Does Sherlock 2 play fair?

By Wendy J. MattsonWhile Apple touts the e-commerce potential of Sherlock 2, some vendors are apparently more equal than others when it comes to adding advertising to Internet searches.

By Wendy J. Mattson

While Apple touts the e-commerce potential of Sherlock 2, some vendors are apparently more equal than others when it comes to adding advertising to Internet searches.

According to MacWEEK's own tests and reports from members of the Sherlock-Talk mailing list who have worked with Apple's Internet search technology since it shipped with Mac OS 9 in October, Sherlock 2 will override ad banners in third-party plug-ins outside Apple's built-in set. Instead, the software will retrieve and display Apple ads with each search.

This undocumented change means only Apple and a small list of approved vendors can reap ad revenue from searches conducted under Sherlock 2. By contrast, some small Web sites stand to lose money, plug-in developers said.

That exclusionary approach represents a reversal from the original version of Apple's search engine, which first shipped with Mac OS 8.5 in October 1998 and let third-party developers include advertising data in their plug-ins.

Plug-in authors polled by MacWEEK voiced concern about the effect the new limitations will have at the bottom line.

One company pondering its options is MDG Computer Services Inc. of Bartlett, Ill., which sells WS4D/e-commerce 3.1.1, Web-server software that includes native support for Sherlock.

According to MDG President Michael Ginsberg, who also manages the Sherlock-Talk mailing list, "We had planned to update the plug-ins in WS4D/eCommerce so users could have their own Sherlock 2 shopping channel."

Ginsberg said the original version of the software made it easy for third-party developers to display banner ads when returning Sherlock results. This financial benefit helped encourage development, he said.

"If Apple does not allow plug-in developers to control the banner ads viewed in Sherlock, the number of plug-ins written for Sherlock 2 will be greatly reduced," Ginsberg said.

Pete Shaw, Webmaster of the Freedom UK Web site in Reading, England, agreed: "Apple appears to be shooting itself in the foot" when it comes to banner ads in Sherlock 2," he said.

"The default search sites get their own banners displayed, but sites that want to support Sherlock would have to give up their only source of revenue, which seems like a great shame.

"I love the whole concept of Sherlock and want to be able to offer Freedom UK visitors the ability to search its resources outside the browser," Shaw said, "but I can't see how I can support Sherlock 2 if the ad revenue is being blocked."

Shaw said almost all of the work on the Freedom UK site is done using iMacs and G3 Power Macs and added, "I feel cheated by Apple" because of the changes in Sherlock 2. "I hope Apple changes this banner problem with the next maintenance release of Sherlock," Shaw said.

Bill Maguire, president of the Mac Users Group of Regina, Saskatchewan, said that while his group doesn't serve ad banners in Sherlock searches, he sympathizes with small sites that depend on ad revenues. "Take away the banner ads from these smaller sites, and we may see fewer people bothering" to incorporate the technology, Maguire said.

"I think it's a little over the line for Apple to override banners used by search engines."

Apple was not immediately available for comment.

Dozens of plug-ins and related resources for earlier versions of Sherlock are listed on Apple-Donuts and Mac In Europe Web sites, among others.