). If they completely switch to this new Ajax search method, they would have to offer an open-source workaround for other analytics companies. Otherwise, they would quickly become a web analytics monopoly and then the federal regulators would come a knock’in. 

I am truly annoyed and disturbed by this test and it’s ramifications, but I am going to give Google the benefit of the doubt. I expect them to finish gathering whatever data they are looking to attain and either end this test, or provide a workaround for analytics companies before making a ubiquitous change to their search engine. 

If they enact the lock-in scenario, that will be the end of my Google usage. 

Google, I like your services. Please do the right thing – “Don’t be evil.”

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