“Don’t Be Evil” Tool — Backed By Facebook & Twitter — Shows Google’s “Search Plus Your World” Can Go Beyond Google+

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:

The first suggestion is for Google’s own page on Google+, which is changed to Google’s page on Twitter. Notice how there’s a “Follow” button next to the Twitter link, as well.

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)
  • Github
  • Google+
  • Facebook
  • Flickr
  • Foursquare
  • FriendFeed
  • LinkedIn
  • MySpace
  • Quora
  • Stack Overflow
  • Tumblr
  • Twitter

All the information the tool finds comes solely from Google itself, even the profile pictures, which are generated using Google’s own rich snippets testing tool, as the FAQ page explains.

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.

We’ll see. I’ll be following up with Google. In the meantime, you can read more at the Focus On The User web site, and there’s also an overview video available:

YouTube Preview Image

John Battelle also has a nice write-up with his perspective here, and Techmeme has a round-up of coverage from others.

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:

Be sure to see the full agenda and register soon to save the most on a ticket.

Postscript: See A Proposal For Social Network Détente for some further reflections on moving ahead from today’s events.

Related Articles

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Facebook | Google: Antitrust | Google: Critics | Google: Google+ | Google: Search Plus Your World | Google: Sitelinks | Google: Web Search | Top News | Twitter

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About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



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  • http://www.highrankings.com/hrasubscribe Jill Whalen

    What a great illustration to show exactly how evil Google Search Plus really is. It will be interesting to see if all their push to get people to sign up at G+ has any real affect outside of the tech world.

  • http://www.nathanielbailey.co.uk Nathaniel Bailey

    Nice article Danny, I happy someone has gone out and done this to show Google how they should be doing their job to please everyone and give the most relevant and up-to-date social listings on google, because as we all know G+ is not always (and not even 1/3 of the time IMO) the best social site to be top of the listings when looking for something current or someones social account to follow or contact them.

    I will most definitely be installing this on my PC at home for personal use, but I don’t think it would be wise to install it on the work PC in case it gives incorrect results for our clients positions in the SERP’s, so maybe not a tool for SEO’s just yet.

  • http://blog.nexcerpt.com/ N.C.

    Excellent, complete rundown of the differences… saved me two hours of goofing with it myself!

    PS: For posterity (since we’ll return to this piece later, to evaluate when Google jumped the shark), in pointing to Zuckerberg, I believe you mean your ~other~ “left” (and your ~other~ “right” ;-)

  • http://www.andymatthews.net Andy Matthews

    Isn’t this just Facebook and Twitter wanting what they told Google what it couldn’t have? From what I read tweets used to show up in Google results but Twitter chose not to review it’s agreement with Google. As for Facebook, they’ve NEVER allowed Google to get at it’s content.

    So why should they now say that Google is being evil by not showing their content?

  • http://www.jcthomas.com Jim Thomas

    Danny, Thank you for the thoughtful article. This was a great exorcise for me regarding Google’s Search Plus Feature.

  • davep

    As usual, brilliant a round up. Impressive that this can be done by a third party using Javascript, without direct access to the backend – yet Google (you know, the the ones that made a self-driving car) claim it is impossible. Not just failing to serve users (and webmasters) – but insulting their intelligence too.

  • dbin78

    Interesting and well built. Although, I would not say it is backed by Facebook or Twitter just because it was built by some of their employees.

    As for the on going debate… where are my public +1′s on Bing? Essentially Google has made a data deal with Google+, just like Bing has with Facebook. Just because Google is dominant does not make their search results come under the control of the public or government. They can do what they want as a private company.

    Walmart is dominate right? So why don’t they display the prices of their products at Target? Many of Target’s prices are cheaper, but Walmart’s size and slogan give the perception that they offer a better deal.

  • http://www.kainoto.com/marketing-trzenje-clanki.aspx Dušan Vrban

    When Facebook will be open and the content will be property of people, they can surely complain. Even more, when in their search people will find my Google+ profile, they can talk about not being evil.

