On the Soapbox

Why Google's Chrome Ads are Worrisome

Saturday, May 9, 2009
Keywords: Technology

Google has announced that they will begin airing TV ads for their Chrome web browser. I think that this is the first time since the original Netscape-IE browser wars a decade ago that there has been a browser TV ad.

And all this coming from a company that prided itself on having grown by word-of-mouth; unlike Yahoo!, Excite or MSN, Google did not advertise itself until it had already become established, and even then, its use of advertisements has been very limited. So Google's aggressive marketing of Chrome stands out, both because it has been so long since browsers were advertised on TV and because it is in such stark contrast to how Google normally operates.

So what happened to the viral word-of-mouth of a truly great an exciting product? What happened to the grassroots nature of the so-called "Web 2.0"? A TV ad for an Internet product is blatant astroturfing. When Mozilla took out a full page ad in the New York Times for the Firefox 1.0 release, it was funded by user donations—it was as grassroots as you could get. Could it be that Chrome is not living up to Google's hype?

Chrome's multi-process model was supposed to eliminate the problems of memory leakage and instability, but it only served as a poor cover-up for Chrome's high resource usage and instability. Despite the initial statements otherwise, Chrome never actually had per-tab processes, and tabs would often get grouped into the same process, and processes would often get reused. The end result was a leaky Chrome whose multi-process model did very little except contribute to the already-high resource footprint. Aside from the fancy UI effects, Chrome turned out to be all looks and no substance. After having seen just how poorly Chrome performed on my old 800 MHz laptop (I use it as a tool to stress-test application performance; Firefox 3, BTW, passed with flying colors), I can't help but wonder if these campaigns are an attempt to compensate for Chrome's lack of shine. When I was a gullible, naïve little kid, I was told that companies that advertise are those who need to compensate for poor products; while this is, of course, not true in many cases, I can't help but wonder if Chrome fits this profile.

PS: Another, more conspiratorial possibility is that Google is simply desperate to dominate the browser market so that it can tighten its grip on how people access the Internet. In that case, this is particularly worrying because, of Google's competitors, only IE and Safari (which shares the same layout engine as Chrome) are independently funded. Both Mozilla and Opera depend on Google for funding, and Google's attempts to muscle Chrome into the market not bode well for them or for the browser market as a whole.

PPS: Performance issues aside, another reason why Chrome has had trouble catching on is the lack of extensibility and an extensibility community. I could not live without the QuickDrag extension, for example, and while Mozilla's own stats indicate that many users do not use addons, among the people who matter—the tech-savvy people who strongly influence the product choices of their less tech-literate family and friends—addons are very important, and the loss of even a single favorite addon can be a deal-breaker.

This entry was edited on 2009/05/09 at 03:32:15 GMT -0400.