Search, plus Your World

Google's latest announcement about forcing Google into live search results poses some interesting questions; but is the initiative as bad as everyone's making it out to be?

We've covered Google's apparent attempts at becoming social at length here on the UXB blog; but have always been a little suspicious of their true motives. When we discussed Social Search back in October, we concluded the post with the following:

It's the ' 1' button that is going to make or break their attempt to become social. Google is just a novel way to encourage people to sign up for a Google profile – which then gives Google access to users' social data but more importantly the ' 1' in search. A 'truly social' search experience.

On Tuesday, Google Fellow Amrit Singhal (the engineer partly responsible for the algorithms that Google's search engine is based on) published a blog post entitled "Search, plus Your World" – which is summarised below.

  • Personal Results, which enable you to find information just for you, such as Google photos and posts—both your own and those shared specifically with you, that only you will be able to see on your results page;
  • Profiles in Search, both in autocomplete and results, which enable you to immediately find people you're close to or might be interested in following; and,
  • People and Pages, which help you find people profiles and Google pages related to a specific topic or area of interest, and enable you to follow them with just a few clicks. Because behind most every query is a community.

Over the next week, Google are rolling out the above three features (which we'll call Search for now); all of which result in personalised search results to live search queries. These features will be available to the 40m users with Google accounts; producing individual results for each user's query, populated with content from (only) Google .

On the one hand, the (opt-out) Search intiative is wonderful – and will provide Google users with truly personalised (and relevant) content from their social circles. It's also worth noting just how much Google appear to be supporting social data. Just think how (much more) useful Google would become if it were to feature content pulled from every one of your social networks! But then on the other hand, Search raises some interesting questions.

  • As Search won't include results from Facebook (which blocks Google from crawling it) and priorities Google content over the publicly available results from Twitter, is Search anti-competitive?
  • Will Search cause Facebook and Twitter to open up and allow Google to crawl their non-public content – or simply deepen the animosity between the three companies?
  • Will the personalisation of results from the world's most popular search engine (by market share) have consequences on how we discover information?

Facebook has always been a closed platform, denying Google the right to crawl its databases – although some public posts are available to the search engine. But then Facebook and Google have never really been best buddies.

Twitter did have the 'Realtime Search' agreement with Google, where the search engine's crawlers could access tweets and profiles. But then, for some reason, the two companies couldn't see eye to eye when the agreement came for renewal. So it wasn't.

It has been suggested, although this is a long shot, that Search is an extremely risky move to get Facebook (and to an extent Twitter) – its serious competitors in social – to open up (to search) or face the same antritrust procedures that are currently being leveled at Google. Given the history, it's extremely unlikely this is going to happen.

So what's wrong with Search ? Yes, it's a little anti-competitive and will probably lead to a slap on the wrist from an antitrust inquiry – but it'll do little to clear the air between Google, Facebook and Twitter. Search won't cause Google 's competitors to open up their databases either. It's Google's focus on personalisation and their departure from delivering relevant and unbiased results to queries that is causing the issue – an issue explained by Eli Pariser in his TED talk below.

Google's job, as one of the best and most popular search engines in the world, is to deliver unbiased, un-prioritised results to its users. Even if those results do include Google's competitors.

By forcing Google into the results page and skewing the relevancy of results, Google is ultimately moving away from what made Google successful in the first place.