EcoCho, Green Search Engine vs. Google's Policy

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Australians are really active and prolific to come up with online initiatives that aims at tackling the issues of climate change. While a great news for Australia and the planet, it seems that these enterprises have unfortunately not reached their high of success.

Good Intentions but Wrong Concept

In early 2007, Blackle, a version of the Google custom search engine was supposed to save energy by displaying a black background instead of a white one. While valid a couple of years ago when CRT monitors were the most popular, the theory behind Blackle has been actively disputed due the rapid emergence of LCD screens. The benefits of a black background are in fact really low or inexistent and therefore the whole Blackle idea is more a cash-machine than an eco-friendly solution.

Great Concept but not compatible with Google Policies

The latest Australian 'green' initiative came this year with EcoCho, a free green search engine. EcoCho claims that a thousand searches on Ecocho allow Yield Media (the company behind EcoCho and part of the Photon Group) to buy enough carbon offset credits to remove 1 ton of CO2 from the atmosphere. This works out at two trees spending a year sucking CO2 from the atmosphere as they grow.

The concept behind EcoCho has been easily criticised, but I personally find it great as it uses the revenues generated by sponsored links from Google and Yahoo to make a direct contribution to the environment. Yield Media makes a profit, but share it with a good cause! Is not it what sustainable development is all about?
It is true that their servers consume energy,which makes the concept not 100% green, but let's be realistic if one waits for the absolute perfect solution, nothing will ever change...

In that case, the concept is not really the question. The issue came from Google, which argued that EcoCho does not satisify the Google Adsense's publisher policy (the advertsing program used by EcoCho to generate revenue).
According to Rob Shilkin, Google Spokeman, interviewed in The Australian

In this case the site was in clear violation of our terms of service and we had previously warned the owner of past violations. We have now stopped serving ads and search results to the owner's sites.

To ensure maximum click relevancy and avoid fraudulents clicks, the Google Adsense guidelines require a publisher not to push users to click on the sponsored links or to compensate users for clicking on the Google Ads. This rule is one of the reasons why Goolge refused to provide its search facility and ads to EcoCho.

While it seems to be clear to Google, it is different for Tim MacDonald, one of the founder of EcoCho. According to him, Google is not really consistent in applying these rules.
Other websites are using Google's technology for similar causes, but have not been refused the access to Google technology. What makes MacDonald even more bitter, is that they presented the website to Google beforehand and they did not mention the violation.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, it is not the first time that MacDonald or its company, Found Agency, had issues with the application of Google's guidelines. In this situation, it is more ambiguous (As ambiguous Google's Guidelines?).
Indeed it is hard to be fully convinced that the website is 'clearly' violating the rules. There is no direct mention that push users to click on the Ads and the 'compensation: the tree' is made in relation to the number of searches not clicks. One can think that people will click on the ads more because it is a 'good cause', but this can only be an hypothesis...

The good thing though is that EcoCho can still use the Yahoo search technology and its ads platform to generate revenue. The bad is that Google has around 80% of share market in the search market, so the potential of generating revenues and therefore planting trees is not so great.

If you are an eco warrior or just like planting trees, use EcoCho. If you want to know a little bit more about this story, there is a great in-depth article at ITNews