Yes, I said the opt-out policy. As of now, your results are being personalized, and you have to take action if you prefer the plain vanilla variety of SERP. Furthermore, the action you have to take seems almost perversely contrary:
So Google does a sneaky rollout of a new policy that affects everyone who uses the engine whether or not they're logged in -- and makes it really unlikely that the vast majority of Web users (including my mom) will ever figure out how to opt out, or even that that they can....
That same commenter from above also expressed hope that we "investigate further before angrily jumping up and down on [our] 'jump to conclusions' mats" -- a fair hope, and one with which I concur. I won't make any sweeping generalizations about privacy or the death of SEO. Nonetheless, there is one conclusion to which I'm happy to jump: We need a readily available de-personalization option, front and center. One that my mom could use.
I propose it take the place of the "I'm Feeling Lucky" button. It would be a simple switch: change the text to read, "Tell Me Something I Don't Know," or "Broaden My Horizons" or "What's Outside My Bubble" or something like that, and make the search results for that button nonpersonal. Clicking this "I Am Not A Know-It-All" button says to Google, "I don't have a preconceived idea of what the answer to this search should be, and I don't want you to have one either just because two weeks ago I visited a Web site about quilting. So do me a favor and quit pandering to me!"
The sad truth is that we all tend to pander to ourselves, seeking information consistent with what we already believe. It's a fair guess, for example, that most of your friends share your political views. (I myself am a little ashamed of my self-righteous pride in having friends of opposing political persuasions -- "I'm not close-minded; some of my best friends voted for the other guy!") But whether or not Google sees the wisdom in implementing my idea, we can still make our own little stand for thoughtful decision-making. It comes down to discernment: exercising our own and cultivating that of others.
It also comes down to the multiple roles of search -- the same reason we'll never be able to completely disambiguate intent. Sometimes we use search as an extension of memory ("Who sang that song again?"), in which case the closer the results match what we already think, the better. But sometimes we use search because we don't know the answer in advance. And it's those moments when we're open to diverging viewpoints and experiencing the spirit of scientific inquiry that are precisely the moments in which we're best served by multiple perspectives.
The next time you're searching, ask yourself whether you already know the answer, or whether it's worth hearing alternative ideas. If the latter is true, try clicking the "Broaden My Horizons" button. You just might get lucky.