In the near future, your Google search results might contain something you hadn't noticed before: documents published through Google Apps.
According to The Register, Google sent an email to Google Apps users last Friday indicating that some documents published through Google Apps will soon be indexable by Google's crawler.
A post on the Google Docs help forum explains:
We will be launching a change for published docs. The change will allow published docs that are linked to from a public website to be crawled and indexed, which means they can appear in search results you see on Google.com and other search engines.
The change only applies to documents that have been published with the "Publish as web page" or "Publish/embed" options selected. Google Apps users who don't want their published documents to be indexable can unpublish them.
While this seems like a minor change and it is for the most part, there are a couple of issues this change raises worth noting.
First, it will be interesting to see how Google integrates Google Apps search results (will they eventually be highlighted a la YouTube videos?) and how well they generally rank. If black hat SEOs and spammers believe there's any chance documents published via Google Apps can be used for gain, Google Apps will likely find itself the target of abuse. Other document sharing services like Scribd and another Google property that has been popular with spammers, Blogger, have been the subject of such abuse.
Second, the decision to index certain Google Apps docs highlights the fact that Google's core business (search) can create some conflict with its other businesses (in this case providing a suite of online office apps). Here, it's clear that search considerations outweighed potential convenience and privacy concerns of Google Apps users.
While it is true that Google Apps users who have published any of their documents publicly should be aware of the possibility that their docs will end up in a search index somewhere, the "Hi. We've decided we might index your docs soon so you'll need to unpublish any docs you don't want indexed" approach is hardly what one would expect from a company providing a commercial-level office suite. Adding insult to injury, The Register points out that "Google Apps master view does not tell you which docs are publicly published and which aren't".
Once Google Apps documents hit the Google index and Google Apps users start discovering their docs in it we'll see whether or not this is a big deal or much ado about nothing.