February 9th, 2012

Does Google lose sight of guiding principles with update to search?





I’m a die hard Google fan. There, I said it. I love their search engine, their products and their brand’s personality. I love that they value curiosity and intelligence. I also love that most of their products are free. And most of all, I love Google for the first “core principle” in their company philosophy:

“Focus on the user and all else will follow. Since the beginning, we’ve focused on providing the best user experience possible. Whether we’re designing a new Internet browser or a new tweak to the look of the homepage, we take great care to ensure that they will ultimately serve you, rather than our own internal goal or bottom line. Our homepage interface is clear and simple, and pages load instantly. Placement in search results is never sold to anyone, and advertising is not only clearly marked as such, it offers relevant content and is not distracting. And when we build new tools and applications, we believe they should work so well you don’t have to consider how they might have been designed differently.”

So, you can imagine my dismay when I learned of Google’s most recent initiative, “Search, plus your world.” At first blush this sounds like the beginnings of social media and search integration—the Holy Grail of Internet media. But instead, Google has actually hardcoded content from their social media product, Google+, into their search results.

Google’s decision to prioritize Google+, not surprisingly, resulted in complaints from Facebook and Twitter. Additionally, this has also resulted in the FTC expanding its antitrust investigation to include Google+. Of course, Google is simply trying to increase Google+’s market share; however, whether the move reflects the sixth item in Google’s company philosophy—“You can make money without doing evil”—is questionable.

Facebook, Twitter and MySpace certainly think it’s questionable. The three social media networks have partnered to create a bookmarklet (found at www.focusontheuser.org) that uses Google’s own algorithm to replace hardcoded Google+ results with social media results from around the Web (watch the video on their site for a full explanation).

Although some will argue that Google has the right to update their products as they choose, it’s important to understand that Google’s dominance in search (65.9 percent in December 2011) gives them the power to affect significant change with even the smallest step. Consider that Google’s stock is currently trading at over $600 a share, Facebook is poised to have the largest internet IPO in history, and each company is trying to win the digital ad game, and it’s easy to see why the introduction of “Search, plus your world” is getting people’s attention.

I’m still a die hard fan, but I hope that they come to an agreement with the rest of the social media industry that is mutually beneficial to all users. As I mentioned above, my favorite thing about Google is the first principle in their company philosophy, “Focus on the user and all else will follow.”