Google recently unveiled it’s newest user tool, the The Web Accelerator for broadband. The basic idea is that users download the software, install it on their machine and point their web browsers at it (as a proxy) and increase their online productivity.
Side note: I can’t remember the last time I was really productive on the web…another topic, I suppose.
Google claims that by using their free product that webpages will load faster, even with a broadband connection. I must admit that I was intrigued, how could pages really load any faster than they do already? Here’s what Google has to say (The Basics):
Google Web Accelerator is an application that uses the power of Google’s global computer network to make web pages load faster. Google Web Accelerator is easy to use; all you have to do is download and install it, and from then on many web pages will automatically load faster than before.
OK, so what I’m basically reading here is that instead of my browser going directly to CNN.com, it’s in fact going to Google’s servers to get the CNN.com page that Google already fetched (or will fetch on demand) and send to me. We’ve added what I believe is an unnecessary step in the process here. Not only that, but we’re now passing all of our data (with the exception of secured pages) through Google aka the World Leader in data mining. Not that this could be an issue or anything. We already trust them with our Email, Desktop Searches, Pictures and Google Search History.
By the way, I guess before we go any further that I should be up front and say that I am a huge Google fan. They produce a lot of really innovative products/tools, which is why they have become a household name, a noun and a verb.
So…being a fan of Google I decided to download it and check it out. I downloaded the software and installed it on a laptop running Windows XP and FireFox 1.0.3. The minimum requirements for this product are Windows 2000 SP3 or XP. Still no love from Google for the OSX or Linux world. Yet another thought for another time.
The install was seamless, the only change I had to make was pointing my browser to a proxy, localhost:9100.
I began surfing about the web aimlessly, eyes glued to the little icon in my browser window that I was sure would tell me how much time I was saving. Every time a page loaded I could see the little stopwatch hand jump up for a moment, then fall back to zero.
I decided see how this tool would affect downloading media files, so I surfed on over to the BudLight Commercials that are hosted on this site only to find myself being IP banned. I’m currently using flood-control for the media files and apparently the proxy I was connecting from was opening too many connections and boom. Locked out.
I found that to be more than slightly annoying, but expected (it is, afterall, a web accelerator). Looking at the http logs, it appeared that the product was prefetching from that page (which it advertises) but it may not have realized that they were media files. I’ll follow up on this at a later time.
After surfing around for the better part of four hours I checked the stats only to learn that I had only saved about 2.7 minutes and I must say that I’m not really impressed with the product at this point. If Google is serving pre-fetched pages from it’s servers, then I think only benefit from using it would be while visiting sites that load very slowly.
Now one must also remember that this tool (like so many of Google’s) is still in Beta, so improvements will surely be forthcoming. While browsing the newsgroups and forum-based websites I saw claims from others that their page load times had decreased quite a bit and that they were having a favorable experience. Good for them. Some (like myself) did not see any performance increase.
Ok, so the average Joe User has downloaded this tool and is using it. They may or may not be seeing any performance improvements right now. So why is this tool useful How does it help Google in the end to release something that produces no results? Maybe it does produce some results. Maybe I just didn’t have a positive experience with the tool, or it was too young in it’s inception.
Shedding some light on the subject
Tristan Louis writes in his blog about another possible reason for releasing the new software package. Distributed Web Crawlers and indexers. This makes perfect sense. With all your web traffic being passed through a third party (Google in this case) they have an excellent opportunity to index and cache more webpages without having to do a lot of work:
Imagine a million people downloading the Google Web Accelerator and all of a sudden, you have an infrastructure that finds out about a lot of pages very quickly.
This could be beneficial to both Google and the end-user. Google quickly amasses an army of spiders to fill in the holes and update content more rapidly, and the end user benefits because the pages are therefore cached and can be loaded quicker. Seems like a win-win situation, no?
Some say no.
While you may see a decrease in page load times (again, I did not during my initial trial of the software), you’re sacrificing personal privacy. Google now knows every webpage you visit, every comment you make on a forum and every personal (non-SSL) email you read via a web interface. But then again, SO DOES YOUR ISP!.
Why’s this such a big deal We trust Google, even use their GMail product which delivers advertisements based on the content of the email messages.
I guess if you don’t mind your internet usage being tracked and trended, it really isn’t. Unless there’s a glitch in the matrix! There have been reports/concerns posted on several sites about the new software package, some even reporting that when they appeared to be logged in as other users on various websites:
- SomethingAwful: Logged in as another user
- DSLReports: Google Accelerator Security Concerns
- ZDNET: Google Web Accelerator sparks privacy fears
- BNC: Much controversy over Google?s accelerator
- SomethingAwful: Think before you worship
- BNC: Web Accelerator can delete your account?
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. While the new software package may help some, there are some lingering concerns about security. A quick check of the Web Accelerator Homepage shows that the number of beta testers has reached. No longer allowing additional users:
Thank you for yourinterest in Google Web Accelerator.
We have currently reached our maximum capacity of users and
are actively working to increase the number of users we can support.
Since I have the software loaded on an extra laptop, I’ll probably play with it some more and see if things change any, but until Google addresses some of the more serious security concerns I don’t think that I’ll be using this product.