Google Webfonts Endgame

Jeremy Dooley's picture

What does Google stand to gain from web-fonts? Their business MO seems to be "build it and they will come, then find a way to suck money from it." They seem to have sunk some significant resources into the web-fonts project, and bandwidth/server load (although practically free for Google) has to be fairly substantial. Mostly to drive adoption of Chrome? Or do you believe this is a genuinely altruistic move? What are the benefits/detriment to the type design community? Any speculation/comments?

Si_Daniels's picture

This subject comes up from time to time at font conferences and when font folks and web design folks get together. I've found that the best theories emerge after about three or four pints, but sadly I've neglected to write any of them down. :-)

blank's picture

Google will eventually—if it is not already—use its web fonts system to collect information about internet traffic by monitoring font downloads from sites linking directly to Google servers. Free novelty fonts are an excellent way for Google to collect this data from thousands, if not millions, of small web sites that are not using Google Analytics.

Google's web fonts also provide Google with a large base of fonts that can eventually be used with its cloud applications at no cost. This provides Google with a huge advantage over Microsoft Office, which requires users to manually download and install fonts before using. Financially this especially good for Google given that Google pays less for its font commissions than some designers would charge for such a license.

russellm's picture

but sadly I've neglected to write any of them down

That is sad, but it sounds like fun.

Jeremy Dooley's picture

Leveraging their *free* library for their cloud and publishing offerings sounds like a very likely choice that makes it worthwhile. I am sure there is some data that can be gleaned from the font serving, but I am certain they have all the data they need from analytics, which is probably installed on 90% of websites (I just made that up, but you get the point)

blank's picture

I suspect that many casual web sites that do not install Google analytics. Casual web sites, like tumblr blogs, probably are not being run by people who need the kind of traffic analysis offered by Google. But Google would probably love to know who is visting those sites.

Richard Fink's picture

You can also make more intelligent guesstimates simply based on the kind of web publisher most likely to turn to GWF as a resource. It's all grist for the marketing mill.

But then again - Google has been discontinuing a lot of peripheral projects lately. The staying power of Google Web Fonts is impossible to predict. No assurances have been offered AFAIK.

But they certainly don't need an "end game".

ebensorkin's picture

There is a huge number of ways that fonts can be leveraged. What I wonder about is if Apple or MS will eventually follow suit given that portable computing is moving to become dominant and being able to leverage updated or improved software for security or other reasons is so useful. And of course for the reasons mentioned above. Apple & MS are both in advertising now.

aluminum's picture

What is google's strategy for any of their properties and technologies? No one really knows. Google pushes a lot of stuff out the door, sometimes with little rhyme or reason. Some of it sticks, some of it doesn't.

My hunch is that google dev's wanted easy access to web fonts.

dberlow's picture

>My hunch is that google dev's wanted easy access to web fonts.

A hunch mate! I think they were ill at the prospect of continued dependence on the web safe fonts offered by the OS makers and wanted to blaze new saddles.;) In addition, they serve a market that's a free-for-all kinda thing and will blaze up-market at their leisure, learning the tricks of the trade on-the-fly.

abattis's picture

I consult for Google Web Fonts, and this post (like all my communication) is merely my own opinion and doesn't represent the veiws of the GWF team, Google Inc, or anyone else.

I think http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QTX1lU97z08 is fairly explicit about what the end game is. Image of text are fundamentally bad for Google's core technologies, and plenty of peripheral ones like translation, accessibility, etc. The web fonts market is substantially bigger because of Google Web Fonts for all proprietary font vendors, so I find it odd when people suggest GWF is harming proprietors. Anything that stops web publishers using images of text is a gain for Google; 'whats good for the web is good for Google.'

And if anyone would like to discuss contributing fonts to Google Web Fonts for money, let me know :-) dcrossland@google.com

quadibloc's picture

@Carni77:
What does Google stand to gain from web-fonts?

What does Microsoft stand to gain from Core Fonts for the Web?

This is just part of Google's grand plan to have everyone using the Android OS instead of Microsoft Windows.

apankrat's picture

Google is in the business of collecting and cross-referencing information. Every time someone embeds yet another Google's freebie - be it a font or a +1 button or what have you - this person effectively paying Google back by letting them to better track his site's visitors across the web.

