For more than a decade, Google has dominated the Web search experience. By remaining steadfast in its mission to deliver basic, exact, speedy information for users, Google has defined what searches should yield: clear, simple, unbiased results intended to satiate a user’s specific want. Impressively, Google even figured out how to feature paid search results in a way that doesn’t impede the user experience.
Recently, Google decided to step into the realm of the online social experience by morphing into a search engine “that understands not only content, but also people and relationships,” according to the company’s official blog. “Search Plus Your World” injects content from users’ Google+ posts and Picasa photos into search results, merging the traditional role of Web search with a personalized, social experience.
I might be naive, but I don’t understand how the inclusion of Google+ data into search results improves the existing search product. Is Google trying to evolve the definition of what a search product is? Is it trying to productize Google+ data? This “improvement” to the traditional search experience seems like a round peg for a square hole to me — and I’m not alone in my skepticism.
I don’t think that the idea of a personalized search is misguided — but the way in which Google is going about introducing the idea certainly is.
Google has been able to accumulate a tremendous amount of data on its users and has used it effectively to deliver a quality search product, but its social implementation puts more data on display without clear communication of what the added value is.
A screenshot of Google’s search results for “dc restaurants” with social search results highlighted:
Bing is dabbling in this space as well, but its implementation is different for two critical reasons. One: Bing’s integration with Facebook adds relevant data to existing results, unlike Google’s results, which are discrete. Two: Bing has less to lose, as the company’s existing search product is not visibly superior to the dominant Google service.
A screenshot of Bing’s search results for “dc restaurants” with its integrated social search results highlighted:
What I believe Google should have done is launch its social search product within Google+ so that it would remain discrete from the main search product. Social search is a different animal than its traditional counterpart, and it will need its own space to grow and evolve without the potential of diminishing the existing dominant product. In the future, if the products can be organically merged, they could be. But for now, Google’s approach has set its social search off to an awkward start.