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Most computer-savvy people have heard of toolbars. They are one of the most polarizing topics, and there is a very vocal group of people who downright hate them. But nothing is ever as one-sided as it seems.
I posit there is a time and place for toolbars, and they can benefit both the toolbar company and the computer user.
Image Courtesy of Flickr
What Is a Toolbar?
For those who don’t know, a toolbar is an add-on feature to a browser. The purpose of the toolbar is to add functionality and a one-click access to popular online sites and services. Microsoft and Yahoo offer toolbars, and before they got into the business of browsers with Chrome, Google had (and still has) toolbars for both Microsoft’s IE and Mozilla’s Firefox.
Using their toolbar meant you didn’t have to visit the Google home page when you wanted to look something up. You could search directly from the toolbar, no matter what webpage you were on. It was a nice add-on and stated as a very popular and useful piece of software.
Image via Flickr
Then the Bad Guys Came
The problems with toolbars started when some unscrupulous companies started to bundle toolbars into popular downloads without giving people the option to not include the toolbar. Soon many low-life companies created their own toolbars which would hijack people’s browsers, start pages and even skew search results just to add fraudulent ad clicks to fill the pockets of evil programmers. These toolbars were hard to uninstall, kept reappearing and eventually tarnished the reputation of all toolbars.
A Delicate Balancing Act
Not that they every went away, but toolbars are back and are looking to regain some goodwill. In order to become worthwhile, a toolbar has to have a benefit for both the company and the user. If it’s too one-sided for the company, then it won’t offer a valuable service to the user and will be uninstalled. If it’s too one-sided for the user, it’s a waste of resources for the company and won’t be maintained.
Trying to walk that equality line are toolbars from Zugo Bing. They offer companies the ability to create a free (to them and the user) branded toolbar and start page they can customize. The company benefits by keeping their name in front of their users and not having to compete with the likes of Yahoo and Google. And the customer benefits by accessing top search functionality from engines like Microsoft’s Bing. They get one-click access to popular sites like Facebook and Twitter, as well as quick weather and news feeds. Best of all, customers get access to special offers and services from a company they already support.
Since there is no longer an incentive for click fraud, the days of the evil toolbar are starting to be over. But the fear and anger that toolbars created still remain fresh in many minds. As more companies embrace custom toolbars, the more the bad memories will fade.