screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET)
Google just found another digital billboard for online ads: its Chrome Web browser.
I just started noticing the ads on one of my computers yesterday, and I’m not the only one to see them. Right now, the ads tout Google’s Chrome OS-powered Chromebooks, which not coincidentally happen to be on sale for the holidays.
The ads don’t interrupt ordinary Web browsing by pushing aside Web page content and don’t compete with regular Web page ads. Rather, they appear in a yellow-tinted box at the top of the new-tab page in Chrome.
That page is typically a mere way station for users on their way to other destinations, but it’s getting more important as a hub for Chrome Web Store apps and as the home screen for Chrome OS.
The ad reminded me most of the occasional promotions Google puts on its otherwise spartan Google.com home. They’re not obnoxious flashing distractions, but they stand out against amid the uncluttered field.
You can’t blame Google for wanting to take advantage of a chance to make money. But as the Spiderman saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility.
When Google launched Chrome in September 2008, it made it clear that the browser was a secondary mechanism for making money. The company wanted people to see Web pages faster and to enable programmers to build more advanced Web applications–like Google Docs, for example.
And as we’ve seen since then, Google likes using Chrome as a vehicle to bring new Web-app features to market–a new experimental interface to let Chrome extensions use a speech-to-text conversion, for example–and to encourage would-be Google standards such as SPDY networking, WebM video, and WebP images.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and predict that Chrome’s new-tab page ads will likely remain like Google’s home-page ads. They’re chiefly used to promote Google services, and occasionally to offer important information such as links to natural-disaster response pages. But Google doesn’t sell the ad space the way Yahoo does with its main page.
There’s nothing stopping Google from plastering its entire browser with ads. But the moment it did so, it would start annoying users who already have plenty of other strong choices in the browser market right now. And in the long run, I believe Google will make a lot more money using browsers to advance Web services and to drive people to Google search ads than it will selling banners in its browser.