Google’s Big Gamble on Search Plus Your World

January 12, 2012

By the far the biggest technology news right now is that Google has decided to fully integrate Google+ into its universal search results by creating Google Search Plus Your World. Click here for our review of the new features, at least from a marketing perspective.

There is a huge debate between two schools of thought: personalized search vs. social search. Those in favor of personalized search say that Google has rigged the results to promote certain things (namely, Google+) and delegitimized the objectivity of Google’s search. Those in favor of social search say that Google has made an amazing leap forward in organizing the world’s information.

Who’s right? Well, first a quick rundown of each argument.

Those who are arguing in favor of personalized search are saying that it’s a good thing for Google’s crawlers to learn more about me (my location, search patterns, etc.) to provide me with better search results. But social search is much different. It is creating search results that revolve around myself and people in my life. For a great explanation of this school of thought, we recommend Farhad Manjoo’s recent column in Slate. Farhad writes:

“I think of search engines as a gateway to the rest of the world, not as a repository for stuff about me. Going to Google for pictures of my son seems as strange as going to a bookstore to look for my diary. It’s possible that Google will succeed in convincing us to think differently about search engines, but I doubt it. Google results have long been about more than just me, and I loved it that way. Let’s keep my friends and family out of it.”

Farhad’s take is a popular one. SEL’s Danny Sullivan did a fun experiment: he searched “facebook” on Google’s new social search. What came up at the top right? Mark Zuckerberg’s Google+ profile. This is why so many people are furious with Google. How can anyone claim that an objective search for Facebook would return Zuckerberg’s Google+ page. After all, he’s the CEO of the company and his most popular and most active presence, by far, is found on Facebook. Like most people, he barely even uses his Google+ page. Isn’t Google+ rigging the results to promote what they want? Doesn’t that run counter to the “don’t be evil” mantra of organizing the world’s information?

So far, Facebook has stayed above the fray. on the other hands, Twitter and Google have waged an all-out verbal war on each other. Twitter is claiming that Google has rigged the system, and Google has claimed that Twitter took itself out of the search game by getting out of its contract with Twitter for instant search results.

To be fair to Google, there is another side to the argument. Social search evangelists claim that Google has revolutionized information by letting people create their own avenues for search. Sash Catanzanzarite makes an interesting point: he added Hacker News to his circles and now his search results feature top tech news that would never appear in his results otherwise. Google would agree with this. They’d also say that if you don’t like what’s showing up in your new search results, then you can adjust your Google+ circles to give Google a better idea of what you want to see.

So…who is right and who is wrong? Is Google rigging the results and destroying the objectivity of search just to promote Google+? Or have they come up with an amazing new way to search for information?

It’s too soon to tell. History is rife with people pronouncing the death of new technology before it’s even matured. Google Search Plus Your World launched yesterday! We don’t know what it is yet! And Google is likely to make serious changes to the new search algorithm in 2012 as their top engineers figure out what works and what doesn’t.

But one thing is certain: Google is betting everything on a new kind of social search. They’re betting their reputation and the source of 97% of their revenue. (If people stop trusting Google’s search results, the results will have less eyeballs and people will pay much less for the advertising space.)

Google is betting everything on the idea that the rise of Facebook and Twitter proves that people want a radical new way of finding information. But this is a huge “if.” A lot of people use Google because it is more objective than Facebook and Twitter. As Farhad writes:

I think of search engines as a gateway to the rest of the world, not as a repository for stuff about me. Going to Google for pictures of my son seems as strange as going to a bookstore to look for my diary. It’s possible that Google will succeed in convincing us to think differently about search engines, but I doubt it. Google results have long been about more than just me, and I loved it that way. Let’s keep my friends and family out of it.

Stay tuned.

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