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On Tuesday, Google announced Search, plus Your World.

The deep integration of Google+ results into its search results is perhaps the strongest reminder yet of the fact that Google is competing head on with publishers and other companies. Publishers and companies that hope to achieve top rankings in the company's search results.

When it comes to Google's big social push, antitrust concerns were raised almost immediately, not by regulators, but by members of the tech community itself. Once government bureaucrats catch up, inquiries over Search, plus Your World are all but certain. After all, they love picking winners and losers, often under the guise of protecting the consumer. Google is already in their sights.

When it comes to Google promoting itself in the SERPs, the real question for the tech community isn't whether this is a thorny issue (it is) but rather how it's best addressed.

If you read the angry rants from individuals who say Google is playing unfairly (or flat out destroying the internet), there's a not-so-subtle implication: regulators need to step in and stop Google.

Take MG Siegler, for instance. As I write this, he has managed to publish no less than seven posts on the Search, plus Your World on his personal blog in the span of two days. One of his posts is entitled Antitrust+, and while he writes "I’m not saying that the Justice Department should look into this", his posts leave little doubt. Siegler has the popcorn in the microwave and is itching to watch a prime time government smackdown of Google.

More concerning than the fact that a blogger who wears his irrational biases on his sleeve wants government to have a say in how Google runs its business is the fact that Twitter is signalling that it will probably complain to regulators. Trying to get the competition in trouble is a popular strategy, but what goes around almost always comes around.

The implication of this: apparently, faith in the 'free market' is running low in parts of the tech industry. That's a really, really sad thing given that the technology industry has thrived in large part because of its ability to move faster than politicians who believe the internet is a series of tubes.

Is Google playing 'dirty'? Frankly, I don't know ('dirty' is a subjective word after all), and more importantly - nobody should care. At least enough to suggest that a bunch of politicians in Washington DC or Brussels should step in and tell the search giant how to organise its search results.

At the end of the day, Google's success is dependent on its ability to provide quality, relevant search results. Put simply, Google needs to provide users with the information they're searching for. Most of that information, of course, is offered up by companies other than Google. If it goes too far in promoting its own properties over those that have the information consumers are really seeking out (in some instances from sites like Facebook and Twitter), or it clutters up the SERPs with new types of results that the majority of consumers don't care about just to promote itself, it will eventually suffer the negative consequences and create new opportunities for competitors in the process.

This is far preferable to letting a bunch of people who largely don't understand how the internet works dictate how the internet needs to work. On that note, the tech industry's cognitive dissonance on matters of government intervention is perhaps best highlighted by the SOPA backlash. Individuals like MG Siegler don't want government changing how internet service providers operate to protect Big Content, but apparently it's okay to have government change how search engines work to protect Big Social (Facebook, Twitter, et. al.).

We can't have it both ways. If the tech community doesn't favour regulatory nonsense like SOPA, a good first step would be to stop inviting it.

Patricio Robles

Published 12 January, 2012 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2419 more posts from this author

Comments (11)

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You're wrong, but not for the reason you think.

Stopping Google from becoming more social isn't driven by a desire to protect "Big Social". It's driven by a desire to see a more open internet where content providers don't have to jump through a single company's hoops just to have their content viewed by others. It's almost as bad as having a tiered internet. Now, you can argue that this is already the case, but realistically the reason that SEO has evolved as it has is to make the search results better. Is Search, plus Your World better? I would argue no.

Let's step around the issue of Google pushing content over to a network built on proprietary protocols for a minute and look at what the Your World SERP will look like. It'll be tailored so a large proportion of the content you view will be related to you or recommended by your friend. Now that's great for a social network, but horrible if you want to use a search engine to find useful data and resources.

Consider how Facebook effectively censors its news feeds so that you only see content from people you regularly interact with, not just your whole friendbase. Now consider the propensity for people to not bother seeking out information beyond that which is presented to them. It won't just be easier to find stuff that's already part of a segregated echo-chamber, it'll be more difficult to find stuff outside of it.

