Where Did Froogle Go?
Google Product Search has replaced Froogle.
By Michael Stillman
If you have been searching for Froogle, Google's product search engine, recently you may have noticed something different. It isn't there. Gone. Vanished from the face of the Earth, or the face of Google anyway. Gone without a trace, almost.
Froogle is nowhere to be found unless you start digging around the bowels of the site, for example, the Google Blog. Here you will find that it has been unceremoniously replaced by a new, and very similar service, Google Product Search. If you are looking for Froogle, go to Google Product Search instead. From the Google home page, click on the "more" link just above the search box. That will bring you to six choices. Click "Products" and you are there – Google Product Search, almost like Froogle.
This switch is a sign of just how big and dominant Google has become. How many businesses would dare to change the name of a popular product and not bother to tell customers the new name or even where they can find it? Only an 800-pound gorilla can do that. Still, I can't fathom why there wasn't an unambiguous announcement, or why they removed the links to Froogle without first making it clear Froogle had morphed into Google Product Search.
As for the name change from the clever, rhyming "Froogle" to the pedestrian, boring "Google Product Search," Google has its reasons. In their blog, VP Marissa Mayer and Product Search Manager Jeff Bartelma state, "the name [Froogle] caused confusion for some because it doesn't clearly describe what the product does." That's a fair point, and the "Froogle" name certainly doesn't conform to Google's pattern for service names - boring but descriptive. It is a more logical choice, though I will miss this one bit of irreverence on Google's part when they picked the "Froogle" name. I hope they don't next rename the Google site "Search Engine."
So what has changed besides the name? In the blog, Mayer and Bartelma say, "We're taking the opportunity to refocus the user experience on providing the most comprehensive, relevant results in a clean, simple, easy-to-use UI." Do you know what that means? I think it means "we haven't done a thing," but I'm not sure. I don't speak this language very well. There probably will be changes in the days or years ahead, but for the moment, Google Product Search seems practically indistinguishable from Froogle to me. With one exception... At the top of the results, there is a little box that says "Show Google Checkout items only." If I were paranoid, that would scare the bejeezus out of me.
Google Checkout is Google's version of Pay Pal, a checkout system that any business can use to accept credit cards. It can be a useful tool for your business, or a distraction and unnecessary expense. It all depends on your situation. You decide whether you want to use it. At the moment, Google's offer to show only Google checkout items is a secondary choice for the consumer to make. Only after seeing all of the items listed in Product Search can you choose to see just Google Checkout items.
Where Did Froogle Go?
"Show Google Checkout items only" eliminates results from non-Checkout vendors.
But, what if at some point Google decides to reverse the order? What if they show only Google Checkout items at first, and force you to do a secondary search for other items? When is the last time, after conducting a regular Google search, you have clicked the link at the bottom to "repeat the search with the omitted results included?" That's about how often people are likely to look at all Google Product Search matches if they ever make Google Checkout results the default, rather than the second choice. Think about that one. If Product Search becomes a significant source of sales, as it surely will, you would have no choice but to offer Google Checkout, like it or not. Google would be able to extract a commission on your sales from its search results, even if you do not advertise with them.
Will Google ever use this power to make Google Checkout irresistible? So far, Google has leveraged its search engine to support advertising, but has scrupulously avoided blurring the lines. The ads are there, some even at the top of their search results, but it is clearly stated they are sponsored links. Meanwhile, search results remain free of influence. The formulas that bring sites to the top of Google's results are obscure and zealously guarded, but they remain untainted by advertiser influence. You may be able to buy your local politician for the price of a nice campaign contribution, but Google remains pure. In another blog entry, concerning Google's recent purchase of online advertising promoter Doubleclick, VP Susan Wojcicki writes, "Sponsored information served by Google has always been, and will always be, clearly distinguished from objective content available via our search results."
We'll assume this is true, though no one can promise anything forever, but the current situation is not quite the same. If Product Search results became the default, there would be no blurring of the lines. It would simply require an additional search to find all results, and presuming there were several matches within the Product Search results, it is unlikely that anyone would look further. It would be reminiscent of Microsoft's use of its operating system to leverage other products. As long as Microsoft provided you with word processing, a spreadsheet, internet browser, audio software, etc., what need was there to look further? There has never been a hint that Google intends to use its power in quite such a heavy-handed way, but when a business achieves such dominance in a field as has Google or Microsoft, the possibility is always there.
Now many people in the book business may not think what Google does is terribly important to them. Froogle/Google Product Search is a secondary source of internet sales today, well behind sites such as Amazon, Abebooks, and Alibris. Think again. Online selling is all about search, and Google is all about search. This is the first company to take Microsoft head on at anything and crush them. They will become increasingly important for finding books in the future. Google will make the rules. The rest of us need to understand their rules so we can effectively play by them.