Search+? Critics Say More Like “Search Minus”

January 11th, 2012 | Bookmark and Share | SUBSCRIBE

Yesterday’s “Search Plus Your World” announcement that Google+ information will be featured in the company’s results continues to draw criticism that the search giant is deliberately excluding important signals from Twitter and Facebook. And with good reason, Google’s attempts to convince the public that it lacks access to Twitter and Facebook information are hardly believable.

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt went so far as to claim in a video interview that he needed a written letter from Facebook and Twitter for Google to show information from their services in results.

Without getting into all the technical details here, take Danny Sullivan’s word in a blog post at Search Engine Land (with a subheading entitled “Google Has 3 Billion Twitter Pages”): “What’s clear is that Google clearly is finding lots and lots of content from Twitter through its normal crawl of the web.”

The bottom line, as Sullivan writes, “Why does that matter?”:

“The first is legal. By having a dominant position in search, Google might ultimately be responsible for going above-and-beyond to include competitors. That’s part of what the current anti-trust investigations into Google are all about. One complaint over today’s move — though likely mostly about privacy — is already being readied.

“The second is about relevancy. Google’s job as a search engine is to direct searchers to the most relevant information on the web, not just to information that Google may have an interest in.”

“These suggestions would be better if they included other services, and that’s the standard Google’s search results should aim for, returning the best.”

MG Siegler, who unloaded on Google on his own blog yesterday, took a few more shots at the company’s protestations that its hands were tied by Facebook and Twitter, in another post today, entitled “Misdirection, Doublespeak, Non-answers, And Straight-Up Bad Decisions”:

“Both Twitter and Facebook have data that is available to the public. It’s data that Google crawls. It’s data that Google even has some social context for thanks to older Google Profile features, as Sullivan points out… But Google isn’t using any of that data for this new feature. Not one drop.”

In another Search Engine Land blog post today, Danny Sullivan offers “Real-Life Examples Of How Google’s “Search Plus” Pushes Google+ Over Relevancy” including the search results for “Facebook”: “Are you kidding me, Google? You’re going to suggest Mark Zuckerberg’s Google+ account as relevant? An account that he’s never posted at.”

What’s really going on here? Siegler, riffing off of Sullivan’s posts, hits the nail on the head:

“It looks like Google is using their natural search monopoly to shove their late-to-the-game social network in your face (to the detriment of the other social networks). It looks anti-competitive.”

“Maybe Google thought such a maneuver would force Twitter or Facebook to open up their full data feeds. But that’s foolish. Worse, it’s extremely dangerous. This is the most high-profile example yet of Google showcasing their own property and not a competitor’s in search results. This is the kind of stuff anti-trust hawks dream of.”

But it’s not just the “hawks” this time. The Economist, hardly a bastion of pro-regulatory voices, closes out its piece on Google’s latest moves this way:

“Yet because Google dominates the search business in so many markets and seems determined to grow Google+ aggressively, its latest moves still merit close attention from regulators. The search firm’s bosses may not like that, but they should rest assured that it’s nothing personal.”

Google seems to be talking out of both sides of its mouth (again!). That’s why the search giant is expending so much effort trying to defend this change on specious grounds – and why antitrust enforcers are and should be paying very close attention.