I was reading through the mega-thread "Google Fonts: Your Questions, Answered
" and this question was sort of addressed at the end but not really. I thought it could use its own discussion...
Google is notorious for shutting down services that no longer meet its business objectives. See the Google Graveyard
My understanding is that Google Fonts was created to help improve search by having more sites use HTML text rather than image graphics. What happens when this goal is achieved? (I rarely see text as graphics on the web anymore).
It seems like the cost of serving web fonts to millions of websites has to extremely high, even for a company like Google.
What financial incentive do they have to continue the service? What are the chances of Google ever shutting it down?
I would love to hear the type community's thoughts.
But even if GWF shut down it wouldn’t be a huge loss to the users. They could host the fonts themselves or use that other popular font hosting service.
Google Reader was shut down and I'd bet the data about what blogs people were reading was probably even more valuable than what fonts sites are using.
It just makes me wonder what their motivation is for keeping Google Fonts running over the long term...
Google doesn't think like other companies. A typical company creates products to sell. Google seems to think more along the lines of creating large user bases for their free servies, then using those user bases and the data obtained from them to support their more profitable ventures.
If I offer you something for $1 that you can get nearby for $0, its cost is extremely high. If I offer you something for $1M that you can't get anywhere else for less than $10M, the cost is extremely low.
Whatever you think the costs of serving font files is, compare it to what you imagine the cost of serving images in Google Maps and the cost of serving video files in YouTube is. Does the costs of serving font files now seem high or low?
I have no idea what any of the costs are, but I expect the cost of serving font files is relatively low. The more people use the service, the more financial incentive Google has to continue it.
Google makes some revenue from the Google Apps suite of productivity web applications. In serving fonts to millions of websites, fonts in Google Fonts are widely cached (only the first visit to the first site that uses a font suffers loading latency; all subsequent sites load the font instantly from the browser's cache.) The more the fonts are served to other websites, the better the font experience in Google's officeware suite, and the better the experience in all other Google products that use the fonts (such as Roboto, used in Google Maps and Google Plus) -- and equally the better the experience in all other websites that use the fonts.
However, as anyone can read from the SEC filings, Google makes most of its revenue from web advertising. In serving fonts to millions of websites, Google Fonts makes the web better because web pages are more visually pleasing. The more the fonts are used, the better the web is, and then (a) the more people search the web, and the more people will click on Google's AdWords ads; and (b) the more peope read more webpages, and the more people will click on Google's AdSense ads carried on those pages. "On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero."
Having said that, I personally see the web as still in its early stages of development; most human beings don't yet have web access. But they will. And having a collection of libre fonts for their language is important to their web experience. So I expect the Google Fonts project to continue for some time. I don't think there is as much use for that information as you're implying.
Since the 'Questions Answered' thread, I helped the Google Fonts product manager to write this privacy entry on the FAQ: https://developers.google.com/fonts/faq#Privacy
I'm close to the project, and the uses are trivial and mundane. Afterall, there isn't very much information to begin with. The most interesting thing about knowing how often fonts are seen is to help to decide which fonts are worth investing more development in. Well, gee, what a suprise What do you mean, 'their' data? I hope the above is sufficient. It can't have been that valuable, since they shut it down I hope the above is sufficient. But Google Analytics isn't related to Google Fonts in any reasonable way, because the Google Fonts data is impersonal and scant. I don't see how the choice of font could be relevant to either of those things.
This is the same business thinking behind free-to-reader newspapers that have been around for over a hundred years - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_newspaper - and the same thinking that led to Twitter and Facebook and Medium and Reddit a billion other websites that carry adverts, take your pick of https://www.google.ch/search?q=cute+animals .
Sometimes limiting the size of audience to those who can afford to pay the fee makes a more valuable audience. I don't see as many Rolex ads in the London Metro as in the UK Telegraph.
But the Metro is more profitable.
So, giving away advertising products is hardly new, and it always involves a tradeoff. The web doesn't eliminate that equation, but it changes it because the potential audience for zero price advertising products is so huge. User profiles are not related to Google Fonts; they require at least a Google cookie, and likely signing in to a Google Account.
1) I agree that the whole "data mining" argument probably doesn't hold up.
2) You compare Google Fonts to YouTube and Google Maps but I don't think that is an apt comparison since both of those services are monetized through advertising. I see no real way for them to monetize Google Fonts.
3) I understand the Google Apps caching argument but I would imagine people who use Google Apps are mostly return users so the fonts would be cached regardless. First time visitors might see a slight load time improvement I suppose. Still hard to imagine this being a good reason for them.
4) The "making the web better for everyone" argument is interesting. It just seems like such a lofty and hard to measure goal. "Open Sans is so beautiful. Now I'm going to search the web more!".
5) I don't doubt that having libre fonts available that support the languages of the world is important. I just don't see why Google needs to host those files for every website.
6) Also it's not just the server costs. It's also the internal resources they devote to maintaining the project. Every resource they devote to this takes away resources from another potentially more profitable project.
I guess overall I just feel that it's strange to see Google in the font hosting business. To me it has that feeling of one of those Google projects that engineers dream up with lofty goals and then management says "wait this doesn't fit into our core business objectives" and then axe the project.
