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What the Google-AOL deal means for users

Google promises purity in its interface and results, but more ads, video links and AIM chat from AOL deal.

Google is promising to keep its home page uncluttered and banner-free and its search results and keyword ad auction unbiased, despite paying $1 billion for a 5 percent stake in Time Warner's Internet unit last week.

Instead, people may see small graphical ads on Google's home and search results pages and banner ads on video and image pages, more exposure to Google's Web crawler for America Online sites, prominent links on Google Video to AOL video content and lots of chat between the popular AOL Instant Messenger program and the nascent Google Talk.

News.context

What's new:
Google says its $1 billion stake in America Online will mean very modest changes to the look of Google's home page and will not influence Google's search results or its keyword ad auction.

Bottom line:
Google users can expect to see small graphical ads on its home and search pages, and banner ads on its video and image search pages. Google Video is expected to showcase AOL's premium video service, although it is not yet clear whether Google Video users will have access to the content library and other video resources owned by AOL's parent company, Time Warner.

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The change for users "will be very slight, especially from the core Google experience," Marissa Mayer, vice president of search products and user experience, said in an interview with CNET News.com.

"There is a lot of fear that there will be banner ads now on the Google home page. We are not considering that at all," she said. "There is concern about biased search results and we are not doing that."

Accompanying existing text ads on the Google home page and search results pages, there may eventually be "small graphical elements"--smaller than thumbnail images--from AOL or other advertisers, Mayer said in the interview. Meanwhile, banner or display ads could appear on Google's video and image search sites, she said.

"There will be no banner ads on the Google home page or Web search results pages," she wrote in a Dec. 22 posting on the Official Google Blog. "There will not be crazy, flashy, graphical doodads flying and popping up all over the Google site. Ever."

Danny Sullivan, editor of Search Engine Watch, said Google has already run graphic units to promote Google Desktop and Google Toolbar applications on its search results pages and to promote Google Toolbar on its home page.

"Some small use of graphics wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing," he wrote in a Search Engine Watch.com blog posting on Friday.

Observers have been speculating about how things will change for Google users since the two companies announced the deal a week ago. The speculation prompted Mayer to write her blog posting.

"Biased results? No way. Providing great search is the core of what we do," Mayer wrote. "Business partnerships will never compromise the integrity or objectivity of our search results. If a partner's page ranks high, it's because they have a good answer to your search, not because of their business relationship with us."

Google will not do anything to give AOL sites an unfair advantage in the search results, but will work with AOL Web masters "just as we work with webmasters all over the world--to help them understand how the Google crawler works (with regard to robots.txt, how to use redirects, non-html content, etc.) so we don't inadvertently overlook their content," she wrote.

As part of the deal, Google also is giving AOL $300 million in credit to be used toward purchasing search-related ads through Google's AdWords auction system or for other undetermined promotional purposes. AOL will be able to sell all types of ads across Google's Web sites and those of publisher sites that display Google-powered ads. Through a new AOL Marketplace, AOL also will be able to directly sell search ads on AOL-owned properties.

This does not mean that AOL will have an advantage in the auction, Mayer said. "You might wonder if this will affect the ad auction. It won't. We don't offer preferential treatment on advertising (in either the auction or the display) to any of our partners," she wrote.

For video, there are questions that remained unanswered.

For instance, the companies said they will collaborate on online video search and showcase AOL's premium video service within Google Video. Specifically, Google will link to AOL video from the home page of Google Video and may have an AOL logo at the bottom of the page with an "in partnership with" message, as well as include and index AOL video content as part of Google video search, said Mayer.

But it is unclear what part AOL's Singingfish video search service will play and whether Google users will have access to Time Warner's vast film library and other video resources.

A Google spokesman could not go into further details on the matter, and an AOL spokesman declined further comment.

"Am I going to get 'Featured Videos' on the home page now like over at Yahoo Video, where I'm almost certain the only thing making them 'featured' is arrangements with content providers?" wondered Sullivan in his blog posting. "If so--or if AOL gets any type of presence on the Google Video home page at all--that's a radical departure for Google."

As far as the instant messaging interoperability of AIM and Google Talk, Google Talk users will have to sign up for an AIM account to be able to add AIM buddies to their list and chat with them, Mayer said.

This could give a big boost to Google Talk, which is ranked at least sixth in the United States, behind AIM, MSN Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, ICQ and Trillian, according to ComScore Media Metrix.

"That's a huge deal for Google because AOL is the market leader in instant messaging," Gary Price, news editor at Search Engine Watch, said in an interview. "For the user experience, that's going to be a huge thing."