This week, Google launched Search Plus Your World (SPYW), a set of features to personalize search results for users, which also happen to give Google+ content a lot more play in search results. The whole thing has sparked a great deal of controversy, with people talking about antitrust implications, relevancy issues, etc. Even Twitter called the day it launched “a bad day for the Internet”.
Do you agree? Is Search Plus Your World bad for the Internet? Let us know what you think in the comments.
Google Vs. Twitter
The Google vs. Twitter element of this thing has been very interesting to me. In case you haven’t been following, let us recap this public back and forth these two companies have had this week. It started, when after Google announced SPYW, Twitter General Counsel tweeted:
And Twitter emailed a statement around to the press, which said:
For years, people have relied on Google to deliver the most relevant results anytime they wanted to find something on the Internet.
Often, they want to know more about world events and breaking news. Twitter has emerged as a vital source of this real-time information, with more than 100 million users sending 250 million Tweets every day on virtually every topic. As we’ve seen time and time again, news breaks first on Twitter; as a result, Twitter accounts and Tweets are often the most relevant results.
We’re concerned that as a result of Google’s changes, finding this information will be much harder for everyone. We think that’s bad for people, publishers, news organizations and Twitter users.
Google responded to Twitter on Google+ saying:
“We are a bit surprised by Twitter’s comments about Search plus Your World, because they chose not to renew their agreement with us last summer (http://goo.gl/chKwi), and since then we have observed their rel=nofollow instructions.”
I also found it a bit odd that Twitter would say this now, when really the lack of that aforementioned agreement renewal is what caused Twitter results to be less prevalent in Google search results. Twitter has not returned my request for comment on that at this point, but Macgillivray did tweet an example of where Google is surfacing Google+ over Twitter for the query “@WWE”. I’m not sure this is actually a product of SPYW, though the new features do place a prominent box of recommended Google+ profiles on the right-hand side of the page.
A lot of people view Google’s pushing of Google+ in search results to be anticompetitive. Some disagree.
One point that has been brought up repeatedly is that Google could be recommending public profiles from Twitter and Facebook alongside its Google+ recommendations. Sure, they could.
Facebook and Twitter don’t grant access to Google for all of the stuff that would improve the personalization experience. Danny Sullivan was able to get Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt to talk a little about this:
Google Fellow Amit Singhal, told Sullivan, “Facebook and Twitter and other services, basically, their terms of service don’t allow us to crawl them deeply and store things. Google+ is the only [network] that provides such a persistent service. Of course, going forward, if others were willing to change, we’d look at designing things to see how it would work.”
Likewise, in a blog post talking about the SPYW features, Google’s Matt Cutts talked about how the features do, in fact, surface content from other sites from the “open web”. It’s not just Google (though that still appears not to apply to the “People and Pages” recommendations box that gets such prominent attention - the feature that really seems to be causing the most stir).
But does Google not have the right to promote its own product in this way? Many don’t think it’s right. It’s worth noting that while Google may dominate in search, it is still an underdog in social. Even still, Google has only something like 65% of the search market.
“Is 65% enough to assert an effective monopoly?” asks Bud Gibson on Google+. “There's probably plenty of room here for Google to assert that there's healthy competition in the search and social spaces. And, ... they'd be right.”
Matthew Yglesias at Slate writes, “A 65 percent market share in web search is big, but by no means a monopoly. And there are basically zero barriers to switching from Google Search to Bing.”
That plays to Google’s go-to statement of: “The competition is only a click away.”
For that matter, if people are using Google, and are signed into it, there’s a good chance that they want Google-related content. If you consider Google+ and Google search to be features of one larger Google product, than you might want these features to be as integrated as possible. All of Google’s products do operate under one central Google account. You expect Facebook search to return Facebook Pages.
Granted, Facebook isn’t apparently trying to be a search engine, but then why do they bother to supplement their search results with web results from Bing? Clearly Google and Facebook are direct competitors now - maybe not as much in search (yet), but as companies. If you look at things this way, you’d almost have to say that Google even having Google+ at all is anti-competitive. Are they not supposed to make the features of their broader Google product tightly integrated?
By the way, Google does a lot more to drive traffic to Twitter and Facebook than Facebook and Twitter do to drive traffic to Google.
“Given that it’s opt-out, I’m just not sure that this is all that different from Microsoft bundling IE with Windows,” says tech columnist MG Siegler. Based on a lot of what I’ve been reading around the web, quite a few agree with him.
Here are a few recent tweets about the issue:
Privacy watchdog EPIC may file a complaint with the FTC.
Regardless of whether Google’s features are right or wrong, the timing of their release could end up biting Google in the ass, considering the heavy amount of scrutiny over competitive practices that currently surround the company. The complaints continue to pile up, and in various areas of Google’s search offerings.
Is Search Relevancy Being Sacrificed for Google+ Promotion?
Beyond all of the debate about Google’s competitive practices, there is a more important issue, at least to users. The new features may impact relevancy of search results for the worse. I personally have noticed that they could be a lot better, in terms of being personalized for me. Granted, I can turn the personalization off with the controls Google provides.
Some simply don’t like the idea of Google filling up their results with info based on who they know just because they know them, or content from Google+ just because it’s from Google+. Sullivan points to some “real life examples” of where Google isn’t necessarily living up to the relevancy side of things.
As he says, “Those results are supposed to be showing what are the most relevant things for searchers out there. That’s how Google wins. That’s how Google sticks it to competitors, by not trying to play favorites in those results, nor by trying to punish people through them.”
Ironically, if Google’s results become less relevant, people will probably want to use Google less. Perhaps Twitter, Facebook and other “competitors” should be cheering on Google’s approach.
Do you think what Google is doing is good or bad for the web? Let us know in the comments.