Google introduced a new feature to its search engine last Tuesday–Search, Plus Your World.” It’s essentially social search featuring Google+, exclusively. Now, whenever you look up something on Google, the search result will be populated not only by relevant web pages, but also Google+ posts by you or shared specifically with you, and Google+ profiles/pages.
You can learn more about Search+ on Google’s blog post.
So, What’s The Fuss?
Shortly after Google’s announcement, some pundits–as well as Twitter’s General Counsel Alex Macgillivray cried foul, mostly charging Google is leveraging its status as the dominant search engine to favor its own social network, while leaving others out of the game. That, they claim, violates antitrust law.
— Alex Macgillivray (@amac) January 10, 2012
Is that the case? Let’s take a closer look. To begin with, the new Search+ is broken down into three parts:
- 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.
The first feature is pretty simple. Say you’re searching for Skyrim on Google. Your search results will include Google+ posts from you and your friends talking about the game, or even photos of you playing it, if you’ve happened to upload any to Google+.
The question: Why are contents from other social networks excluded?
Well, they simply can’t be included. Google can show you Google+ posts from your friends because it has full access to your data. It knows exactly who’s in your Circles, what they have posted, even private posts that are shared only to you and no one else.
The same data can’t be retrieved from Facebook or Twitter. Google has never had access to Facebook’s private data before or after the negotiation fallout in 2009. Twitter, on the other hand, reached a deal with Google the same year, offering access to its fire hose. Unfortunately, the deal expired last year.
With no access to user’s private data on either network, Google couldn’t see what your friends posted on Facebook and Twitter (protected tweets), and therefore couldn’t show them in your search results.
That’s exactly Google’s response to Twitter’s complaint:
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.
The way I see it, neither Twitter or Facebook have a case here.
Also worth mentioning: Personal results are unique to your Google+ account. If you’re logged out, you will not see any of them. Personal results and unpersonalized results can be switched easily by clicking on the new toggle.
You can opt-out in the search settings, so it’s a non-issue even if you decide that you hate the new personal results.
Profiles in Search
Profiles in search, as the name suggests, inserts Google+ profiles into your search box and search results. For instance, when you’re searching for Matt Cutts, Google’s auto-complete will link to his Google+ profile even before you’re done typing his name.
Clicking on the suggestion will bring up Cutts’s Google+ profile first, while other relevant search results will appear below it.
It’s easy to deny any wrongdoing integrating only Google+ profiles in the search auto-complete suggestions–as the list is short. It could, and really should, only fit one social network profile in the list, and given the choice, choosing its own social network is a no-brainer.
But that’s not all. Twitter’s Alex Macgillivray made his case by posting:
— Alex Macgillivray (@amac) January 11, 2012
The screenshot shows an unpersonalized search result for the term “@wwe.” The Google+ page of the entertainment company comes right under the site links of its official website. That’s a totally unnatural, cooked up search result favoring Google’s own product, the exact accusation Google Chairman Eric Schmidt denied in last year’s Senate antitrust hearing.
Google is to be blamed here, but only for favoring Google+ and not for ranking WWE’s Twitter profile at whatever position its algorithm decides. MG Siegler says that it’s totally bullshit for Google not to showcase the Twitter profile for WWE.
Serious, simple question for Google: what do you think a user is searching for when they search for “@wwe”? You know, I know, we all know. So why aren’t you showing it?
I’ll answer that. Google ignores the “@” sign. Whether you’re searching for “@wwe” or “wwe,” it’ll yield the same results. That’s the way Google works, and if the company decides not to alter its approach for the sake of Twitter, that’s their choice to make.
Google did not penalize Twitter. It’s just not tuning itself to accommodate the mechanisms of another company, and I don’t see any problem in that. Twitter did not want a deal with Google. It wants to be treated as any other conventional Web pages. So be it.
People and Pages
To quote Amit Singhal, a Google fellow:
Starting today, if you search for a topic like [music] or [baseball], you might see prominent people who frequently discuss this topic on Google+ appearing on the right-hand side of the results page.
Read the bolded part. People and Pages are Google+ profiles that are relevant to your search query, displayed on the right-hand side of the results page. Say you’re searching for “music,” Britney Spears and Snoop Dogg’s profiles show up, and you can Circle them within a click.
So what’s the problem in here, again? Facebook and Twitter profiles are nowhere to be found.
And this is how it’s NOT a problem: People and Pages doesn’t appear in the search results. It’s placed at the right sidebar of Google’s search results page, the same location where ads normally appear.
Why is it a problem that Google’s willing to forgo some of its ad space, and thus revenue, to feature its own product? If it isn’t a problem for a billboard owner to put up ads featuring his own billboard, why is it wrong for Google to feature Google+ in an ad space of its own search engine?
If doing so is anti-competitive, we might as well make Google link to Facebook and Twitter next to every Google+ links throughout the entire range of Google websites and products.
P.S.: For the record, Search+ isn’t available to me yet, and these are just my initial opinions. Feel free to comment below if you have a differing opinion, or if I made any factual mistakes.