Planet Google

Why Google’s New Social Search Features Will Make You Dumber

personal results e1326225569409 Why Googles New Social Search Features Will Make You Dumber

Today Google unveiled three big new features for its campaign to bake Social Search into your browser. Over the next few days, the company plans to roll out these developments to anyone signed in and searching in English. In a blog post called, “Search, plus Your World” the company enumerated the changes that will empower the search engine to understand “not only content, but also people and relationships.”

  1. Personal Results, which enable you to find information just for you, such as Google+ photos and posts—both your own and those shared specifically with you, that only you will be able to see on your results page;
  2. Profiles in Search, both in autocomplete and results, which enable you to immediately find people you’re close to or might be interested in following; and,
  3. People and Pages, which help you find people profiles and Google+ pages related to a specific topic or area of interest, and enable you to follow them with just a few clicks. Because behind most every query is a community.

The second feature is useful (that is if you’re looking for the few people who update their Google+ regularly) and the third is spammy–remember when Google tried to promote its infinitely less useful Google Places listings over Yelp? But the bone we want to pick is with feature no. 1.

For years pundits have been bemoaning the mental dexterity lost to the ease of a Google search engine. (Why would any kid growing up today bother to memorize Pi, much less the director of Pooty Tang when they could just type words into a box? Bonus trivia: It’s Louis C.K.!) The idea of limiting the results you get during the aforementioned lazy look-up makes that loss of brain power even more acute.

Of course, as ReadWriteWeb’s Jon Mitchell points out Google has made the far-sighted decision to offer an easy out button for Personalized search. “If you don’t want Google+-flavored results, just switch to global mode. You can even turn off personalized search altogether,” he writes. But our quibble isn’t about our browser alone. We don’t want anyone else to use this function either. Here’s why:

1.  In the post today, Google writes, “Search is still limited to a universe of webpages created publicly, mostly by people you’ve never met.” WHY IS THAT A BAD THING? What if all that information you could ever learn for the rest of your life was limited the brains of your current Google+ followers? *Shudders*

Google’s strength as a search engine has always been that it’s the best possible portal for the wide world of content online. There are prevailing market concerns, naturally, but if Google wants to try to compete with Facebook, do it on the side, don’t sully your core competency. Besides, if you really wanted to find out what your friends were thinking, would you search Google+? Or Twitter and Facebook? Exactly. This muddies the water without adding any real value. (On the other hand, as we mentioned before, we’ve never met 75 percent of the people who added us to Google+. Hello to our fans, Southeast Asia!)

2. Perhaps this is a personal peccadillo of  a professional researcher, but in our opinion, it’s hard enough to get at all the good stuff that’s ever been published online with simplistic keyword matching and boolean logic, even with all the bells and whistles Google has built-in over the years. This narrows the landscape even further. The other day Google started returning an article we’d already read as the first hit for a particular search when it previously showed up towards the bottom of the page. But just because we foolishly clicked on it a couple times doesn’t mean that’s what we were looking for. For those of us on the hunt for new information, we’re already working with a flawed product.

3. Which brings us to our next point. In theory, sure those little “people” icons should be enough of a distinction between global content and Stuff Your Friends Like, but we are, after all, human. You see an article from Ars Technica show up in your search results and you see your ex-boyfriend’s face, which one are you going to click on? We’re conditioned to want to be social, that doesn’t mean the impulse should be indulged. One source even says Facebook designed Timeline to help advertise leverage a user’s instinct to click on their friends’s faces. C’mon Google, you’re better than that. This kind of stuff is best left to Zuck.

Follow Nitasha Tiku on Twitter or via RSS. ntiku@observer.com