And with further integration of Google's other products into the search engine, it'll become more and more difficult to use anyone else's products - like bundling Internet Explorer into Windows. And Google probably won't take kindly to other people using its data (for example the social graph), so don't expect to be able to use a public api for a lot of this stuff.

Your World is a spit in the face of an open internet. I really hope Google reconsiders this - I use their product because it's the best available, but I won't use it at the expense of the wider internet landscape becoming more and more closed and proprietary.

As an aside, I should point out that inviting anti-trust regulation has often been good for the tech community. Think where we'd be if Microsoft had been allowed to continue forcing consumers to use its software...

almost 5 years ago

David Petherick

David Petherick, Head of Digital Marketing at First Vehicle Leasing

Excellent point Patricio - Siegler and Twitter are calling down a whirlwind in trying to prompt government interference. As the Russians say, they're taking a wolf by the ears.

The issue actually boils down to whether, as an online user, you want your data and connections to be part of an open social graph, or a closed system owned by specific corporations. At the moment, the terms and conditions of most social networks state that the corporations own the social graph, and they can happily use it to make money within their own walled gardens. That's the price we pay for free storage and cutesy games.

But there is a big high-stakes game going on here - and I think Google is pushing the issue with this move to force Facebook and Twitter (and others) to open their social data to its search. Twitter used to do that until if failed to agree a renewal deal with Google for 'realtime search' in July 2011. Facebook has always kept user data to itself, other than (often controversially) over-sharing with advertisers. Both Twitter and Facebook rely on 'owning' your social content and connections because it's in their business model to make money from this data. Sharing with Google means that it will get the eyeballs and the ad revenue that currently are within their respective walled gardens. However, Facebook has no effective in-depth search, and Twitter search has the equivalent of a Goldfish's memory. They would probably make more money from cooperation, but that's too radical an idea with the present state of play.

There's a big opportunity for others to damage Google's reputation for quality and unbiased 'organic' search here. And Google might be in danger of doing it for itself. However, I always find it ironic to realise that Google's massive cash-cow AdWords is based on paying Google to bias their search results in your favour against the organic search results that Google provides. You're not in the Top 10? Pay us and you can appear alongside the Top 10. Same model at Yahoo and Bing. Warped. But the accepted status quo.

It's actually all bizarre, but it's the birth pangs of what I think we might call Web 3.0, where the entirely human factor of social signals begin provide meaning to search relevancy.

There is actually an opportunity now for a social search engine that cuts the deal to be able to reach into all of the key social networks. The problem is, everyone in the game wants to be that search engine. Search is ripe for another big disruption.

[ Sorry this was not shorter. ]

almost 5 years ago


Mark Bower

From my POV, Google is starting on the path that Yahoo headed down when it moved from being a Search & Directory site to a "Portal".

I expect it'll take around 10 years to play out, but believe this will be marked as the start of the end.

almost 5 years ago


Daniel Tangen

If we look at this from the perspective that Google wants to improve the relevance of their search results, which again will ensure that people continue to use them, then integrating social signals from their own social network is a natural step, and won't necessarily reduce the relevancy of the search result. Fact is that if we look beyond the outcries of self promoters screaming antitrust and comparisons to Internet Explorer and Windows (which is ridiculus considering that all you have to do is move to a different search engine), as long as Google delivers relevant and fast search results to the mass market, who really cares what influencing factors determine the results. Definitely not the end user that got the result they needed.

almost 5 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy


"It's driven by a desire to see a more open internet where content providers don't have to jump through a single company's hoops just to have their content viewed by others."

You don't need to jump through any company's hoops to make your content available. *Anybody* can publish anything on the internet and have it available to the world immediately. What you speak of has absolutely nothing to do with Google (or any other search engine).

"Is Search, plus Your World better? I would argue no."

If that's the case, and a significant number of other people agree with you, then Google will naturally suffer the consequences.

Again, relevance and simplicity has been key to Google's success. If it reduces relevancy and increases clutter in the SERPs just to promote its own properties, it will alienate users and give competitors (some of which may not even exist yet) new opportunities.

