Has Google Jumped the Shark?

Google has some pretty typical tech giant roots.  What began as a fledgling start-up, has grown into a behemoth tech company.  Or, it was a tech company.  Not so very long ago, Google was a search engine that was hell-bent on creating better search, and increasing the user experience of it’s search engine.  Slowly (or not so slowly, depending on who you ask.), the user experience of search, and the quality of their search have taken a back burner to the more profitable parts of the company.

James Whittaker has a really good post on why he quit Google, and the loss of direction by the company.  Directly, he mentions the transformation of the company.

The Google I was passionate about was a technology company that empowered its employees to innovate. The Google I left was an advertising company with a single corporate-mandated focus.

Google, even from the inside, is no longer a tech company with a great product, but an advertising company.  The once shining star product of that company, a search engine, has become beleaguered with a proliferation of the new product, advertising.  For any search that you perform on the site, the first several results are sponsored results.  Once, those sponsored results stood out from the rest of the results and were easy to bypass and move on to the “real” results.  Now, those sponsored results stand out far less, and with the integration of Google+, it’s unclear what is and what isn’t a real, relevant result.

Add on top of all that Google’s new privacy policy, and you have a company that is dedicated more to advertising than anything else that has an incredible amount of your usage data.  That same policy basically says they can use your usage data however they so please across most of their services.  Ironically enough, Google Wallet won’t be sharing in the new privacy policy.  Why?  Because the privacy regulations for services that perform monetary transactions like Wallet does require more stringent policy policies.  My question?  How much do you value your internet usage statistics?  What do they say about you?  And, shouldn’t your usage (along with purchasing/shopping habits) be just as valuable as your monetary data?  In an era where identity theft is at an all-time high, and personal privacy is being infringed upon at every turn, shouldn’t you do what you can to protect whatever personal data you can?

Ask.com anti-Google campaign on the London tube © by Lars Plougmann

Has Google jumped the shark?  I don’t think you’ll find it any secret that I think they have.  They’ve always been borderline with me, but there comes a time when enough is enough. While I doubt that I’ll stop using all of their services, I think it’s time to start finding some alternatives to their products.  Unfortunately, in a world where the verb “Google” is synonymous with searching for something on the internet, I don’t think that we can completely write their search off, but we can certainly start supporting their competitors (chiefly, Bing and Yahoo), until such a time that the situation changes. I’m walking with my wallet, and my data somewhere else.

What about you?  Are you O.K. with Google collecting data and using it to maximize their advertising revenue?  How much of the data that Google has on you would you be O.K. with potentially becoming public should your account get hacked?

Google Integrates Google+, Invites Anti-Trust Lawsuit

Yesterday morning sometime, Google did released a post on their “Official Google Blog” (running on blogspot.  You’d think they could afford to upgrade to WordPress… 😉 ) where they outline how they’ve integrated Google+ into their search results in a program they are calling “Search, plus Your World“.  What does that mean?  They’re adding three new features to your Google search results.

  1. Personal Results, which enable you to find information just for you, such as Google+ photos and posts—both your own and those shared specifically with you, that only you will be able to see on your results page;
  2. Profiles in Search, both in autocomplete and results, which enable you to immediately find people you’re close to or might be interested in following; and,
  3. People and Pages, which help you find people profiles and Google+ pages related to a specific topic or area of interest, and enable you to follow them with just a few clicks. Because behind most every query is a community.

Google+ © by Magnet 4 Marketing dot Net

On the surface, that all seems well and good. They’ll bring in my Google+ relationships, and point out when someone that I am associated with has information on a topic that I’m searching for. But, wait. I follow a lot of people on Twitter. I have 400 or so friends on Facebook. What about my friends there?

Let’s be honest here.  I hate social search.  At least 90% of my social feeds are noise.  It isn’t as bad as what they’re having for lunch, or if their “sitting on the patio”, but it’s still noise.  It’s a social thing.  Go and listen in to any conversation, in any public place, and 90% of what you overhear will be noise.  Sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ are meant to be online places where we can get social and have conversations.  Naturally, most of those conversations are going to be noise.  But, whether social should be included in search at all isn’t the topic today.

What is, and what should be the first concern here, is whether the move to include Google+ into the results is an anti-competitive move and begging for an anti-trust investigation.  While  Danny Sullivan doesn’t come right out and say it, it’s clear that he thinks that something isn’t quite right.  Parislemon calls it what it is (antitrust+, clever, no?), and thinks there’s an antitrust investigation on the horizon.

On comparison that I’ve seen made, is between the perennial anti-trust target, Microsoft and their Internet Explorer browser.  Microsoft’s forced integration of Internet Explorer into Windows has cost them plenty in legal litigation.  While they still don’t include browsers like Firefox, Safari, Chrome, or Opera in Windows, they’ve had to loosen up some of those policies.  To Google’s credit, they have at least made the new features opt-out-able.  However, I’m not sure that will be enough.

One thing’s for sure, it should be interesting to see how this plays out.  If no anti-trust investigation comes, it’s possible that we might see Twitter, Facebook, and other social sites develop relationships with Bing, or other search engines.  While that isn’t likely to erode Google’s marketshare too much, it would still be a bit of a black eye on their search engine.  (Remember when Google was only a search engine?  Ah, the good ol’ days.)  The argument that Schmidt makes in Danny Sullivan’s interview (linked above) that they (Twitter and Facebook) haven’t asked them to include them is bull.  Google already includes most of their public content in their index, so it wouldn’t be that much more difficult for them to use that data to include the information in the same way that they are with Google+.

Any way you look at it, I think Google made a mis-step here.  So far, it’s been a bit of a PR disaster, and how they clean up the mess will likely determine the success of the new features.

How do you feel about having your Google+ network integrated with your Google search results?  I’ll be opting out of them, myself.

UPDATE (1/13/12): Looks like they got it (the anti-trust investigation) Google facing expanded antitrust probe