Google’s New Toolbar Blocks Pop-Ups

Search technology powerhouse Google has released a new beta of its popular toolbar for Internet Explorer, adding a pop-up blocker, a controversial Blogger feature, and form-filling functionality.

The pop-up blocker is aimed at suppressing the controversial online advertising format, but, in practice, it prevents all pop-ups, regardless of their purpose. Whenever the toolbar blocks a pop-up, the cursor changes briefly, a “blocking” sound effect is heard, and an icon flashes in the toolbar. While alternative Web browsers like Mozilla and Opera offer easy-to-use pop-up blocking, the Google Toolbar offers the first one-click option for Microsoft’s Internet Explorer users.

Pop-up blockers have proven to be popular among software developers and Internet users, largely because of the high levels of annoyance the pop-up ad format has engendered. AOL has banned third-party pop-up ads from its service in the name of improving the user experience, and EarthLink has made its pop-up blocking software a cornerstone of its marketing efforts.

Despite consumer annoyance, sites like NYTimes.com have made pop-ups a regular part of their offerings to advertisers, likely because they’ve been shown to be effective. Orbitz, one of the most prolific users of the format, has said it sees significantly better conversion rates from people who click on a pop-up, as compared to other forms of advertising.

The new Google Toolbar is quite flexible in its management of pop-ups. The feature can be disabled completely, and pop-ups can be let through on a one-time or on a site-wide basis, depending on the user’s preference. The Toolbar doesn’t, however, block pop-ups generated by software like Gator’s, as it explains in a pop-up blocker help page.

While the pop-up blocking feature might raise the ire of some in the advertising community, the toolbar’s blogging feature, which integrates technology from the recent acquisition of the Blogger “push-button” Web publishing platform, is raising concerns from other blogging technology firms. Because it’s exclusive to Blogger users, rivals are worried Google might use its wild popularity to sideline the competition.

“BlogThis” automatically connects to Blogger accounts to let uses create a Weblog post pointing to the page on the browser. But, that exclusivity means users of rival blogging software — like Radio UserLand and Six Apart’s Movable Type — have been shut out completely.

“It would be foolish for them not to extract their pound of flesh from Blogger. But, if Google is going to be a platform or infrastructure provider, they will only have credibility where it’s neutral,” said Six Apart vice president of business development Anil Dash.

Google Toolbar 2.0 has also been fitted with an AutoFill tool that lets users automatically fill in a Web form with the click of a button. Google’s AutoFill, which is another power-browsing option in Mozilla and Opera, lets users enter password-protected credit card information. That information is stored on the user’s hard drive, rather than on any central Google servers, in an effort to bypass any privacy concerns.

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