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What bothers me about the Ubuntu-Yahoo deal

On Tuesday, Rick Spencer announced on the Ubuntu developers mailing list that Ubuntu has entered a revenue sharing deal with Yahoo! and will make Yahoo! the default search engine in the next Ubuntu release (10.04, Lucid Lynx). This sparked an extremely long discussion thread on the Ubuntu Forums about whether this is a good idea or not.

Generally speaking (with few exceptions), the reactions fall into one of two categories:

  1. This is great. I won’t use Yahoo! myself, but if it makes money for Ubuntu, why not? How hard is it to change the defaults. Two clicks.
  2. This is unacceptable. Yahoo! is in bed with Microsoft. This is wrong. If Ubuntu needs money, we should donate. Why wasn’t the community consulted?

Well, my reaction to this deal wasn’t quite either of those. Yes, I believe the community should have been consulted. That isn’t really what bothered me. What bothered me is that the decision was made soley with regard to revenue and not thinking at all about the user experience. It wasn’t “We evaluated the default search engine and decided Yahoo! has better search results or gives a better search experience than Google, and so we have decided to enter a revenue-sharing deal with Yahoo!” Nor was it even “We evaluated Yahoo! and Google and found the Yahoo! search experience to be only slightly worse than the Google one or about equal, but we thought revenue-sharing would be worth the sacrifice.” No, no mention of the user experience at all. It’s just the revenue.

I have nothing against Ubuntu making money. Mark Shuttleworth has deep pockets, but if Ubuntu is to be self-sustaining, it can’t just drain his pocketbook indefinitely. Nevertheless, defaults matter, and if they didn’t this deal would get Ubuntu no money (if most people changed the default, very few users would keep Yahoo!, which means Ubuntu wouldn’t get much revenue from this deal).

That last bit is something people don’t realize. If all (or even most of) the Ubuntu users change the default to Google or Cuil or Scroogle, then you can’t say “Well, I won’t use it, but great for Ubuntu to make some money.” They won’t be making money if you all keep changing the search engine.

But we won’t all be changing the search engine. Anyone handed the live CD and trying to do a search will either not know Yahoo! is the default search engine or just not bother to change it. (One of the reasons defaults matter.)

So I can see only two sensible reactions to this deal:

  1. This is great. Anything to make Ubuntu money. I intend to keep Yahoo! as the default to make Ubuntu money.
  2. Extra revenue is great, but why isn’t the user experience even considered when making this decision?

Obviously, I choose the latter.