When Search & Social Act Like Children, Users Lose

January 12, 2012
By Lisa Barone in Social Media

Well, it’s official. Google’s succinctly-named Search Plus Your World is live. And right on schedule we have our first real Internet cat fight of 2012. Huzzah!

Here’s a score card of what’s gone down in case you were sleeping. Or…working.

  • Google launched it’s, um, search enhancement Search Plus Your World and put “your personal content and the things you care about written by the people you care about” right into your search results. Even more adorable, they did it pretending like that didn’t already exist. You know on other sites. So cute!
  • Twitter is upset because it feels like Google is using Search Plus to purposely favor its own content, making Twitter content harder to find in the search results and presenting a bad search experience for users. Boo.
  • Google then took time away from snacking on our analytics data to respond that Twitter actually asked for Google to stop taking its content so, I guess, THERE, they did!
  • Eric Schmidt went into evil overload mode chatting with Danny Sullivan about how they’d love to talk to Twitter and Facebook about using their data…only they haven’t. Maybe if they did, he says, they could come up with new permissions, but no one talked about it. And he won’t talk about why they won’t talk about it. Just that they won’t talk about it and Danny should stop asking. Okay.
  • Singer and soon-to-be-divorcee Katy Perry hasn’t chimed in yet to tell us her opinion of things, but she might after she reads Danny Sullivan’s excellent piece detailing Real-Life Examples of How Google’s “Search Plus” Will Drive Facebook & Twitter Crazy and realizes her lack of a Google+ profile is making her Google-invisible.

So as it turns out, it’s not just Facebook and Twitter that this will drive crazy. It’s driving us all crazy and ruining search and social for everyone.

Oh, and it may all turn out to be anti-competitive and illegal and shit. DRAMAZ!

First, let’s admit it. Google’s in a hard place. They need social data. That’s where users and everything around them is moving. Social is also Google’s big plan to help bring accountability back to the Web, so we’ve been watching the search giant dance around Facebook and Twitter and everyone’s wondering what’s going to happen and whose going to get over their issues first and do what’s best for the children (us).

Remember that Google used to have access to Twitter data. But that deal ended. Reportedly, by Twitter. Google’s never had access to Facebook’s data and I always get the feeling Eric Schmidt and Mark Zuckerberg are as fond of each other as YOU would be with the person openly gunning for your job.

Because there are no deals or permissions in place, Google still needs full access to social data so that it can carry on with its master plan of cleaning up the Web and making lots of money. But they don’t have it. So they created their own data by building Google+ and drug-pushing it like their engine depended on it. Now that Search Plus has made its appearance, not only is Google collecting search data, they’re shoving it in your face so you have no choice but to offer up your wrist for the Google barcode we all believe is coming shortly. Probably in 2014.

It’s all-Google, all the time, like no other social portal exists.

And there are several major issues with this.

First, and perhaps most importantly, it could be seen as anti-competitive (because it is) and there are already claims that the Federal Trade Commission will be brought in over new anti-trust concerns. When you’re the one holding the monopoly, you don’t just have to play fair, you have to play nice. Favoring your own content and making it harder to find OTHER’S content isn’t nice. And it doesn’t fly.

What also doesn’t fly are Google’s claims that they can’t use Facebook and Twitter data because they “don’t have it”. As Danny shows in his Marketing Land piece, Google has collected more than 3 billion pages from Twitter.com and is certainly indexing public Facebook data. So it’s there. And even if it wasn’t there via the open Web, most of us readily hand over this information to Google via our Google Profiles where we’ve very dutifully linked all our social accounts together. So if Google wanted to show Britney Spears’ or Katy Perry’s Facebook pages to go along with their Google+ accounts, they could.

But they don’t. Because Google doesn’t want that.

Instead, Google does what it always does. Someone brings a claim that Google’s kind of being an exclusionary jerk and Google smirks, plays a game of misdirection, and continues presenting a poor search experience by not using the data they have to give users the information they want.

I’m not going to pretend I’m certain what Google’s intent is here or that this whole thing is all Google’s fault. However, it was April 2009 when I wrote Google was forcing our hand, stealing our thumbprint after Google Profiles launched and Google was putting on the hard sell for users to enter the system. Now it’s 2012 and Google’s no longer forcing our hand.

Google’s forcing the FTC’s hand by purposely ignoring access to data they have and showing the attitude of a spiteful teenager.

The FTC anti-trust drama will play out in the courts and we’ll get to watch, should it get that far. But in the meantime, there’s one thing I do know for sure:

Users lose.

The unwillingness of Google, Twitter and Facebook to work together and do what’s best for users and, ironically, ALSO FOR THEM, hurts us, the social nature of the Web and is stalling whatever is next to come. It also makes Google look like a bully, Twitter kind of whiny and Facebook…well, Facebook scares everyone anyway.

But it’s enough.

It’s time to stop with the tantrums and the power struggles and realize we all get farther and the WEB gets farther, when you do what’s best for users and help them find the content THEY’RE looking for. Not the content you’re agenda wants to show. Isn’t that what all three sites are supposed to be about anyway?

I thought it was. I’m exhausted.


Updated 1/13/2012 :  Well, there you go.  The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has filed a complaint with the FTC alleging that the new Search Plus feature shows favoritism toward Google’s own network and violates Google+ users’ privacy.

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