I am going to go on record as saying right off the bat, I HATE just about every change Google makes to their search product. Just about every single change they make is shrouded in a pathetic cloud of marketing rhetoric either about privacy or providing better value to customers when the truth of the matter is, the vast majority of changes are Google doing what’s best for Google at just about any expense.
Today they announced “Search Plus Your World” and for people who are logged into their Google account they are now going to see “personalised” results that take into account things that their Google+ friends share or post. Really, this should just be called “Search Plus Google+”. They have stepped up the profile war with Facebook, they want everyone to use Google+ as their preferred account profile and identifier of social networks.
One part of the announcement today that caught my attention was Google “selling” everyone on the idea of encrypted search results and how its such a good thing for you. Their message is that because they are now providing private information you and your friends on Google+ share with each other in your search results, that encrypting it is very important.
Frankly this is a laughable ruse. First of all, Google has created the problem by integrating search with your Google+ account. Secondly, the encrypted search results for logged in users was introduced a few months back. Finally, the most worrying thing about it is that Google is now providing your referrer information ONLY to paid advertisers.
So you see the problem there? They’ve opened up your private and personal social network information that you share via Google+ to their search results which now by default makes referral information from that private and personal data available to their advertisers! They created a problem, have jeopardised your privacy and are calling it progress and good for you. Scary stuff.
For me though, the worst thing about this is the flagrant abuse of their monopoly position in search. Microsoft were dragged through the courts for years doing the same thing with their OS. Every time someone stole the march on them in a new market or a new niche was created that showed promise, Microsoft would somehow find a way to integrate it with Windows. Ironically, one of the biggest complainers back when the US Justice Department and the EU Competition Watchdogs were going after Microsoft was a small little company called Google.
However, there is a further lesson to learn from the Microsoft anti-trust debacle. Microsoft’s monopolistic behaviour was an early warning sign of them no longer being in any kind of leadership position, they’d become a slow, dull-witted elephant trying to tap dance. They also made Windows so bulky and hard to maintain that it forced many of us to escape to the Mac world to get away from them. Perhaps this is what we’re seeing with Google now.
Facebook has beaten them in terms of “social” and I don’t care what Google do, I’ve got way too much invested in Facebook (as do my friends) to either migrate to Google+ or start using both. Social is not that important to me, it’s something I do a bit of to keep in touch with people – if I have to start maintaining those relationships and that content twice, forget it, it’s not worth it. So really this is a big waste of resources for Google when it comes to someone like me – first chance I get, I’m going to turn that stuff off.
The thing is, Google’s core search product isn’t GREAT anymore. It is still better than Bing for sure, but for the most part, it has become harder to find what I’m looking for on the web and the results Google give me over the past two years have gotten worse. If they were really interested in providing customers a great service, why not stop adding all of this irrelevant crap to search like meaningless videos and images that only serve to promote other Google properties and get absolutely laser focused on providing the absolute best search experience ever.
They remind me of Steve Ballmer, the CEO of Microsoft a couple years back. He was utterly hell bent on beating Google. He was so single minded in this endeavour that he didn’t stop to think that Google weren’t really his competition. Google had a search engine and made advertising revenue. Microsoft made operating systems and productivity suites. Ballmer drew this long bow that somehow Google could turn its search advertising revenue model into the OS and office suite market and take significant share from Microsoft. Meanwhile, Apple were changing the game by introducing a whole new paradigm for interacting with computing devices and Microsoft got caught watching the wrong competitor.
Google is doing the same thing in many respects. They are so fixated on the data that Facebook is able to collect and therefore the advertising experience they can provide that in some respects, Google is corrupting their own core strengths to compete in something that doesn’t matter. Nobody is going on Facebook to do broad searches, people go to Facebook to share info with friends and family. Facebook is a walled garden. Google on the other and has the vast, expanding universe of the internet as its playground, but yet they seem to want to forgo that, or probably more true to the point, they want to make everything else their walled garden.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out. I wonder if this is going to be a big mistake for Google. Like a few years ago when it became apparent that Twitter had become the preferred way of news breaking virally. Google, in an effort to “compete” built their “Caffeine” updates so that fresh content had extra weight in search results. What happened was aged information that had weight and gravitas was being superseded by unimportant “news” and things became more difficult to find.
I anticipate this will end badly for Google. Their going to have the Justice Department stepping up their probes, the EU will no doubt be the same and ultimately, I think users will not like the new changes and there will be a bit of a backlash which will force Google into reconsidering these changes.