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The New Google : “Search, Plus Your Bubble”

January 18, 2012

The day Google launched “Search, Plus Your World” which would include results from your social networks in your regular Google results, I was listening to Ethan Zuckerman’s TED talk on “Listening to Global Voices” where he was arguing for the need of better, more localized information from beyond our immediate physical or intellectual vicinity.

The contrast was only massive. On one hand, Zuckerman was calling for more openness to THE World; Google’s idea was to close up to just YOUR World.

Yes, the picture is irrelevant. (source)

Granted, the possibility of finding the right person when you google a name or being able to easily dig up the stuff you posted or are tagged in is a brilliant innovation.

Of course the aim of “Search Plus Your World” was also to divert traffic towards Google+ pages, which would encourage people to share more (or, for the many who couldn’t be bothered to migrate to G+ or to duplicate posts, to just share anything)  as well as make companies Google+ pages the default for commercial social media presence. The current display of G+ results on the right-hand side when you search looks more like Adwords gone rogue than actual search results.

Of course this has already been scathingly criticized; and I approve.

My main concern however and my point here is that Google, with the millions of search results it boasts finding, will push users back into their corner of the world.

Our social networks are generally made of people whom we know (say, Facebook) or people we share interests and ideas with (Twitter).  It also is necessarily a limited number of people.

Normal searching provides you with results you don’t necessarily expect. Or agree with. And that’s a good thing, because it allows you to be exposed to different arguments and ideas that go against your premade thoughts or that you never thought of before.

Say you search for “Obama tax cuts”. Normal search will probably spit out newspaper articles and user-generated commentary on the subject from both sides of the argument. Google’s Your World will only give you the articles curated/shared by/written by your friends, who are people you likely agree with.  No more exposure to different opinions: you created a bubble of friends, and Google is now trapping you inside it.

Likewise, you’ll get a bitching blog entry about a film your friend watched while in a bad mood; as opposed to the aggregated rating of several thousand imdb users. That will of course severely skew the validity of the results and conclusions.

What I’d like to see the next Google upgrade do would be to create a “Search plus THE World”. Say, automatic translation of results occurring before the search query spits out results – so when you search for “Bahrain revolution” you get articles and blogs from Bahrain, originally written in Arabic by people living the events, as opposed to mediocre coverage written in English by people who know next to nothing about the facts on the ground.

Now THAT would be groundbreaking.

Now playing around with Bing and DuckDuckGo.

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