4 min read

Google Foes Fighting Social Search Ignore One Truth

Google competitors ramp up protests that the search giant favors its own social content, hurting Facebook and Twitter. One problem, guys: There's no such thing as truly organic search.
Google's decision about a week ago to integrate content from its Google+ social network into its search listings was met with immediate criticism from competitors like Twitter, which argued that the mixed bag of links would make its more relevant content harder to find.

Over the weekend, the fight turned nasty. Facebook engineer Blake Ross, working in conjunction with programmers from MySpace and Twitter, released a Chrome extension bookmarklet called "Don't Be Evil." That's a reference to Google's unofficial motto, one that aims to highlight the claim that Search plus Your World, as Google calls its social search integration, favors Google's content and returns less relevant results.

Once installed, the browser extension rewrites search results culled from Google+ with results from Google's Web index, which tends to favor older, more established social Web services like LinkedIn and Twitter over the relatively new Google+.

This seems to prove the claim that Google is biasing its search results to favor its services, at the expense of users and competitors. Demonstrating this might help make the case that Google's search business is anti-competitive, a charge currently being investigated by the Federal Trade Commission and European antitrust regulators.

To get a sense of how much the growing gripes of competitors threaten Google, consider that the company spent $3.76 million lobbying U.S. lawmakers during the fourth quarter of 2011, three times as much as it spent during the same period a year earlier, to present its side of the story.

[ What's the Search plus Your World controversy all about? Read Google+ Search Controversy Grows. ]

Really, the "Don't Be Evil" extension should be called "Don't Be Competitive." Facebook and Twitter have had, and continue to have, the opportunity to negotiate deals with Google to make their content more accessible in Google's search engine.

Facebook, in fact, explicitly prevents Google's Web crawler from indexing its most meaningful content through its robots.txt file. It withholds its own social content from Google and then objects when Google creates a competitive social network and decides to leverage its Google+ social data.

Twitter, meanwhile, did not renew a deal with Google to provide real-time access to its data. Whether Twitter or Google deserves blame for failing to reach an agreement hardly matters. Google has turned to its own services for timely social data, and if Google+ data is less relevant that what might be available from a world where Google, Facebook, Twitter and everyone else plays nice and makes deals, then Google will pay the price when searchers switch to Bing because it's so much better. That hasn't happened yet.

Perhaps the most pernicious aspect of this whole controversy is the notion of organic search results. "We created a tool that uses Google's own relevance measure--the ranking of [its] organic search results--to determine what social content should appear in the areas where Google+ results are currently hardcoded," the creators of the "Don't Be Evil" extension explain on their website.

The idea is that results presented by Google's relevancy algorithm are somehow more pure than results from Google+ that Google chooses to promote. It's a lovely idea, but applying the notion of organic food to search results just doesn't work. Organic food is ostensibly better than conventionally raised food because it does not contain hormones and chemicals believed or proven to have negative health consequences.

Search results cannot be organic. There's no natural way to determine relevance. It's all artificial. What Google's competitors want is to not be competing with Google services while they rely on Google Search for visitor traffic.

Social media are generating tons of data, but that data only becomes truly valuable when examined in context. Attend the virtual Enterprise 2.0 event Social Analytics: The Bridge To Business Value, and learn how social analytics will provide the bridge to unlocking business value. It happens Feb. 16.