Last week Google made another step in becoming a “search engine that understands not only content, but also people and relationships” by adding “Search Plus Your World” (SPYW), a set of features that add personalised results to Google search results. For example, search results will include Google+ profiles, posts and photos from friends, such as a friend’s review of a restaurant you just searched for in Google.
This “social transformation” and deep integration of Google+ into the search engine has led to a backlash from users (and Twitter) who believe this move has pushed Google away from its original position as a search engine that delivered high quality, relevant results in favour of skewing search results for Google’s benefit. As Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land points out, Google is promoting its own products over relevancy.
Privacy and anti-trust issues (including an FTC complaint) have also arisen from this change, as has a call from some to switch to Bing, Microsoft’s search engine.
Switch to Bing?
Some have already made the case to switch to Bing before the Search Plus issue arose; in February 2011, Robin Harris stated his case for switching from Google on ZDNet based on “the little things”, like Bing’s use of white space and search result preferences. And as both Harris and Search Engine Land’s Conrad Saam point out, Google’s search results aren’t superior to Bing’s, yet Google continues to dominate.
Over on Wired, Tim Carmody says that Google’s Search Plus and other moves like this could change the web from a bottom-up entity that is driven by the user and his or her clicks, links and preferences, and change it “to a top-down web where that’s doubly or triply mediated by browsers, search engines and social networks. This could be how the web dies.” (Dirty Little Secrets). The issue of search filters and how Google (and other engines, including Bing) decide what information a user should find in their search results is not new, and the argument against these “filter bubbles” is only strengthened by SPYW.
But one of the most discussed problems with the new Google search results is the risk of getting irrelevant results that, as this cartoon illustrates, are more cluttered and less helpful.
The Filter Bubble – Can it be Popped?
While the reaction to Google Search Plus was almost instantly negative, is this just another case of consumers overreacting to change? After all, it’s easy enough to switch off and ignore – but shouldn’t this at least be something we have the option to switch ON rather than off?
And Google Search Plus Your World isn’t the first example of a search engine deciding what people want to see in their search results instead of letting the user guide the search results.
As for the lack of other social networks, Google argues that Twitter couldn’t reach an agreement over their data, plus Google has limited access to Facebook data. Google Fellow Amit Singhal said that Google would be willing to change Search Plus if other social services were more open but according to MG Siegler and others, this isn’t likely.
So will Google Search Plus Your World change how you search in the future? Can Bing ever catch up to Google, or will Google continue to dominate? Will you seek another Google/Bing alternative? Post your thoughts below or respond to @bwired_group.
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Update: In another Wired article, Steven Levy says the filter bubble may have been popped with the opt-out feature which not only removes social content from search results but also "blocks Google from using the history of your previous searches when it provides results." But can this balance out the initial negativity to SPYW?