August 1, 2007 — (Sydney Morning Herald) — The Sydney-based makers of a so-called eco-friendly version of Google claim they’re helping to rescue the planet, but all that’s really been saved is the piles of money they’re banking in the process.
Hundreds of thousands of searches a day are conducted by Blackle.com users, who use the search engine instead of Google because they believe they’re doing their bit for the environment.
Its creator, Toby Heap, said Blackle.com – a custom version of Google with a black rather than a white background – could save thousands of watts of power a year because it took less juice for a monitor to display black than white.
But that claim is now being disputed by those who have tested the theory and say the power saving benefits are negligible or non-existent.
Far from an altruistic venture, the site, like Google itself, makes money from sponsored links that run next to search results.
Heap would not give exact traffic figures or say how much he was making in ad revenue, but he said the site had grown “exponentially” and was now servicing “hundreds of thousands of searches a day”.
The site’s growth since its launch in February this year is illustrated by a graph on the traffic monitoring website Alexa.
An industry source familiar with search engine marketing estimated Blackle, given such high traffic figures, earned thousands of US dollars in Google Adsense revenue per day.
“It [revenue] is definitely growing and I think if it keeps growing the way it’s growing then I think it will become quite a healthy profit, so I hope that’s what’s going to happen,” Heap said.
One of the technology enthusiasts to test whether or not the site’s claims had any scientific grounding was Darren Yates, an Australian technology journalist who reviews computer hardware for computer magazines.
He found only tube-based CRT monitors, which have been phased out in favour of newer LCD-based models in most countries, showed any real difference in power consumption between Blackle and Google.
But even with a CRT monitor the drop in power consumption when searching through Blackle was a meagre 7 watts.
Furthermore, Yates actually recorded a small increase in power consumption when using Blackle with LCD monitors, which are sold with most new computers and all laptops.
Yates concluded: “So at the very least, supporters of a black-screen Google are overstating their power savings by about double. At worst, as CRT monitors are continually phased out in favour of LCD screens, the power consumption of a black-screen Google will actually be more than what we already have with the standard white Google.”
Heap admitted the power “savings in real terms” were “very small”, but insisted the site was about more than just saving power on internet searches.
“The point isn’t about how much energy this on its own can save, it’s about trying to get people to think about other ways to save energy and constantly think about making little changes to save energy,” he said.
He said he was in the middle of making “a list of different ways you can save energy” to put on the site, which he hoped would allow Blackle to have “a bigger flow-on effect”.
Heap said he did not believe he was being unethical or dishonest by making money from the site even after the basic theories underpinning it had been questioned by many.
“If Blackle starts making decent profits and they’re sustainable profits then … we could look into [investing in] things like solar power or carbon sink forests or something useful and ongoing, rather than just some short-term initiative that dies out,” he said.
Heap, who runs the site and other web ventures in his spare time, is a research fellow at the University of Sydney and studies exercise physiology.
He admitted he had not yet tested the Blackle power saving theory himself; instead, he started Blackle based on a blog post written by an environmentalist, Mark Ontkush, who estimated a black Google would save 750 Megawatt-hours a year.
In a new blog post dated July 27, Ontkush stood by his calculations and said they took into account the fact that “black Google makes little or no difference when you have a LCD monitor”.
He said that although CRT technology was becoming obsolete, it was still being used heavily in some parts of the world such as China and South America.