In other words, next time you happily drop that urchin.js on your page keep in mind that while it is free for you, it comes at the expense of your visitors sharing more than they would likely ever want to with Google.

/rant

PS. Note how GWF goes out of its way to encourage the use of hosted versions of fonts. There is a Download button, but it links to a zip of a TTF, not an @font-face package. Clicking on the button will show a big fat red warning saying "You do not need to download the font to use it on your webpages. Instead, refer to the "Use" section."

I suppose this can all be benign and it might just be them treating web designers as complete idiots, but something's off and not... erm... genuine if you will.

Richard Fink's picture

@apankrat

"Clicking on the button will show a big fat red warning saying "You do not need to download the font to use it on your webpages. Instead, refer to the "Use" section."

There's no doubt in my mind that GWF is trying to encourage linking to the fonts. It's pretty obvious. Of course they are. If they weren't, they'd be working against their own interests. (see abattis' previous comment)
But the fonts ARE available for download. Free to use as you will. Personally, I see no obligation on Google's part to be Font Squirrel/Fontspring 2.0.

Now, I STILL can't figure out the reasoning behind some aspects of GWF and I've sounded off on my blog about one of them. But outside of steering customers towards using GWF as a service, I'm not sensing anything that isn't "genuine".
I don't find it underhanded if a company that's providing 1) a valuable service for free, 2) open source product for free, then encourages it's users to select #1 because it serves that company's interests best. (And there's a good argument to be made that using the service IS the user's best choice, too.)
Me, I'd rather host my own fonts. But obviously a lot of people do like the service.

John Hudson's picture

Ah, so that's the Google endgame: spam.

Bald Condensed's picture

Stepped in, blocked and deleted pleasekiss‘ account as he was spamming left and right. Unfortunately his comments are still everywhere, so I guess I'll have to remove them one by one. :^/

John Hudson's picture

But Yves, now my witty comment no longer makes sense. :)

apankrat's picture

Rich,

> But outside of steering customers towards using GWF as a service, I'm not sensing anything that isn't "genuine".

Google is relying on general people's ignorance to distribute its freebie services. Should they have a large banner saying "by using this service you give up your privacy and the privacy of your visitors", do you think they would have not seen a dip in user numbers?

Consider a post office that would offer free PO boxes to anyone, but under an explicit condition that they would look and retain a copy of every mail received. How many customers would such venture acquire? Or better yet - how many business customers? Zero. Why then it is acceptable to use Gmail as a business email box? Even if a company is OK with sharing their day-to-day operations with Google, their customers might not be. Google enticing ignorant masses to use their services effectively does wrong not only them (which they might deserve), but also those who they are getting in contact with. And this is what really rubs me wrong and what feels disingenuous - Google advances their business by exploiting people's ignorance. That's not good.

Richard Fink's picture

@apankrat

I easily see your point. But isn't every site or service on the web "guilty" of this?
If you surf the web, you're visible. Period.
If you wish to live normally in the mainstream, privacy is dead. Databases rule our lives more and more each day. It's a big problem that disturbs me greatly.

Here in the US, during the worst recession in modern history, people are being denied employment because of bad credit histories. There's something very sick about that.

Is Google Web Fonts a part of this surveillance? Sure.

Reading is no longer a private act. There's somebody watching what you read as you read it.

rich

John Hudson's picture

Google. You are the product. :)

dberlow's picture

>Reading is no longer a private act. There's somebody watching what you read as you read it.

I had some great conversations on this topic with AOL executives during a previous lifespan which turned on what was to be gained, and at what cost.

In other words, AOL Could read your email, there being no way around it. But would they read it if it meant putting someone full time, with round-the-clock patience.

I think living normally in the mainstream is closer to just letting your mail go and assuming everyone else is just too busy.

>people are being denied employment because of bad credit histories. There's something very sick about that. Is Google Web Fonts a part of this surveillance?

Bad credit histories are the root cause of free font use at Google?

>a post office that would offer free PO boxes to anyone, but under an explicit condition that they would look and retain a copy of every mail...

I think this is the wrong place to look. The people who use the Post Office are the ones to be watched; from where they come to what they do and to where they go.

Google is a process.

