Why Twitter, Facebook and Google Need to Be More Social

Users should advocate solutions that result in Twitter and Facebook social data enjoying an equal footing with Google+ in search results.


You Can't Detect What You Can't See: Illuminating the Entire Kill Chain

Posted January 11, 2012

Mike Elgan

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Google did something both inevitable and unexpected this week: They announced the integration of Google+ into Google Search.

That's the inevitable part. They call the new feature Search plus Your World.

The unexpected part is that Google gives easy controls for turning off the social features. Two new buttons appear to the right of search results. One turns “Your World” on, and the other turns it off.

When I search for my own name on the new Google Search, the first result is a link to my Google+ profile.

(Note that the new social integration is available only to English-language users for now, and is still being rolled out. You may not have it yet.)

The second result is a sampling from Google Image search. The sample includes four pictures I posted recently on Google+ that I'm tagged in. One of them was posted publicly, and the other three were posted privately to my “Family” and “Friends” Google+ circles.

All four are captioned with "You." The reason is that I'm logged in with my universal Google username and password, and I've been tagged in the pictures. Google knows who I am, and knows who’s in the pictures. It also knows who’s granted what permissions on Google+. And that’s what “Search plus Your World” does. It shows you what Google knows you have permission to see, and favors what Google believes are content sources you’re close to.

The private pictures I see cannot be seen by anyone outside the circles I addressed them to on Google+ when I posted them. However, because I have permission to view my own private pictures, they now show up on Google Image search, shuffled in (but clearly marked) along with public photos.

While the ill-informed may experience an emotional reaction at first upon seeing private pictures in a space where they're used to seeing only public ones, and charge invasion of privacy, actually the opposite is true.

So while Google plus Your World makes it easy for me to see which pictures of me are being shared on Google+, it does not tell me which pictures of me are being shared on Facebook. That’s a much harder thing to figure out.

By surfacing pictures of your self after an ego search, it becomes clearer than ever exactly which pictures are public and which are private. Ignorance about what’s being shared doesn’t increase privacy.

Critics charge that Google's new social search option gives preferential treatment to Google+ over social rivals Twitter and Facebook and represents an example of a complaint now being explored by the FTC. The complaint is that Google favors its own services in search results.

The loudest critic to date has been Twitter. The company issued an angry statement this week blasting Google for "Your World."

Twitter wrote (in a post too long for Twitter, ironically): "We’re concerned that as a result of Google’s changes, finding this information will be much harder for everyone. We think that’s bad for people, publishers, news organizations and Twitter users."

Google countered this criticism on a Google+ post that said: "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, and since then we have observed their rel=nofollow instructions."

A prior agreement, which ended last year, enabled Google to offer Twitter results as Google's "real-time search" feature.

Google says, in a nutshell, that Twitter social signals aren't integrated as completely as Google+ data is because Twitter opted out. Twitter chose not to participate and actively blocks Google from integrating the information in Google Search results.

It's unknowable how accurate Google's position is.

That the two companies failed to agree on Twitter integration doesn't mean Twitter was unreasonable in its negotiations. Maybe Google was unreasonable. This is a judgment call most of us aren’t in a position to make.

What we do know, according to reports last summer, is that Twitter had demanded a doubling of its fee to renew the contract. It wanted Google to pay Twitter twice the previous rate, and get $30 million per year from Google, as well as a cut in advertising revenue.

This is the under-appreciated controversy of this whole mess.

It’s not that Google is using the exclusive social signals of its own Google+ social network, and excluding others, as critics charge.

And it’s not that Twitter has decided to opt out of Google Search results, as Google claims.

The truth is that the companies failed to agree on the terms of a business deal that would have fully integrated Twitter into Search results.

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Tags: Facebook, Google, Twitter, Google +

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