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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.