Search, Plus Your World: Google’s Risky Gambit

The web giant just mashed up its search engine and social network -- and the results so far are unsatisfying.

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Arnd Wiegmann / Reuters

Singhal goes on to explain that he named his dog after his favorite fruit, the chikoo. Now when he searches Google for “chikoo,” he gets both sites relating to the fruit and photos that he and his family have shared of their pup.

(If you and I search for “chikoo,” we don’t get pictures of Singhal’s pooch. In fact, unless the Singhals have chosen to share the photos with us or make them public, there’s no way for us to see them at all. With SPYW’s debut, for the first time, Google search results may include links to items that aren’t open for all the world to see.)

The Chikoo example makes for an interesting litmus test. I can’t imagine anyone being neutral about the idea of seeing pet photos in Google results; either it sounds “magical,” as Singhal says it is, or it sounds irritating and off-topic. At first blush, I don’t find the concept appealing — I go to Google to learn about the rest of the world, not my world.

(MORE: Is Google’s Social Search Anti-Competitive? FTC Complaint Looms)

Then again, my negative reaction is purely theoretical at this point: I haven’t seen any of my furry friends pop up in my Google results yet. Our household includes a cat named Butter, but when I search for his name, I get results about the dairy product and related topics. That’s because my activity on Google+ is at best a dim, incomplete reflection of my real-world life. I usually chatter about tech-related matters there, and don’t use the service to share photos with family.

It’s not that I’ve never shared pictures of Butter online, though. He shows up regularly in my Instagram images, and my wife’s, too. He’s also been known to make guest appearances on our Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. It’s just that none of those social networks get woven into Google results in the way that Google+ does.

This is not entirely Google’s fault. In the case of information that’s not available on the public web, such as Instagram photos, the search engine can’t get at it at all without permission. And according to Google, Twitter chose to end an agreement that had allowed Google to insert relevant tweets into search results. Google Chairman Eric Schmidt told Danny Sullivan that the company would be happy to talk with other social networks about incorporating their content into SPYW, but for now, it’s rushing ahead with a Google+-centric implementation.

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