Like Me? Follow Me.
Google recently announced that it wants to make the search results pages even more personalised. They said:
“You should also be able to find your own stuff on the web, the people you know and things they’ve shared with you, as well as the people you don’t know but might want to... all from one search box.”
This all sounds great in theory, but the more we thought about it here at I-COM, the more questionable this new development seemed. So, let’s start with a quick summary of what Google has changed:
You can find information geared just for you, such as Google + photos or posts that have been posted by you or your friends.
Profiles In Search
Profiles of people you are close to, or people you might be interested in following, will show in autocomplete and in search results.
People and Pages
Helps you find people profiles and Google+ pages that are relevant to your search.
Testing Google's Personalised Search
Google has made a toggle setting where you can turn personalised search on and off, however after some experimentation at I-COM, we discovered that what the Guardian claims is true:
“The Guardian's own tests on google.com when not signed in to any Google account found that links to people in Google+ appeared prominently in suggested searches, and in most cases also in results, when searching for names including the blogger Robert Scoble, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and search expert John Battelle.”
All of the search team at I-COM got together and ran test searches to see what Google would show for different search terms when signed in to Google. When searching for ‘music’ we discovered that personalised image results were pretty irrelevant and when searching for ‘leather jackets’ we had Matt Cutts (from Google) included in the results. Matt Cutts may like leather jackets and have an opinion on them, but we were not quite sure of the correlation as to how someone who works for Google was going to help us choose ourselves a nice leather jacket. We found that when we turned off the personalised search that the search results were far more relevant.
Searching signed out opens up a more interesting field of new websites that we may never have found before and that actually might be really useful to us. Google’s personalised search is based more on affinity and habitual searching than perhaps letting you find something brand new, without having your social comrades holding your hand the whole way.
The line between Google being a search engine and social network is getting more and more blurred (and creating headaches for SEO’s). I personally believe Google is trying to play catch up with the ever growing monster that is Facebook and these changes are not necessarily about improving search, but more based on trying to stay on top of another online competitor by drawing people away from Facebook and keeping them interacting with Google......which will keep these users clicking on Google’s revenue making paid ads.
I don’t know if Google is being very honest with all this, is it really about making search for the user better? I think it is actually about making Google bigger and stronger. They know our phone numbers, where we live, where we go, what we look like, what our interests are, who are friends are, what we search for and all this knowledge is only going to be expanded by all this personalised search as we hand them more data about ourselves on a plate.
I read this killer fact today – Google staff bonuses are dependent on the success of Google +1. Make of that what you will.
Can We Trust Google?
Google is running into rocky ground with the antitrust commissioners and I’m inclined to support a potential investigation. They consistently bang on about the security of the data that you provide them because they know fine well that they know everything about you. I personally don’t believe that the average search engine user really understands how Google is slowly getting information on them for their own gain. Recently Google asked for our phone numbers to help us remember our gmail password, the amount of people that will have filled this in thinking it would help them is scary.
I’m left wondering what Google’s real game plan is. Is it to make your search experience better or to enhance their strength as a market dominating company?