Richard Fink's picture

@db

>people are being denied employment because of bad credit histories. There's something very sick about that. Is Google Web Fonts a part of this surveillance?

Hey, don't mess with with my paragraphing, wiseguy.

>I think living normally in the mainstream is closer
>to just letting your mail go and assuming everyone else is just too busy.

In the age of the smart machine, this is naive. Google's expertise is in mechanized extraction of useful information from incredibly large amounts of data. This "reading machine" doesn't need sleep, it doesn't need food, it doesn't ask to get paid or even go to the bathroom.
It just churns and churns and, in response to a simple query, tells you what you want to know.
It's never "too busy" to keep an eye on anybody.

I was thinking yesterday about the novel 1984 and what Orwell would think of the notion that in a fairly free society, the telescreen has become a "must have" item for which we're all voluntarily signing up and are paying good money for, too.

Geolocation, anybody?

Rich

Si_Daniels's picture

>or even go to the bathroom.

That might change when it starts trying to comprehend typophile posts.

As for the fonts api if it ever does get the chop (like these http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/02/google-desktop-notebook-fast-fl...)the actual fonts will still be available for other people to step in and roll their own solutions.

aluminum's picture

Google doesn't read your email. They have software that uses algorithms to decide which ads to show you based on words in the email. I have no idea what that has to do with webfonts.

Richard Fink's picture

>I have no idea what that has to do with webfonts.

Quite a bit if you're talking about a webfont service from which the user's browser's makes a cross domain request.

Who's entitled to know who is visiting the site? And what are they doing with that information?

I think that's how the thread spun off in this direction.

canderson's picture

>I have no idea what that has to do with webfonts.

It may be okay for Google to monetize someone's personal information if they approve of it. For a business to cede this kind of information is more complicated. They know an awful lot of what happens on the web, and that provides them with real advantages--not always immediately obvious. Like other "big players" in the history of computing, they have at least the opportunity to sink money into something until they win. If their project had to pay for itself on the merits and models of other companies, it might not be possible.

PabloImpallari's picture

> Quite a bit if you're talking about a webfont service from which the user's browser's makes a cross domain request.
> Who's entitled to know who is visiting the site? And what are they doing with that information?
> I think that's how the thread spun off in this direction.

That also apply to all other webfonts providers, not just google webfonts.

With Google Webfonts, you can always download and host the fonts yourself in your own site, if you want to.

Khaled Hosny's picture

With Google Webfonts, you can always download and host the fonts yourself in your own site, if you want to.

And "free of charge", I doubt you can't even pay for other services to host your fonts (not reasonable fee at least).

apankrat's picture

With Google Webfonts, you can always download and host the fonts yourself in your own site, if you want to.

No. That downloadable version is useless. It contains just one format, so one cannot host it. But then when passed through a converter it yields fonts that look different (and typically worse) compared to the hosted Google Fonts version.

It is disingenuous on Google's part to offer the download option in its current format. "Here, we are open. Take the fonts if you want them (but they are sort of not the same thing, and you really don't want them, it's the hosted stuff that you want)."

aluminum's picture

There are two types of folks: Those that like to leverage hosted code to better offload their own server's bandwidth and enable faster downloads for their web site users (not to mention faster dev and deployment cycles), and those that are paranoid that Google knows too much. Both are valid lines of thinking.

abattis's picture

apankrat, I am an independent font consultant who does some work with the Google Web Fonts team.

The TTFs in the convenient download are for the needs of most people, who want to download and install on their own computers for making web page mockups in image editors/vector drawing apps.

These TTFs are not really different to the actual TTFs served - the served fonts are just subset, you can download the subset files that are served from http://code.google.com/p/googlefontdirectory - which also includes the FontForge subset.py script I use to make these subset files. This Google Code repo is linked to from the Download modal dialog.

How you do your web font format conversion is up to you. As far as I know by looking at the results, the EOT/WOFF conversion done by the API servers is just compression, it doesn't effect the way the fonts look - as you can see by looking at fonts in MSIE8 (EOT) and Firefox 3 (WOFF) and Chrome (TTF) - so if you look at your converter's options, perhaps you can stop it from changing things.

dberlow's picture

JH: "No. That downloadable version is useless. It contains just one format, so one cannot host it..."