    But for now, if I search for my name in Facebook, I only get listed my Facebook profile.

    Thinking about creating an “be Evil” browser plugin that would “ehnance” Facebook and Twitter search in a way that they would show G+ profiles. :-)

  • -jme-

    I certainly agree with what you are saying when using the search function in this context, but the idea of this tool is more than that. The idea is to show relevant information from people within your social circle, for instance if you are searching for music and songs that your friends had linked would appear making it more relevant to the user. If you were searching for a restaurant, posts about restaurants from friends that were based near your location would be included. This is the type of personal data that is not provided from twitter and facebook that Google cannot include in search plus. If other social networks were to provide this information then the tool would be able to be fully integrated. Again I agree that in this context there can biased towards google pages however the option is there to use the real world function and find links not related to Google+.

  • jhuman

    Neat fun tool. Now, only if there was a feature that allowed complete source propagation to validate if the information is true or not.

  • Chas

    I guess my criticism is that the ‘don’t be evil’ button is clunkily engineered like features on Fakebook- it’s main redeeming quality is it’s name. It is only a matter of time before Google
    patches this hole, that your article has pointed out. Fortunately, there are alternatives to Google, such as Gigablast, or Blekko.

  • TimmyTime

    I would love to see one more that replaces Google Local with better ones from Yelp, InsiderPages and more. It’s clear to everyone that in almost all cases, Google Local is inferior so it surely isn’t best for the user :)

    I think it’s fair to ask what else is not “best for the users” in Google’s display or algo.

    Kudos to Blake for thinking outside of the Plex and pwning Google at their own game.

  • ThomasThatsMe

    If facebook/twitter wanted to truly be “not evil” they would done the following..

    1. Shown the person/company’s site vs showing their Facebook page. I think it is hilarious that when you search for “cars” you actually see Ferrari’s fb, google, and youtube page, but nowhere can you find Ferarri’s actual site. Isn’t that more relevant and less evil.

    2. have the autosuggestion go to the person’s site. If you search for Matt Cutts wouldn’t the ideal site to go to be MattCutts.com ?

  • http://www.kainoto.com/marketing-trzenje-clanki.aspx Dušan Vrban

    And there it is, the “Be evil” tool for Facebook:

    https://plus.google.com/u/0/110770161580526445977/posts/CJr8ZaMGxYd

    :-)

  • http://www.tomhermans.com tomhermans

    So they rewrite the link from G+ to Twitter.. waw, that’s major objective..
    Know what, maybe open up OUR content ?? Cuz you only provide a service Twitter, FB, and still you insist keeping it from the world..

    Way to go on showing who exactly is evil..
    (btw, I thought Twitter had more sense than partnering up with FB…)

  • http://www.AccessFirefox.org Ken Saunders

    Don’t Be Evil restartless Firefox add-on has been released.

    “Packages the bookmarklet from http://focusontheuser.org/ into an add-on, so that the changes are automatically applied to all Google search result pages.”
    https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/dontbeevil/

    I believe that others are working on one for Chrome (and others).

  • http://www.agmontpetit.com Alex G. Montpetit

    How come Facebook is behind an initiative called “focus on the user” when they don’t even let their users export their data to other social networks?

    Furthermore, Search Plus Your World is also about searching personal information, not only brands and pages. Along with the bookmarklet, why they don’t open Facebook so Google can crawl personal data if the users gives the permission?

  • jc_armor

    http://www.focusontheuser.org/dontbeevil/script.js -> open source script, based on checking the script, it does a google search on a term (top 100) and added add-on script to ‘find-replace’ based on listed social networks. As far as social data (likes, tweet count), the script just calls out the fb like button script and twitter script. So technically, Google doesn’t have these social data.

