Google and Images for Email: A Different View, Very Different

December 13, 2013

I have watched the comments about Google’s decision to cache images. A notable “this is what those guys are doing” appears in “Gmail Blows Up E-Mail Marketing by Caching All Images on Google Servers.” The focus is on the tracking function that e-mail marketers and various search engine optimization poobahs love to discuss.

Here’s a passage I noted:

Unless you click on a link, marketers will have no idea the e-mail has been seen. While this means improved privacy from e-mail marketers, Google will now be digging deeper than ever into your e-mails and literally modifying the contents. If you were worried about e-mail scanning, this may take things a step further. However, if you don’t like the idea of cached images, you can turn it off in the settings. This move will allow Google to automatically display images, killing the “display all images” button in Gmail. Google servers should also be faster than the usual third-party image host.

So the write up points out an upside (speed) and a downside (tracking).

My view is different. I don’t want to dig into the plumbing at Google. There are some interesting functions that build a knowledgebase. The knowledgebase is not a single entity. There are a number of them; for example, advertisers’ orders, various silos of indexes, and map info. Google is into metadata, so there are silos of information about information. There is no easy way to visualize this architecture, but I like to suggest that Google is fractalizing data, metadata, and information.

My view is that the shift has two other functions.

First, it signals that Google will be monetizing aggressively certain types of system actions. I am not sure if advertisers, marketers, or users will be the ones paying more to tap into Google’s ecosystem. I recall a Google VP’s comment to me in 2006:

There is no free lunch for Google search.

Second, the shift makes it much easier for Google to filter out images that carry some type of explicit ownership statement. The images can now safely be tucked into one of the data structures hinted at in the Programmable Search Engine technology invented by Dr. Ramanathan Guha. The easiest way to build a massive collection of reusable images is to get ‘em and keep ‘em. Will free image search and image access go the way of the dodo? I don’t know.

The shift, therefore, may have more to do with setting the stage for monetizing some user / advertiser actions and building out a Google controlled image service.

I know that thinking differently about Google is much easier in rural Kentucky than in the go go land of Silicon Valley. Dismiss my observations if you wish. There is more to the shift than meets the eye.

Stephen E Arnold, December 13, 2013

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