Google Search + Your World: What You Need To Know
Google’s newest feature, “Search Plus Your World”, is making a lot of people angry– and it’s not just because of the awkward name. The company’s recent attempts to encourage adoption of Google+ are troubling, if not downright creepy (just like this picture of Eric Schmidt).
“Plus Your World” is supposedly meant to improve the relevancy of your search results. By including more information from your social network, the thinking goes, your results will more accurately reflect your friends’ influence. Look up hotels in Prague, say, and you’ll see recommendations, advice and input from your friends first, followed by the search results.
It’s a decent idea in theory, so where did it go wrong?
What’s wrong with Search Plus Your World?
Essentially, it comes down to this: the feature is of no value unless you also happen to have a large, engaged network on Google+. For the millions of us who primarily use Facebook or Twitter, you’re left out completely. None of the value you might glean from those networks will make it to the Google results.
Worse, assuming you’re one of the many who’s actually made a Google+ account, you’ll find the largely-irrelevant results “highlighted” from your network to be underwhelming at best. For most people, Google+ just isn’t an accurate sample of their social networks. Yet the two largest networks, Facebook and Twitter, aren’t represented at all. That means that, for most people, this attempt to “integrate social information” ends up as a transparent grab for power in the social space.
This Was Not An Accident.
Google, of course, is playing dumb here and insisting:
We’re open to working with others. But that information is not available to us. They won’t even let us crawl it.
That’s a boldfaced lie from a company who obviously could have, I don’t know, asked them before it started work on the feature.
Of course, Google knows that no company on earth would voluntarily give its data to another, rival organization.
Facebook and Twitter don’t want to share all the data they’ve painstakingly collected so that you can benefit from it on another site. Facebook and Twitter want to BE your search site. Facebook’s entire business depends on it.
And therein lies the problem: Google’s making this sound like they really want to be “open” and give everyone a big hug, and that they just “happen” to push G+ results hard, when in reality they’re abusing their power to shut out valuable and relevant information. When you search with G+YW, you get links to G+ pages, G+ people, G+ connections, and discussions on G+. Guess what, Google: the Web is a whole lot bigger than you are. And, at least this time, it’s painfully obvious.
So why is Google doing this?
Because Google needs an edge in social networking, and it isn’t really into the idea of playing fair. Google has done social before: Orkut was an outright failure by any standard.
While Google+ has fared much better, and is actually quite well-done, it owes most of its success to the fact that it’s “the anti-Facebook”. Lacking Facebook’s egregious privacy problems and incessant advertising, Google+ presents a cleaner and quieter concept of social, and it’s certainly more pleasant to use.
Of course, it hasn’t hurt that Facebook has pissed everyone off four or five times in the past year. (-I find it fascinating that Facebook is basically an opt-in dictatorship.) So, in a sense, Google+ hit a nerve by being in the right place at (sort of) the right time.
While that’s a reasonable place to start, it’s unreasonable to expect that anyone’s life revolves around Google+.
It’s simply not true. And that’s what makes this newest move so troubling: Google prioritized their own product (despite the fact that few people have a wide-enough network to make the feature useful) over providing impartial information in the form of a standard search.
More to the point, a tremendous amount of “breaking news” happens first on Twitter, none of which is taken into account. If Google was serious about improving the relevancy of searches, it would certainly be able to at least integrate some aspect of Twitter results. (Google and Twitter’s deal to share data expired last year, but Twitter’s data is readily accessible through hundreds of public, third-party tools… just saying’.)
What Google Plus Your World Means for SEO
The implications for SEO are startling as well. No one doubts that social search is the “next big thing”, but few SEOs are prepared to abandon their careers altogether. Once social networks become the de facto standard for recommendations, gaming the search engines will have little (or no) relevance. The only way I can see this playing out is that SEOs will have to focus on content that “gets shared more”–ie. “goes viral”. This shift will slide the entire industry away from “algorithms” and into group psychology instead. Marketing will broaden its influence. Ad agencies will be the new SEOs. And that’s pretty weird, but not outside the realm of possibility. It will take more than just Google to make it happen, though.
For now though, the “social results” are laughable at best: Search Engine Watch has a pretty fantastic example (I won’t spoil it for you here).
Will Google Search + Your World Take Over Your World?
GS+YW (such a catchy acronym!) has already gotten a ton of flak, so it’s quite possible the feature will be eventually shelved. In fact, the FTC may even get involved.. But what do you think? Do you find the inclusion of G+ results helpful? Is this just a really terrible precedent? Let me know in the comments!