Well, why not!? Must be a woff hu? ;)

John Hudson's picture

JH? That wasn't me, David, that was the other guy with an Arabic icon.

dberlow's picture

;) sorry! Must be the smokey atmosphere down here in type hell.

kentlew's picture

> JH? That wasn't me, David, that was the other guy with an Arabic icon.

Actually, it was the guy from Vancouver with the rocket in his avatar.

apankrat's picture

Yeah, explain that, David... :)

dberlow's picture

>Yeah, explain that, David... :)

What I see in avatars is unexplainable. When the smaoke is clear, John's reminds me of a frenchman winking and giving the "ok" sign from inside a cleavage :p Kalids is a desert landscape at sunset.

Google's service of a 'desktop' font format, can probably be explained by the incompleteness of a web font format, or it's lack of either a benefits list or a faq; or maybe it could be something else like improper metadata or the desire to make it normal for clients to format hop their fonts, a commonly illegal practice for commercial fonts;)

You'd have to ask Google.

abattis's picture

desire to make it normal for clients to format hop their fonts, a commonly illegal practice for commercial fonts;)

Sadly the truth is, as always, more mundane than such conspiracy theories. When Google Web Fonts launched the downloads feature, there was a bullet list explaining why Google Web Fonts was offering the download: very frequently before the people who make web pages actually make web pages, they first make mockup images of web pages, using desktop applications, that are shown to The Deciders. Therefore having desktop-installable versions of the fonts that are as close to the web fonts being served to browsers is extremely useful in promoting the widest possible use of web fonts.

TINC.

ps. I see that cursed frenchman now too! :)

dberlow's picture

Conspiracy theory? I'm pretty sure that is not the case.

Richard Fink's picture

@berlow

>a commonly illegal practice for commercial fonts

I'm tired of the word "illegal" getting thrown around in the context of licensing agreements and copyright.

In the first case, if I take the copy of a font I licensed and the license says, "
Dont' reformat" and I go right ahead and do so, depending upon what I do next, it's breach of contract. Breaching a contract is not illegal.

If you claim it is then give me a word for the other things that are illegal, like burglary, driving 70 miles per hr when the sign says 50, rape, murder, and so forth.

In the second instance, should one accept the premise of fonts as copyrightable software, it's still not "illegal".

So, whatever habits you don't like that your imagination tells you Google fonts is trying to foster, neither is "illegal" under any circumstances.

dberlow's picture

>I'm tired of the word "illegal"

Take nap.

John Hudson's picture

Rich: If you claim it is then give me a word for the other things that are illegal, like burglary, driving 70 miles per hr when the sign says 50, rape, murder, and so forth.

Criminal.

Illegal means contrary to law. Property law, including intellectual property law, establishes norms regarding use of property, and uses that are contrary to property law are illegal. Intellectual property tends to be a matter of civil rather than criminal law, but it is still a matter of law and that which is contrary to the law is what we call illegal.

Richard Fink's picture

@jh

Look, I just pass on what I read from authoritative sources in law books, attorneys, and the like.
Of course I run it through my own mental mill and think it through on my own - as every citizen ideally should but doesn't because we have lives to live.

Quoth The Maven, "Nevermore".

http://konstellations.s3.amazonaws.com/12-nevermore/index.html

Of course I saw the word "criminal" coming. Thanks for that.

Your summary of Intellectual Property law is just plain wrong. There is no equivalency between what's commonly referred to as "Intellectual Property" - copyright, patent, and trademark - and real property. ('Real property' as a legal term, that is.) None.

@db

I have awakened refreshed. Thanks.

John Hudson's picture

There is no equivalency between what's commonly referred to as "Intellectual Property" - copyright, patent, and trademark - and real property.

I never used the term equivalency. What I said was that both intellectual property and physical property are subjects of law, and that the law regarding both deals with rights of usage. So, for example, I may own a piece of land according to property law as it applies to real estate, but what I can do on that land and how I can use that land is further circumscribed and limited by law, including other aspects of property law (ergo, in Canada, I do not own the substrate, to which the crown could sell mining rights to someone else). My point was that if we take the term 'illegal' to mean contrary to law -- which is the simple parsing of the word --, then both physical and intangible asset law defines usage rights whose violation may be termed illegal, i.e. contrary to the law regarding those rights.

