What most alarms me about today’s “Google Search Plus Your World” announcement is how it will distort name searches. When I Google someone’s name, I’m typically looking for a Wikipedia entry, their Twitter account, a personal website, or an author page on their blog. Today, Google Search handles this well, often returning these as the top results. But *thanks* to Search Plus Your World, soon I’ll see Google+ profiles more prominently even though they’re rarely what I’m looking for.
I tried Google searching the names of about 30 friends, celebrities, and bloggers. Without the new Search Plus Your World feature, their Google+ profiles appear around result #8 if they had one. That seems about right. For most people there are around 7 results more relevant to me than their G+ profile.
Once Search Plus Your World rolls out though, Google+ profile links for these people will appear in the search bar typeahead, and may have significant increased prominence in results. Pushed down or out will be results or typeaheads of what I’m actually looking for. Because that could be Twitter profile, I understand why Twitter is so pissed about the new changes, and I agree there could be antitrust implications.
Take Google’s own example. Before the changes, if I search for “Trey Ratcliff”, his Google+ profile is the 5th result. If I type in “Trey Ra”, Trey Ratcliff’s Wikipedia entry appears in the typeahead. As shown above after the changes, just typing in “Trey R” will surface his profile in the typeahead, and may push out his Wiki page. Personalization is fine, but the juiced Google+ profile results are too aggressive. They could push people to opt out of personalization entirely (in your Google Search settings), try Bing, or coerce businesses into focusing on G+.
Sure, there are use cases where this could be helpful, like if I’m actively trying to find the Google+ profile of someone with a common name that I’m connected to through friends. But honestly, if that’s specifically what I’m looking for I would have just searched within Google+.
The fact is that Google isn’t my whole world, and Google+ profiles aren’t that relevant. Many were hastily set up and not filled out, some aren’t frequently updated, and links to someone’s primary presence on the web isn’t listed or is buried. The reason I search with Google in the first place is that I’m confident it will return the most relevant results. By making Search Plus Your World opt out and skewing results to aid its own interests, that confidence is shaken.
I know getting people to sign up for Google+ is crucial to tying people’s behavior across Google products to their identity to power ad targeting. But seriously Google, best-in-class search is why we love you. Is it really worth sacrificing your integrity to drive signups?
When I watch this promo video for Search Plus Your World, all I see are little hands messing with perfectly good search results.