Six days ago, a Google engineer, who just started with the company this year, posted to Hacker News to ask, "What is so evil about adding social networking features to everyone's account?"
"You have a Docs account and a Picasa account too, even if you don't use them, and nobody complains about that," he wrote. "What's the difference between Docs and Google+?"
It's a fair point.
He goes on to bash SEO as a practice, however, and this has raised some eyebrows within the industry. Here's the relevant portion:
Instead of being able to SEO the entire Internet, businesses can now only affect the search results for a tiny percentage of users. That's a good thing because SEO can't scale, and SEO isn't good for users or the Internet at large.
If you look at the Google experience from the standpoint of customers, it's pretty good. Users get relevant search results and ads. Advertisers get their content on top of everything else. It's a good compromise between advertising and usability, and it works really well. It's a bug that you could rank highly in Google without buying ads, and Google is trying to fix the bug. Manipulating Google results shouldn't be something you feel entitled to be able to do. If you want to rank highly in Google, be relevant for the user currently searching. Engage him in social media or email, provide relevant information about what you're selling, and, generally, be a "good match" for what the user wants.
Aaron Wall, who deserves credit for pointing the spotlight on the comments, raises an interesting point. "You can learn a lot more about what Google really thinks by reading what their new hires say," he writes. "They are not yet skilled in the arts of public relations & make major gaffs like this one."
I don't know that it's fair to say that what one new guy at Google says is "what Google really thinks". Google has thousands of employees (over 32,000 at last headcount), and I'm quite sure that many of them have different opinions about things. For one, we hear that not all of them are thrilled with Google's "Search Plus Your World".
Then, of course, there was the incident where one Googler went so far as to call Google+ a "knee-jerk reaction" and a "study in short-term thinking" on Google+ (granted, this was meant to be an internal post).
But Googlers are all over Google+ speaking their mind and sharing what they find interesting, not to mention connecting with the public. They do it every day. A lot of them. This does speak to Wall's point about really learning more about the way Google thinks - just paying attention to what they all say collectively, whether that be on Google+, on Twitter, in forums, or in personal blog posts.
In the end, I would say that in general, the opinions or actions, especially outside the confines of Google's official promotional vehicles (whether they be company blogs, Google+ pages, Twitter accounts or YouTube channels) don't necessarily represent the company's stance. The company is made of people. Real humans who have real opinions. PR blunders aside, sometimes people are going to say how they really feel.
Rockway did later follow up on his initial comments on Hacker News (hat tip: Barry Schwartz):
Since people are taking what I've said out of context, I thought I'd clarify this statement:
It's a bug that you could rank highly in Google without buying ads
I shouldn't have mentioned ads here. Position on the results page should only depend on the quality of your content; if your site has the best content on the Internet for the user's search terms, you should be the top result. You shouldn't be able to change your position in the organic results any other way, like by exploiting bugs in Google's ranking algorithm. The specifics of the ranking algorithm may change, but if your site is the best, you won't have to worry about it.
It doesn't seem to indicate any significant change of heart with regards to SEO in general.