Beware the New Google Gimmick

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Last week, Google made headlines for contradicting itself.

Big-name tech news sites like TechCrunch and Gizmodo argued that the company may have violated its own policies by allegedly paying bloggers to write about its browser, Chrome.

This week, they’re at it again.

On Tuesday, Google announced a new search engine feature called “Search plus Your World.” The thing is, like paying bloggers to give your product good press, Search plus Your World is more of a marketing move that benefits Google than it is an honest advancement that benefits users.

Search plus Your World in a nutshell

If you do a Google search while logged out of Google sites like Gmail and Google+, you’ll experience the same Google searching you’ve known the past few years.

But if you do a Google search while logged into a Google site, you’ll notice a new toggle on the right. It looks like this:

Clicking on the right button will “hide personal results” from your search, which basically means Google will search the Web like usual.

Clicking on the left button will “show personal results,” which basically means Google will likely return more results related to Google+ posts, photos, or profiles. You’ll notice that little blue person symbol to the left of those results.

Check out Google’s Search plus Your World: Personal Results for their explanation of how the feature works.

Google’s side of the story

“We’re transforming Google into a search engine that understands not only content, but also people and relationships,” according to the Jan. 10 announcement.

When I contacted Google directly, a spokesperson who asked not to be named emailed me a statement that began…

“As always, our goal is to provide you with the most relevant and comprehensive search results possible. That’s why for years now we’ve been working with our social search features to help you find the most relevant information from your friends and social connections, no matter what site that content is on.”

Another side of the story

Google describes Your Search as if it merges the world’s greatest search engine with the world of social media. Except Your Search is elitist: It combines the Google search engine with only the Google+ social network, thereby giving preference to it. The number of page views the Google+ site gets each day arguably stands to skyrocket, especially relative to other social networks.

Google claims this isn’t their fault.

“Google does not have access to crawl all the information on some sites, so it’s not possible for us to surface all that content,” wrote the anonymous spokesperson. “Google also doesn’t have access to the social graph information from some sites, so it’s not possible to help you find information from those people you’re connected to.”

I don’t even know what the second half of that explanation means, but I know it doesn’t matter. Google’s excuse doesn’t change the preferential facts. And I still can’t help but see Your Search as a marketing move designed to boost Google+. Here are my reasons why…

  • It’s not like Google+ couldn’t use a boost. Having debuted in June 2011, the social network is still a newbie that has yet to cement its place in the social media world. Less than two months ago, the L.A. Times reported, “U.S. traffic to Google+ has dropped in 11 of the 21 weeks since its launch in late June, regularly falling between 10 percent and 20 percent from one week to the next.”
  • Google is already using Your Search as an excuse to push Google+. If you visit the Search plus Your World home page but don’t have a Google+ account (or aren’t logged into a Google site), a big blue “Upgrade to Google+” button will stand between you and the Your Search feature.
  • Have you seen the Your Search video? (It’s on the Your World home page, next to the “Upgrade” button.) Every other instructional Google product video I’ve ever seen has been simple, concise, and straightforward. You either watch a Google employee explain a feature or you follow along on their screen as their voice narrates their clicks. But not the Your Search video. It’s got catchy music and sexy effects, as if selling Your Search were prioritized before explaining Your Search.
  • The Your Search feature is optional. Could you imagine if it weren’t? Everyone with an Internet connection would be flipping out, and Facebook and Twitter would be looking up antitrust lawyers. I think Google made Your Search optional not just to give users the option but because they realized Your Search isn’t exactly on the up-and-up.

So here‘s how to disable Your Search, which – unfortunately for us and conveniently for Google – is only a temporary measure…

Karla Bowsher has nothing “personal” against Google. In fact, she’s an Android owner and a long-time fanatical user of Gmail, Google.com, Google Bookmarks, Google Calendar, Google Reader, and iGoogle, to name a few. When she’s not tinkering with Google products or calling people out, she writes about consumer and retail issues for Money Talks News.

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