I’ve written that Google has plenty of public data to allow parts its new Search Plus Your World feature to be inclusive of rival social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Now, those networks are proving that true, through a new “Don’t Be Evil” tool that lets anyone leverage Google’s own results to see this.
The tool — a bookmarklet that works in your browser — changes three parts of Search Plus Your World that currently shows information only from Google Plus. These are:
- People & Pages results
- Google+ Sitelinks
- Google+ Suggestions In Autocomplete
The tool can be found on the Focus On The User web site. It was created, as the site says, by engineers at Facebook, Twitter and MySpace, who in turn consulted with other unnamed social networking companies. The “Don’t Be Evil” name of the tool comes from Google’s philosophy of wanting to focus on what’s best for users, rather than what’s best for Google.
The companies behind the tool feel Google’s hasn’t focused on what’s best for its users with Search Plus Your World. They have a good point. But the tool makes this point better than all the debates that have happened so far around Search Plus Your Word, because it shows what Google could have done to better serve searchers, if it had wanted to.
Below, how to install the tool and how it works, once you’ve done so, along with a revisiting of some of the issues it highlights.
Installing The Don’t Be Evil Bookmarklet
To get the tool, head to the site and look for the “Try a more relevant Google” button:
Clicking the button will make a new window appear, with a “don’t be evil” button that’s visible:
You click and hold on that button, then drag it to the bookmarks bar in your browser (if you don’t see your bookmarks bar, look in your browser’s options to make this visible):
Once it’s installed, you’ll see it on your on your bookmarks bar:
When you search on Google, you push that button to transform your results, as I’ll cover next. By the way, I’ve tested this with both Google Chrome and Firefox. It should also work with Safari. It doesn’t work with Internet Explorer.
Problem: “People & Pages” Powered By Google+
One of the biggest issues I’ve had with Search Plus (my shorthand name for Search Plus Your World) was the new “People and Pages on Google+” results that appear for some searches. These can show up even if you don’t have a Google+ account or are logged out of Google entirely.
These are the first search results that I’ve ever seen on Google that haven’t been inclusive of sources beyond Google, when those sources are available. To understand more about this, and how it’s such a major departure for Google, see my previous post, To Understand Google Favoritism, Think If Google+ Were YouTube.
Aside from favoring Google in a way that I’ve never seen before, I’ve felt that the results simply weren’t providing the best information to searchers at Google, especially given the prime real estate being given to them. My previous story, Real-Life Examples Of How Google’s “Search Plus” Pushes Google+ Over Relevancy, explains more about that.
The reason for the relevancy gap was simple. Google+ still lacks many important or notable people that might be on the other social networks. Indeed, until last week, Lady Gaga wasn’t on Google+ despite being one of the most followed people on Twitter and Facebook. Her absence meant she’d never have a chance at being one of the music recommendations for the People & Places results that Google was showing.
Including other social accounts in People & Pages results would, as I’ve written repeatedly, done what I expect of Google as a search engine, delivered a great search experience. From one of my past posts:
I’d love to see is Google retool the social suggestions that come up, so they aren’t simply Google+ “People & Pages” results injected into Google but more inclusive of other social sites, as well. Because that type of inclusive search product is what Google does well, and what we expect for the company to provide.
Now the engineers at Facebook, Twitter and MySpace have done what I expected Google to do, create a social suggestions search engine. Let’s see some examples.
Solution: “People & Pages” Powered By Google Search
Let’s start with a search for music. On the left, what you see from Google’s Search Plus. On the right, how things change after you click the Don’t Be Evil bookmarklet:
The first set of arrows at the top show how “People and Pages on Google+” is changed instead to “People and Pages from the Social Web.”
The second set of arrows shows how for Britney Spears, rather than her Google+ profile being shown (where she has 1.6 million followers), her Twitter account is displayed (where she has 12.6 million followers). Underneath her Twitter account, links to her MySpace, Facebook and Tumblr accounts are also shown.
The third set of arrows shows how for Snoop Dogg, rather than his Google+ profile being shown (with 1.4 million followers), his Twitter account (with 6.2 million followers) is shown. Underneath that, links to his MySpace, Facebook and Google+ accounts are displayed.
I’ll explain more about how each profile gets selected, but first, let’s do some more examples. Here’s a search for cars:
For this search, the Google+ page for Ferrari (6,500 followers) is changed to Ferrari’s Facebook page (5.6 million followers), with its YouTube page as an alternative link. Toyota’s Google+ page (180,000 followers) is also changed to the Toyota Facebook page (700,000 followers).
One of my favorite examples to show the failing of Google’s current system is a search for Facebook:
On the left, Google’s regular listings suggest Mark Zuckerberg’s Google+ profile as something people should follow. It really is Zuckerberg’s official page, with over 600,000 followers. However, Zuckerberg has never posted to it since creating that profile shortly after Google+ launched.