If you are going to insist on the inequivalency of tangible and intellectual property in law, then you should also not bunch together copyright, patent and trademark, since these are not equivalent in either their basis or the obligations they impose. Of the three, patent is arguably the closest to physical property (but see link below) since it is a grant of privilege (periodic monopoly) by the state, analogous to property title: you own something because the state grants you rights to that particular thing. Copyright is associated with the act of creation, and applies to whole categories of creative works not to particular things, which is why registration of copyright is optional: you own something that belongs to a category of copyrightable creations because you made it. Trademark is founded on use in the market, even in the case of registered trademark, and comes with an obligation to defend: you own something because you use it and actively prevent other people from using it.

Finally, this article on physical vs. intellectual property is a good read. It argues, persuasively I believe, that physical and intellectual property law are not only directly analogous but, in fact, aspects of a single conception of property.

dberlow's picture

Where's that "garden fence"!? when you need it ;)

Richard Fink's picture

@jh

Thanks for the link. Y'know, I was brought up in an atmosphere and worked for quite a few years in an industry where argument was normal. Hell, screaming was normal.
Attorneys and ultra-orthodox rabbis, at least, understand this. But I'm finding that it's a very thin-skinned world out there. Folks can't take the heat but won't get out of the kitchen.
Look, knowledgeable authors have written books about this stuff and we could go on and on.

db's comment gave me a laugh. Probably because I just finished putting up an electric gate and garden fence in front of my house. Garden fences can be good things. And as the poet wrote, ironically, good fences make good neighbors. At least for those who won't go behind their father's saying.

Let us, at least, think originally about copyright.

rich

Té Rowan's picture

Is that "(electric gate) and garden fence" or electric (gate and garden fence)"?

Richard Fink's picture

@té

A black aluminum electric gate with side extensions - one of them functioning as a door. And extended further by a black vinyl chain link fence.

It would have been nice to fully "electrify" and watch anybody trying to gain unauthorized access fry - great entertainment, my own private Huntsville! - but alas, no.

And barbed wire on top, like they do in Miami - tough place, Miami - would be over the top where I live.

@jh

One link deserves another, although I looked quickly and you're definitely getting the better part of the deal:

http://www.rhetoricainc.com/MellinkoffLecture.html

John Hudson's picture

The trouble with all this talk about 'the new age of copyright' and its travails is the widespread failure to recognise that we're still, also, living in the old age of copyright. The corporate exploitation of intellectual property law, the use of such law not as a protection of creative work but as a business model, the ranks of lawyers and lobbyists, tend to obscure our memory of what copyright has done and should do: protect the right of creative individuals to commercially exploit their work and to limit the unremunerated exploitation of that work by others, including or especially exploitation by companies whose resources could not otherwise be opposed by individual creators. The fact that the owners of capital have found ways to exploit copyright and other intellectual property law for their own purposes simply confirms the nature of capital, it doesn't render the protective function of such law obsolete. So while the pundits and the lawyers are busy debating copyright in the context of new media possibilities and old media intransigence, there are still creative individuals whose work is open to various kinds of exploitation, including exploitation by multi-billion dollar corporations whose resources allow them to leverage far more value from the work than the individual creator could. One of the ways in which this old exploitation takes place in new dress takes advantage of open source and libre idealism, by which companies avoid paying fees commensurate with the value they derive from creative works by convincing young and naïve designers to give their work away for free because it is good for society, the digital community, etc.. I'm getting tired of people representing major corporations writing to me asking me to consider making this or that font available under the Open Font License. They want the fonts because they can derive value from them that will in one way or another -- it hardly matters what the engame is -- add to their profits. So they can damn well pay for the fonts.

aluminum's picture

"tend to obscure our memory of what copyright has done and should do: protect the right of creative individuals to commercially exploit their work"

And note that's only half of it. The other half is to ensure that society as a whole benefits from the inventiveness of mankind by not allowing said rights to be possessed in perpetuity.

Right now neither is really happening to the extent it used to (and, presumedly to the extent the original intentions of IP laws were). Corporations are benefitting, though.

William Berkson's picture

You tell 'em John!

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