Why Critics of Google's New Social Search are Wrong: Page 2

Claims that Google's new 'Search, plus Your World' is unfairly boosting Google's own service, and that the new service lessens search results, are decidedly wrong-headed.
Posted January 19, 2012

Mike Elgan

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Critics who support Twitter pretend that Twitter's bizarrely self-righteous complaint is this: "We give our social data to Google and they won't use it."

In fact, Twitter’s complaint is this: "Google won't pay us double the old price for our data and give us the cut in ad revenue we demanded."

Twitter and Google had previously cooperated on delivering real-time Twitter content to Google for Search until Twitter demanded double the payment and a lot more share in advertising revenue. The companies failed to agree, and the deal was not renewed.

That’s what critics downplay: The whole problem of including the social data of other social networks is purely a problem of reaching business deals.

The issue is not about Google's ethics. It's about Google's parsimony. Twitter and Facebook want more money for that data than Google is willing to pay. That’s the only reason the data is not included.

Despite that, Google still grabs all the Twitter and Facebook data it can and integrates it into social search. Many searches will result in Twitter or Facebook data being favored over Google+ data.

So the argument that Google is being unfair to Twitter and Facebook is inconsistent with the facts, to put it charitably.

Criticism 2: "Google+ signals reduce the quality of search results."

Google Search lives or dies according to the quality of its search results. If the integration of Google+ data ruins search, Google will pay the price with lost market share. If that data improves search, Google will be rewarded.

I happen to think Search plus Your World improves results.

When I search for "Lady Gaga" on Google Search, the first link I get is Lady Gaga's official web site. The second result is the Lady Gaga News page on her official site. The third result is my own Google+ post telling my followers on Google+ that Lady Gaga joined the service. The fourth result is the post of one of my friends on Google+ who's a huge Lady Gaga fan. The fifth link is Lady Gaga's Wikipedia page.

This is a breathtakingly relevant result. Gaga’s home page should come first and second. That's reasonable. My own post should come third. And the fourth result really impressed me.

I have 1,357 people circled on Google+. I'm sure that many of them have mentioned Lady Gaga. However, the one friend showing up as the fourth result on my Lady Gaga search is in fact the biggest Lady Gaga fan I know. She's also a person I trust for quality links and content.

So I search for Lady Gaga, and Google finds the one person I know who is most gaga about Gaga, and gives me that person’s most relevant Gaga link. Wow!

After choosing the one very best link from my own social graph as the fourth result, Google then goes back to Wikipedia as the fifth result.

Google is not filling my results with Google+ links. Nor is it ignoring social signals. This is exactly how social signals should affect search results: intelligently.

I'll tell you what I told Slate's Farhad Manjoo, who complained after doing his own testing that social signals ruined Search results: If you don't like Google's social results now, just wait. Google's algorithms are constantly and automatically re-configured based on the behavior of users. As users click or don't click on various links, including social links, these behaviors will by recycled back into the mix to improve results going forward.

In short, the complaint that Search plus Your World harms results is a bad argument.

If it's a problem, it's a self-correcting one both in terms of market acceptance and in terms of algorithm optimization.

Criticism 3: "Search plus Your World is an anti-trust violation."

Anti-trust works like this. When a company has a position in the market "dominant" enough to be considered a "monopoly," where there is a significant barrier to switching to competitors and when that company uses its dominance in one business area to unfairly favor another business area, government lawyers try to get the courts to impose “remedies” that correct the violation.

Comparisons are being made between Google’s "bundling" of Google+ in Search and Microsoft’s bundling of the Internet Explorer browser in Windows.

As TIME magazine's Jerry Brito made clear, there is no anti-trust violation in Search plus Your World.

Google does not have a Microsoft-like monopoly on Search. Microsoft had well over a 90% share of the PC operating system business in its heyday -- Google has 65% and falling. And the barrier to switching is non-existent. Just type "bing" and you've switched.

The FTC will investigate and toss the complaint away. It’s a non-starter.

The critics of Google’s new Search plus Your World feature are loud, numerous and up in arms. They’re also wrong. Google’s new social search feature is fair, it improves search and it’s not at all an anti-trust violation.

Meanwhile, I’d like to invite you to circle me on Google+. My profile is not hard to find. Just Google me.

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Tags: social media, google+, Search plus Your World

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