On the right, the Don’t Be Evil button transforms that listing into something useful, a pointer to Zuckerberg’s Facebook page (his Google+, Twitter and Quora pages are listed as alternatives.
Also notice the arrows. In this case, I was signed-in to Google+, which is why an “Add to circles” button appear next to the Google+ result. However, when the result was transformed to show a Facebook listing, I got an indication showing that I was already following Zuckerberg on Facebook (if I wasn’t, a Like button allowing me to follow him would have appeared).
One more example, this time to show that there’s more intelligence going on that just stripping out Google+ links and swapping them for any other network. Here’s a search for Google:
Under that is Larry Page. His listing isn’t changed. It remains pointing to his Google+ page, which makes sense. To the best of my knowledge, that’s the only place he’s active socially. While LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter accounts are also shown for him, none of those seem to be real accounts for him.
What’s The Most Relevant Social Account To Show? Ask Google!
We could debate which is the most best social account to show for each of the examples above in various ways, such as:
- Should it be based on followers? If so, in many cases, accounts on the established social networks of Twitter and Facebook would easily trump Google+ accounts, though not always.
- Should it be based on activity? Britney hasn’t posted to Google+ since January 18. Her last tweets are more recent, as of January 21. Does that count for more?
- Should it be based on engagement? Even if Britney hasn’t been on Google+ recently, perhaps her engagement with fans is better there?
Rather than try to figure all this out — and potentially come under accusations they were selecting metrics to favor their own social networks — the developers of the Don’t Be Evil bookmarklet decided to let Google itself figure out which social account was most relevant.
For example, let’s go back to how the listing for Snoop Dogg was changed:
What happens is that the bookmarklet looks at which accounts are listed initially by Google in the People & Pages section. It then does a search for the people or companies listed to find which social profiles Google itself believes are most relevant, in the first 100 results.
In the case of Snoop Dogg, the bookmarklet sees that he’s listed as a People & Pages suggestion for a search on “music.” It then conducts a search for “snoop dogg” on Google, to see which social account Google lists first for him.
As you can see above, Twitter is the first social account shown, so the bookmarklet rewrites Snoop Dogg’s suggestion to link to his Twitter account. His MySpace account is found next, so it’s listed as the first alternative. Facebook is found after that, so it’s the second alternative. Google+ is found after that, so it becomes the third alternative.
According to the tool’s FAQ page, it checks for links from any of these social networks:
- CrunchBase (weird, I wouldn’t consider this a social network)
- Stack Overflow
Because only Google’s own information is being used, the tool can’t patch up a key weakness, which is that all the suggestions are initially based on people who are in Google Plus.
For example, you will never get Katy Perry as a music suggestion, despite her being one of the most followed musicians on Facebook or Twitter. That’s because she’s not on Google+, so she has no chance of appearing as a suggestion to music-related queries. If she doesn’t get suggested, then the tool can’t add her.
Problem: Autocomplete Profiles Only For Google+
Another feature of Search Plus that favors Google+ is within Google’s search box. As you type, the autocomplete feature of Google Instant will suggest things you should search for. For notable or prominent people, these suggestions may also include a link to their Google+ profile. For example, consider this search for Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg:
Just typing in the word “sheryl” – when I was completely logged out of Google — was enough for it to suggest that I select her Google+ page, where Sandberg last posted in September. That’s pretty preferential treatment. Why should that be suggested over Sandberg’s personal web site or another social profile?
Solution: Expand The Choices
The Don’t Be Evil button developers call the autocomplete suggestions “typeahead” results. When you use their button, the typeahead suggestion is changed. For Sandberg, her Facebook profile is shown:
The same logic I explained above is used to do this. Whatever Google lists as the first social network for a search on Sandberg’s name, that profile is used to go into the autocomplete box (though for me, it should be her CrunchBase profile there, not her Facebook profile).
I’ve covered this in my earlier articles, but I’ll stress it again. Pointing to Google+ profiles — and no other profiles — was a significant change to favor Google+ than how Google operated in the past. Consider this:
That’s where I’m starting a search for “facebook.” I’ve only entered the “face” part and, already, Google suggests that I go directly to the Facebook home page from within the search box itself.
Google started offering these types of suggestions back in 2008 and 2009. You can still see it working today, if you disable Google Instant predictions within your search settings. Typing in Amazon, or Best Buy or New York Times brings up other examples of this.
Most people have Google Instant on, since it’s the default, so they never see these type of “old” web link suggestions. Instead, they get the new Google+ profile ones. Google didn’t have to only push these, but it chose to.
Problem: Sitelinks Only For Google+
Ever done a search and noticed a bunch of listings “indented” under the main listing? Those are called sitelinks. For listings associated with Google+ accounts, they pick up special sitelinks, their last two posts on Google Plus. Here an example for TV Guide, what someone who is logged out of Google would see:
The two arrows point to the special Google+ sitelinks that are appearing. This type of thing existed before Search Plus Your World rolled out, though I can’t recall any formal announcement of it. Certainly when Direct Connect for Google+ came out, there was nothing that highlighted these sitelinks as part of that.
