A few days ago, I read an article on Ars Technica that described a new search site designed to help save the environment. Forestle, as it’s called, is essentially a Google partner page that sticks a pretty green and white front-end on the same old Google search that you know and love. So, how exactly does it save the environment? According to the Germany-based non-profit organization that runs Forestle, all of the site’s advertising income minus administrative costs is donated to The Nature Conservancy’s adopt an acre program, which helps protect at-risk rainforests. Forestle’s founder Christian Kroll told Ars that “0.1 square yards of rainforest are ‘saved’ with every single web search,” and that within the site’s testing phase, “more than 15,000 square yards of rainforest” had been saved.
Being the sort of person who performs a lot of web searches on the average day, I figured that there was no reason for me to not use Forestle in lieu of Google. After all, I would get the same search results and would be able to play an infinitesimally small part in saving the rainforests in the process. Keeping this in mind, I went ahead and installed Forestle’s Firefox search bar plug-in, performed a few searches and then patted myself on the back for a deed well done. Little did I know, however, that Forestle wouldn’t last long.
Today, I visited Forestle in the hopes of performing a web search, only to see the following message (emphasis theirs):
Google ended partnership with Forestle!
Dear Forestle user,
We just received an email from Google in which they announced the end of the partnership with Forestle. They said that we offered “incentives to click artificially on sponsored links” and that this was not complaint with their policies..
Well, we don’t agree with that!
We displayed a note at the top of the Forestle result page that says “only click on Google sponsored links if you are really interested in them”. Also we saved 0.1 m² per search and not per click! So where did we offer incentives to click on ads?
In our opinion Google ended the partnership, because Forestle became too successful: Yesterday we earned almost 200 USD and saved more than 4,000 square meters of rainforest!
We will try to reactivate Forestle and clarify this issue. Meanwhile, we ask you to use the eco-friendly search engine www.Znout.com. Officially Znout does not save rainforest, but it reduces your energy consumption thanks to black backgrounds and EcoServers considerably.
We will inform you with a message on www.Znout.com, when we are able to revive Forestle. So please make Znout your home page or install the Znout plugin for your browser.
@ All blog writers: Please report about this issue to help us revive Forestle
Your Forestle team
So, what happened? Though it’s not entirely clear, it seems that a few well-intentioned users might have clicked on more Google ads than they normally would have, thinking that in doing so, they were generating more revenue for Forestle, thereby helping to save even more rainforest. Apparently, Google deemed these clicks “artificial,” though it’s unclear exactly how the company arrived at that conclusion (Time spent on page? Number of ads clicked on during a certain time period?).
Admittedly, Google needs controls in place to keep people from gaming the Google AdWords system–otherwise plenty of folks could scam money out of Google without providing the company or its advertisers with any benefit. At the same time, Forestle claims that it made it clear to its users that it was searches and not clicks that it was after. Still, the site probably could have made that fact even more clear, though you can’t necessarily blame them for a few misguided users. Also, quick memo to the folks at Forestle: calling Google out in a public message on your website probably isn’t going to endear you to the powers that be in Mountain View.
Hopefully, Google and Forestle will manage to work things out and find a solution that’s equitable for both parties. If Google is serious about encouraging others to use its tools to create new, innovative services, it will work quickly to resolve this situation; likewise, if Forestle is serious about saving the rainforest, they’ll do the same. With any luck, in a few days time, we’ll all be able to get back to saving the rainforest, one click at a time.