"I use their product because it's the best available"

Well there you go. If and when that changes, I expect you'll start using a different service. Until then, I think it far preferable that Google, which built that great product, decide how it evolve rather than bureaucrats who really want to mess up the internet (see: SOPA).

almost 5 years ago



"You don't need to jump through any company's hoops to make your content available. *Anybody* can publish anything on the internet and have it available to the world immediately. What you speak of has absolutely nothing to do with Google (or any other search engine)."

That's the same fallacy that the companies who oppose network neutrality would have you believe. Sure, your content is technically open to the world, but in practice it isn't if no-one can find or access it.

Google provides a public good when it allows open and organic search results*. Let's be honest - their product is central to the internet as we know it. If they turn their SERPs into a walled garden of content based on proprietary, the only winners are Google and the people content to let themselves be drawn into Google's ecosystem.

And that's what anti-trust is for. Government intervention is not an inherently bad thing; treating it as something which must be avoided at all costs is naive to say the least. I gave an example of one intervention by legislators which improved the internet and tech world earlier - the Microsoft anti-trust decisions. Another is related to something I've already mentioned - network neutrality. Protecting the internet from the predation of telecommunications providers ultimately must stem from government regulation and are desperately needed to prevent a complete paradigm shift where we all lose out.

But as you say, if it's bad we'll move on to competitors. "The internet interprets censorship as damage, and works around it." -John Gilmore

*Does Google have a responsibility to provide this public good? Probably not. But the internet is built on people providing services as a public good, and as you say I'll probably just move to a competitor's service.

almost 5 years ago



Argh, the perils of editing as you go.

That should have read: "If they turn their SERPs into a walled garden of content based on a proprietary network,"

almost 5 years ago



These conversations come up so often and baffles me to date why people don't just use the other many search engines out there. Please help me understand...

almost 5 years ago

Christopher Rose

Christopher Rose, PPC Marketing Director at Rose Digital Marketing

I think Google really is shooting itself, possibly in the head rather than the foot, with this move.

It is already not my search engine of choice and for many informational searches I am using Wikipedia first.

Adding in a bunch of social content is pointless, because as I am already in social networks with my friends I either already know what they think or can ask them in that network.

By definition, when I use a search engine I am looking for something I don't have.

almost 5 years ago


Brian O'Grady

Great article and better discussion. Here's 2 more cents:

1. If you don't like Walmart, stop shopping there. It's not Walmart that kills jobs and local business. It's you and your neighbours that do it when you shop there. Similarly, as has been suggested above, if you don't like the way Google or Facebook operate, exercise your options. The free market will respond to that signal if it's big enough.

2. Regulation: if war is the failure of diplomacy, regulation is the failure of the free market to police itself. In an economy that rewards market share and profit over fair play and sharing, you're going to need regulation sometimes but it is a sad day when you do.

3. The echo chamber concept where you only see what you already know/like/want and nothing new: this has already happened in other media. There's Fox for the right and MSNBC for the left. Most cities have the newspaper that fits how you want to see the world. It may not be good for knowledge, but it's going to happen on the internet if it hasn't already. Some of the new profiling technology out there means you'll need to work hard to see information that isn't tailored to your state of mind. To me, that's the really scary part.

Keep up the great discussion!

almost 5 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy


"Protecting the internet from the predation of telecommunications providers..."

I have some knowledge of the situation in the United States and the irony you seem to be ignoring is that the horrendous telecom market there is the direct result of decades of government trying to direct how the industry should work.

"...the Microsoft anti-trust decisions."

What decisions would you be referring to? The original court decision in the antitrust suit, which would have forced Microsoft to split into two companies, was overturned by an appeals court. The judge was even removed from the case because of ethics violations (he was discussing the case with the media). Microsoft then decided to end what would have been a years-long fight by settling with the government. Netscape, of course, never surpassed IE, and is now in decline thanks to an entirely different browser launched nearly a decade later, Chrome.

In many if not most cases, antitrust suits are little more than shakedowns:


"Google provides a public good..."

Using this line of thought, you could justify the forced public control of private companies (and property) any time you don't like what the private owners are doing with it. That's dangerous, for obvious reasons.

"...I'll probably just move to a competitor's service"

There you go. Problem solved.

almost 5 years ago

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