In fact, the addition of them feels very odd, given how just over a year ago, Google was showing sitelinks of a different sort for other social networks. For example, here’s how a search for Twitter was suggesting people our news editor Barry Schwartz should follow:
Solution: New Social Sitelinks
The Don’t Be Evil button replaces the Google+ sitelinks similarly to how other changes are done. Here’s TV Guide again:
Rather than two Google+ sitelinks being shown, only a single one appears. In this case, it’s a link to TV Guide’s Twitter profile, since that’s the first profile that the tool finds when doing a Google search for “tv guide.” A link to TV Guide’s Facebook profile follows as an alternative.
Which Way Forward?
As I’ve explained in many articles over the past two weeks, I’ve been pretty disturbed by Google’s promotion of Google+ within its search pages.
The “People & Pages” results, if they’re intended as a promotion for Google+, still come across as if they are regular search results — results that I think Google users assume come from across the web. They do not. The come only from Google+ itself.
You could argue with better labeling, that type of promotion might work better. But that still leaves questions about why Google+ profiles are being pushed within Google’s search suggestions, rather than links to other pages from across the web. The links shown there aren’t necessarily the most relevant suggestions to be shown.
Google, in particular its executive chairman Eric Schmidt, has argued that it doesn’t have all the data it needs to include other social services in the way it does for Google Plus. The failure to reach a deal with Facebook; the failure to renew a deal with Twitter, these have prevented the social signals it needs from being used, Google has said.
The Don’t Be Evil tool demonstrates this isn’t the case, that there are social signals that Google already can find which could be used, if it wants.
Of course, if Google had done so what the Don’t Be Evil tool is doing now — incorporated links to Facebook and Twitter after they’ve rejected deals — potentially Google could have been accused of scraping content from them without permission. Indeed, that was one of the things Facebook suggested last year in what was widely seen as a smear campaign.
I put that to Facebook when I talked with the company last week about the tool. I was told Facebook saw a difference between taking public signals to build a competing social service — as it felt Google was doing — and using those signals as part of a search service that points outward.
I was also assured that if Google wanted to do the types of things that the Don’t Be Evil tool is now doing, Facebook wouldn’t complain.
Google’s Unusual Balancing Act
It can seem confusing — even hypocritical — for services like Facebook and Twitter to not release their public data more fully to anyone (including Google) without demanding deals, then complain they don’t feel represented enough in search results.
It can also seem odd that both of those companies might favor themselves in their own social networks, not include Google+, yet demand that Google somehow be “fair” to them.
The challenge Google faces, however, is that it operates both a social network and a search engine. The Google+ social network does compete with Facebook and Twitter, and anyone would expect that it should favor itself.
The Google search engine, however, was founded on the idea that it should be fair to all. That is, after all, what a good search engine should do — provide the best results, not the results best for its parent company. The continued Google+ification of Google’s search results is bringing that fairness into question.
Potentially, that’s an anti-trust issue (and Facebook, as the dominant social service, might find itself similarly under pressure to open up to competitors). But anti-trust issues aside, it’s simply a trust issue. Will users trust that Google’s results are doing the right thing by them?
I strongly encourage anyone feeling lost in all this debate and some of the tricky issues it presents to see my post from last week, FAQ: What’s The Debate About Google’s Search Plus Your World?
Finally, you can expect we’ll be taking a close look at the huge changes that Google+ is unleashing in the search marketing space at our upcoming SMX West conference in San Jose Feb. 28-March 1, in particular during these sessions:
- Getting Personal, Part 1: How Google & Bing Personalize With Social Connections
- Getting Personal, Part 2: How Google & Bing Personalize With Search History & Geography
- SEO For Google+ & Google Search
- Ask The Search Engines – Open Q&A Forum
Postscript: See A Proposal For Social Network Détente for some further reflections on moving ahead from today’s events.
- Google’s Results Get More Personal With “Search Plus Your World”
- Search Engines Should Be Like Santa From “Miracle On 34th Street”
- To Understand Google Favoritism, Think “If Google+ Were YouTube”
- Real-Life Examples Of How Google’s “Search Plus” Pushes Google+ Over Relevancy
- Pimping Google+ In Search Works: Lady Gaga Finally Joins Google+
- Larry Page Ousts Mark Zuckerberg As Most Popular On Google+
- How Google Instant’s Autocomplete Suggestions Work
- How Facebook Enables The Google Social “Scraping” It’s Upset About
- Schmidt: Google+ Not Favored, Happy To Talk Twitter & Facebook Integration
- Google Now Forcing All New Users To Create Google+ Enabled Accounts
- “Ask On Google+” Links Appearing In Google’s Search Results
- Google To Close Social Graph API, Not OpenSocial
- FAQ: What’s The Debate About Google’s Search Plus Your World?