Google introduced Search Plus Your World last week -- and before the virtual ink was dry on the blog post announcing its new feature, the antitrust forces were gathering in the streets, pitchforks at the ready.
If there’s a crime in this newest twist to Google’s search results page composition, it’s the spectacularly bad branding for the new offering. (“Google Search plus Your World”? Seriously? Would it cost so much to hire a good product marketing person?)
What’s got people’s hackles up is that Google, with 65% of the search market in the U.S., has begun including information from its Google+ social network, Picasa and Google Profile pages. Twitter feels this will come at the expense of its own network’s information in terms of page real estate, and those concerned about privacy feel it’s one step closer to the loss of all control over one’s own personal data. And, the antitrust folks feel Google is using its size and market share to gain an unfair advantage in its competition with Facebook.
Here’s the thing: Google has built in the same sorts of search controls that Facebook, LinkedIn and others use in their search functions. That is, personalized search results are restricted to what you and your friends choose to share with one another. If you choose to make a profile or other information available to anyone, then Google may feature that as part of a search results page anywhere its algorithm decides is appropriate. And, like LinkedIn, if there’s relevant information available through a friend of a friend, they show the pathway to get to it if you choose to pursue it.
I understand why people are concerned about Google and the possibility of anti-competitive behavior. The company has made mistakes in the past and deserves the scrutiny. Still, its latest move is perfectly consistent with how its competitors, large and small, produce information in search results.
Which brings me to Google’s oft-cited market share, which is big and a huge advantage. But the people of the world are changing habits quickly. Search is happening in social networks like Facebook (the world’s largest), inside Twitter and Yelp, within countless mobile apps, and through personal assistants like Apple’s Siri. Baidu, Yandex and, yes, even Bing are all growing, and each is serving at least one vertical market very well.
As they say on “Project Runway”: “One day you’re in; the next, you’re out.” Ten years ago, Google was just a pup in Silicon Valley and Yahoo was the big dog on the block. It’s entirely possible that in 10 more years, Google will be the one Carl Icahn is trying to break up (God forbid). Stranger things have happened.
Google must be allowed to innovate and compete. Like all companies in Silicon Valley, it’s just one nerd-in-a-Stanford-study-carrel away from being yesterday’s news. It shouldn’t be allowed to act in anticompetitive ways, nor should it take actions that violate the users’ trust. But that’s not what Google has done with Search plus Your World.
It should be no surprise that Google is trying to build a social network – nor that it’s building a cache of profiles on people and businesses that can be used for both personalized and open access search results. That these moves are threatening to Twitter, Yelp or Facebook will likely result in each of those companies becoming better as they gear up to compete. That’s good for all of us.
In this case, leave Google alone. And may the best search experience win!