Is Too Much Plus a Minus for Google?

Interesting insights by Steven Levy into Search, plus Your World. Here he talks about the way Google designed the Search page:

[..] The company has spent its entire corporate life protecting the integrity of its search product. When writing In the Plex, I learned that the secret behind Google’s somewhat bland design was that if Google looked like it was designed by a machine, users would implicitly understand that Google search itself was unpolluted by strong opinions. Google meticulously positioned its flagship product as a neutral judge of what was relevant to the user.

I hadn’t thought about it this way before, but this is exactly what Google’s Search page design communicates to me. “A neutral judge of what was relevant to the user”.

Google is messing with our Search

Google Inc. has recently started using the Google search engine to push its Google+ product onto users, by showing links to people and pages on Google+ in a prominent location on the search results page. You don’t even need to have a Google account, or be signed into that account to get Google+ results, as Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land reports:

I got these results even though I was not signed into Google. In fact, I was in “incognito” mode in Google Chrome, which means as far as Google is concerned, I’m a brand new searcher it has never seen before [..]

Personalized search results is one thing, pushing Google+ into the search results when they are clearly irrelevant is another. But even the argument that you should just sign out to do a search is moot, as Sullivan mentions in a previous article:

More important, with Google heading toward 100 million users on Google+, if a good number of those are active users, then they’re logged in to Google. That means the “normal” results they see are personalized. Personalized results are normal; non-personalized are not.

In practice nobody will sign out, switch browsers or go into incognito or private browsing mode, just to do a search. Searching the web has become a reflex for nearly all internet users.

With the inclusion of Google Search, Plus Your World —what a horrible name— Google has added a switch on the search page that allows you to toggle between a personalized and an unpersonalized view of the search results. Toggling it to unpersonalized means you get no results from your friends, no private information and no personalization of results based on your Web History. This allows you to easily revert personalized search which Google enabled by default in 2009.

For now, personalized search results, including the Google+ extensions, is opt-in. Except for the related to Google+ sidebar, which seems to be always-on depending on your search. But this is of course more than just a foot in the door. It’s the equivalent of having their finger on The Big Red Button. If no one reacts to what is happening here —as seems to be the predominant attitude of Google fans online— how long will it take before they press that button and make it the default?

Aside from the obvious antitrust issues, Google is also transforming one of the core services of the web into something I don’t like nor care for. Just as I did not need Twitter’s dickbar showing Twitter topics that are currently trending, I do not need my search results to be personalized by what other people in my surroundings 1 are saying or doing. If I want to access that kind of information, I will visit Google+ or Facebook and access it from there. I also don’t need them to change the way I search and drop the plus-sign operator, because Google Marketing decides it looks fancy to represent people on their social service with a plus-sign before their names.

You can argue that because Google owns the search engine, it gives them the right to change things as they see fit. This is of course undeniably so. However, I would hope that after a decade of indexing our web content, making billions in the process with ads on the google search page alone, they would at least continue to respect the people that use search.

“The larger Google becomes, the more essential it is to live up to our “Don‘t be evil” motto.”

How is that working out for you, Google?

  1. Google+ circles, GMail contacts, etc. 

The Quest for a Killer Tablet

Gina Trapani, in her list of what google should do in 2012, talks about Google releasing a killer tablet on its own:

Forget trying too hard not to offend other Android device manufacturers. Googorola should get this tablet exactly right, down to every last ever-loving detail, with the hardware and the software teams living, breathing, eating, and sleeping together on it.

What Gina seems to be forgetting is that Google’s priority has always been to get Android everywhere. That’s why they keep touting the rate of activations of Android handsets. That’s what is important to Google, it’s their goal, and it’s where they are succeeding. To keep up success in this area, they need a continuous flurry of Android handsets flooding the market. The best way to do this, is to get as many device manufacturers as they can behind Android. That is why Google cannot afford to “offend other Android device manufacturers”.

Get at least a few third parties who make apps that cover the major categories of things people do on tablets (news browsing, gaming, social media) to play along before launch, like the NY Times, Twitter, Angry Birds.

In terms of apps for tablets, Google seems to be stuck in the same chicken-or-egg position as Microsoft with Windows Phone. Little demand for the product translates into low developer interest. Maybe Ice Cream Sandwich, the one os to rule them all, can break through the development kit fragmentation and convince phone developers to build tablet apps too.

Cash in on Google’s brand loyalty and recognition and market it simply as “the Google tablet.” The messaging should be: If you use and love Google, this is your tablet.

I can see why people are turning to Google as the savior of the Android tablet market, after so many phone manufacturers have been unsuccessful in creating the killer tablet. Brand loyalty and recognition are important, and people do seem to love Google. The difference is, people don’t so much love Apple as they love the products that Apple builds. It’s a lot harder to feel connected to a brand, a web service or an operating system, than it is to something you can hold and touch.

The iPad remains alone in its market, even after so many attempts to mimic its formula. It appears Steve Jobs was right after all when he described the iPad as being magical.