Your World, My World: Google’s New “Search plus Your World”January 11, 2012
Danny Sullivan has a great piece over on Search Engine Land explaining his sense of disappointment in Google’s new “Search plus Your World” feature. I think Google’s move is unpleasant but not a surprise. It’s unsettling to those of us who’ve watched Google’s rise from the very beginning and saw the company as a precisely-engineered “fairness engine” – we’ve watched and listened to the public persona of that fairness, Matt Cutts, discuss exactly what measures Google was taking to ensure that the results given by Google search were objectively the most relevant and useful.
Google has always sold us ads alongside the results, but that’s always been a simple, tit-for-tat type of transaction—we give you the best-engineered search results in the world, you agree to some clearly-delineated advertisements in the margins of those results. We got it. Google started blurring that line not too long ago, with such features as pushing their flight search results ahead of other organic results for travel sites.
Still, the travel info doesn’t push you toward a particular vendor and, as Sullivan points out, up until this point, Google has been pretty happy to send you off to wherever you’d like to go, even if you’re not getting the end result, product or service from them.
Search plus Your World (a terrible name, really) changes all that by pushing Google’s own social network, Google+, and its results at you. Google is apparently showing more info from its own network in the results because the other two monster social platforms, Facebook and Twitter, don’t provide deep enough hooks to allow Google to index them the same way.
That’s true, but it’s almost beside the point: Search plus your World is a ham-handed effort to push more users and page views into Google +. Google has never been shy about encouraging the use of complementary products and cross-selling services, but I think the uproar about this particular feature is due to its incorporation directly into the search results. That box in the middle of the page with the organic results has always been considered by most to be inviolate, a safe zone enforced by objective technologies and people dedicated to making sure that the results are driven by quality and nothing else.
By rolling in Google+ results (and omitting Facebook and Twitter, both of which, admittedly, Google has legitimate reason to omit), these results no longer possess that oracular objectivity. Google’s previous social experiments with search were more or less open to all. This change appears to push Google’s social network to the detriment of others, and that’s what the ruckus is all about. Google knows that the future of search is going to include social components—that’s why they launched Google+ to begin with—but they appear to be getting there in fits and starts.
As always, caveats apply—the feature is optional, and it isn’t purely restricted to Google+; there are other results out there (Matt Cutts has a good defense of the variety of results here). And like everything Google releases, this will likely change or could even go away. But it can’t help but feel a bit like a naked grab for more Google + usage, and while there is absolutely nothing commercially wrong with promoting another Google product, it makes those previously hallowed organic results seem just a little less sacred than they used to be.
– Brent Buford