You've probably seen the news that Google Search is now infused with more personalized content from your Google Plus and Picasa accounts--I say you've probably seen the news because it's everywhere. They're calling it Search Plus Your World. I'm not interested in rehashing the details you have probably already read about. Besides... the real news of the story is relatively succinct: Google search results now include content from your Google Plus friends and contacts as well as your Picasa account. That's pretty much it.
Google In Bullying Mode?
But the implications of this tiny news story are huge. In my mind, it's a signal for the future of Google, which is guaranteed to be more and more personalized moving forward. It's not really shocking, and people paying attention have seen personalized search results for several years. But this latest change is the best glimpse yet at what Google might see in their future: search results driven as much (or more) by your actual social interactions, interests, and content as by keyword.
The real reveal, though, is their strategy for taking on Facebook and Twitter: squeeze them out... choke the life out of them. The concept is simple enough: remove competitors' content from the search results and replace it with content from our own products. You might remember a time when Twitter posts were a fairly common sight in universal search results... you might also have noticed that's no longer the case.
Of course, as Danny Sullivan points out at Search Engine Land... this could just be a hardball tactic to get Twitter and Facebook to open up their data more to Google--something the search company has been after for a long time.
Either way it's definitely a strong-arm tactic. And while the world reacts to their new personalized results, Facebook & Twitter are probably both fuming--Twitter released a public statement bashing Google's move, and Google fired back reminding them that it was Twitter who walked away from their search-agreement. Tech fight!
With Google Plus having elements of both Twitter and Facebook, it's poised to take them both on. And it's now obvious that they're going to use the biggest weapon in their arsenal: the search results. With their stranglehold on the search market, Google influences things a good deal more than a lot of users realize. They can virtually create a world where Facebook and Twitter don't exist. Sure, both services have loyal users who don't rely on Google to get them to their accounts... but this is a long game, and the next 10 years' worth of new social network users could easily be influenced by what they do and do not find in search results.
It's like Facebook and Twitter put up billboards on the highway saying "Social media, turn right in 10 miles," only to have Google come along and put up a twice-as-big billboard in front of them declaring, "Social media, turn left now."
It's ruthless, and perfectly sensible all at once. I'd do the same thing. And let's be honest, Facebook isn't going away anytime soon--if it ever does. I'm not suggesting Google can outright kill Facebook. But they could leverage their mega-popular search engine to tip the field in their direction.
While I do believe Google wants their users to have a good experience... this move is not about that... not entirely at least. One way or another, this is a power move from Google, either intended to shut out their competitors from users' eyeballs or to pressure Facebook & Twitter into allowing Google to crawl more of their data.
Google is still the most popular way to find things online, and for the immediate future... users are going to find a lot more Google Plus than Facebook or Twitter content. Don't think Google can leverage their biggest asset to play hardball with their social competitors? I find your lack of faith... disturbing.