Earlier this month, Google released a new update to their search page which incorporated results from Google+. This social integration meant that users who were signed in to Google+ were able to search not only the internet at large, but also the search engine giant’s new social media platform. This update has been the result of some controversy since then. Many people, including other social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter, have argued that the integration results in a strong favoritism towards Google+ results.
Google Plus Your World Basics
Google Plus Your World is an update which enables people to get more personalized search results from Google. This update is powered by Google+, and to receive the full functionality of the feature, you must be logged into your Google+ account. However, even if you are not signed in, Google will automatically search Google+ for information relative to any search result.
If you are signed in on your Google+ account, however, these are supplemented further by “personal results” which contain information within your Google+ circle. These personal results are essentially just an embedded search of your profile page, so that if you search for one of your friends, their Google+ page shows up in your personal results. The result is highly customized, personal search capabilities.
So, What’s the Problem?
The thing which is causing the most controversy is the part of the update which occurs regardless of whether you are signed in: Google+ pages are embedded into Google search results. So, for example, if you do a Google search on “author” you are pointed to Seth Godin’s Google+, even though the author and entrepreneur’s Facebook page has a great deal more followers and would have been thought of as “more relevant” before the update.
Many criticize this as an unprecedented manipulation of rankings by Google in order to advertise their social media platform, including those at Facebook and Twitter. Google defends their current position with claims that they do not have enough access to Facebook and Twitter account information in order to judge relevance properly. As a result, they claim that they can only justifiably consider Google+ results. However, many reject this notion.
A “proof of concept” plugin, developed and backed by Facebook and Twitter, is available at http://www.focusontheuser.org/ which attempts to cast doubt on Google’s position. The plugin, wryly dubbed “Don’t Be Evil,” demonstrates how Google could use social signals to which it already has access in order to create a more diverse, fair social media search.
Though Google has access to this information, it is important to note that they could be accused of scraping content from the social media sites without their permission if they incorporated it into Search Plus Your World. Indeed, Facebook threatened to do exactly this earlier in the year. The result is that there seems to be a great deal of controversy surrounding Google Plus Your World as Facebook and Twitter cry foul. At the same time, these same social media networks have not come forward and explicitly given Google permission to include their sites. What’s a search giant to do?