I agree. Also even if users didn't switch to another service or self host, the worst that would happen is the fonts would default to the next available font in the CSS font stack, most likely Arial or Georgia. I'm sure most non-designers wouldn't even notice.
One site at a time, this data has little value, but the aggregated data from hundreds of thousands of sites using their fonts could be a different story. This might be especially true when that data is combined with similar information obtained from other Google services, like Google Analytics and Google searches. When compared to those services, the relative value of the data obtained from their fonts would likely be limited, but given the relatively low cost of serving these files (along with their other potential benefits) I can easily imagine benefits outweighing costs. The already existing models you listed mostly build audiences that they rent out to others. These aren't new business models, but their resemblance to what Google does is superficial and, even, primitive.
Google seems more interested in the wealth of information that can be obtained when hundreds of millions of people use their products. Aggregating and automating the mining this enormous data set for predictive patterns with commercial potential on the scale that Google seems to be doing is new. They aren't the only ones headed down this road, but their information gathering and analysis capabilities are unequaled. It's definitely different from, like I wrote, a typical company.
Personal opinion only: I agree I have explained how they already monetize the fonts. You can have a website without videos, but you can't have a website without text. And text means web fonts. So every Google product (indeed, every web site and web app) needs web fonts, and Google could choose not to provide the fonts to millions of other websites, but the experience of the fonts in Google's products would then be worse.
And providing the fonts to millions of other websites is a 'complementary good' for Google's AdWords and AdSense products - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Complementary_good ("more of each good will be demanded whomp" Measuing the adoption of web fonts would require a copy of the web. Oh, wait.
This measuring was presented last year at ATypI by David Kuettel, the co-founder and lead engineer for GF, and John Giannopoulos, "Director of Strategic Alliances" at Monotype, and will be re-presented at ATypI again next week in Barcelona. I'll be there.
If you are saying that its hard to measure the impact of typography, psychology scientists do attempt to measure it. SiDaniels' colleagues at Microsoft are pushing the state of the art in this scientific understanding forward every year, and Monotype has also done studies in this area.
I suppose that is because MS is also interested in justifying the millions of dollars they spend on font and font rendering technologies with science; and Monotype uses the studies for sales and marketing. I just don't see why you don't accept the reasons I am giving you What can I say? Some people just love fonts I have explained how the project is aligned with the core business objectives.
Indeed. This rather seems to negate Dave's apparent arguement. If non designers cannot tell the difference between Google or default fonts, much less between a google font used by one advertiser vs another, as is mostly the case, prettier and faster don't matter.
Personally I don’t like Google’s activities on the font market very much, and I never have made a secret of this on the GFD list. However, one can’t blame a company –small or large– for entering a certain market using a different model. I have seen large companies that produced image-setting machines dismantled in a relatively short period after the rise of desktop publishing. As a direct consequence a nice project that I was working on for ScanGraphic was never ﬁnished. Together with these companies the typesetting companies perished and I have seen people losing a lot of money in this business. Also companies that fully focused on supplying type in the different digital formats for the image-setting machines, like ITC, didn’t survive. And with these companies the digitizing that was done by third parties, like at URW for ITC.
At the same time new opportunities occurred for small companies and individuals like you and me. Before the rise of desktop publishing a ‘large’ IKARUS system for UNIX cost around DM 250.000. Ikarus M became available together with a tablet and lens cursor for DM 7500 (AFAIK, the initial price was even lower, but put under pressure by companies owning the ‘large’ IKARUS system). The prices of computers went down and programs like Fontographer made the production of fonts even less expensive. In the second half of the 1980s I taught at a graphic school in Haarlem (you know, the city of Laurens Janszoon Coster ;-) and my older colleagues ridiculed desktop publishing. They couldn’t believe that this was the future, and they were also scared for it. The changes came to quick for them; they actually struggled with the transition from foundry and hot metal type to phototypesetting still.
The font market has been already put under a lot pressure before Google entered it by extremely low pricing. Google is deﬁnitely diluting the market even further. At ﬁrst reactions (also on this forum) pointed at the low quality of the Google fonts. I think that this is basically good for Google’s competitors, because they retain a unique selling point: quality. However, the quality of Google’s fonts will surely increase, as there is a group of people (also present on this forum) that really believe in the ideology of making everything Open Source and for free in an attempt make the world a better place. This community-thinking must be the Zeitgeist, because also some commercial tools seem to ﬂoat on a dedicated group of followers that support for instance scripts for free.
A company like Adobe changed the font market with new technology. This is something Google is not doing; it simply changes the market by a different earning model supported by an immense power. IMHO Dave is largely responsible for this. I know him a bit as he was for a short period a student of mine in Antwerp and we kept in contact since. I’m convinced that he really wants to add knowledge, technology and quality to the métier. And I also believe that he will succeed. At the same time companies that for instance invested a lot of money and time in the development of global fonts see their market rapidly shrinking and the value of their proprietary technology reduced.
As I wrote in the ﬁrst paragraph, I don’t like much what is happening. But a changing or diminishing market in the course of time is nothing special. My grandfather built coaches like his father and grandfather did until the automobiles came. At the end he made the wooden stuff for cargobikes. Such is life: the survival of the ﬁttest.
So, that being said, I expect to metaphorically being tarred and feathered in the further discussion here.
Which way is that money going??