  • http://cgmasson.com Callum Masson

    I think it is a bit rich listening to Twitter and Facebook complaints on this – let us not forget that basically all these companies are monetising what we produce and I therefore have little compunction to care which of G+, Twitter, Facebook etc etc ‘wins’

    I hate – hate – social search. If I want to surface stuff from Twitter, i’ll go to Twitter

  • http://lee-phillips.org Lee Phillips

    There is nothing new about Google cooking its search results so that each user gets a different, personalized results page. Using google+ data is just more of the same.

  • http://www.wajam.com Wajam

    As a social search startup, we thought it’d be relevant for readers to see our stance on this issue. So here’s the official Wajam video reply in which we compare social results from Google Search+ Your World and our own, in which we also add Facebook and Twitter results: http://bit.ly/AumfoK

    In the end, it’s about giving users the freedom of choice, and providing them with the most relevant social search results. If people use Google for search, and Facebook for social, there has to be a way to bridge the gap, and that’s the problem we’re solving.

  • http://yieldcalculator.org Alan

    Was posted to reddit.com http://www.reddit.com/r/technology/comments/otmi1/google_dont_be_evil_tool/ and it appears care factor was 0 amongst non SEO people.

  • rlaw

    Wow… that’s a whole lot of work when you could just hit the globe button in the upper right of the results. Google’s already ahead of these guys.

  • http://www.lycos.com Steve Skroce

    Or everyone could switch back to Lycos and be done with all of this nonsense.

  • http://amulethut.com Amulet Hut

    Google Plus is something to have and post to from somewhere else. Meaning the actual profile pages are hard to access and also difficult to socialize.. try again google.. i give it a minus.
    And their preferential algorythms are easy to interpret and attain search results as easily as it was 5 years ago. Having said this, we all like to criticize google but in fact they have lots of wonderful services all for free, which doesn’t really give us much right to complain

  • Rahul Dhesi

    I have made a fairly long posting on Google Plus (URL included below) that disagrees with your blog postings in which you argue that Google should provide extra links to Twitter and Facebook profiles the same way it is currently providing links to Google Plus profiles. Here’s a 7-point summary.

    1. The term “unbiased” when talking about search results from Google has always meant that you could not pay Google to change the ranking of search results. The extra links to Google Plus profiles that we see in the redesigned Google Plus Your World search results do not change the ranking of search results.

    2. The extra links to Google Plus profiles that we see in the redesigned Google Search Plus Your World search results are a type of advertising. As with any other advertising, this advertising imposes a cost on us the users, because it takes up some of our time and some screen space.

    3. Google owes no duty of fairness to Twitter or Facebook.

    4. If Google added extra links to Twitter and Facebook profiles in addition to the current extra links to Google Plus profiles, this would cause two types of harm.

    4a. Harm to us users: The extra links would be a type of advertising that would impose an additional cost upon us.

    4b. Harm to Google: Google would be providing free advertising to Twitter and Facebook at its own expense.

    5. Antitrust law does not apply to this situation.

    6. Social connections improve search results. The individual user’s social connections to not only Google Plus users, but also to Twitter and Facebook users, should be included in search results.

    7. Twitter, Facebook, and Myspace engineers are trying in a sneaky manner to get you to add advertising links to serve their companies at no cost to them but at a cost to you.

    URL for my Google Plus posting:

    https://plus.google.com/105632069192178483374/posts/Qx9MBZseA99

    Rahul

  • https://plus.google.com/109717610044761452561 Alexander Edbom

    And if Marc wanted to be fair, he would let us import facebook friends to Google+..

  • SadToSayIt

    Who cares?

  • http://blog.clayburngriffin.com/ Clayburn Griffin

    It’s not evil.  They’re Google.  They have Google information much more easily available.  And they want to promote it anyway.  They shouldn’t have to depend on Twitter and Facebook, especially when both networks make a point of not giving Google the access level it wants.  They can’t have it both ways.  Either play by Google’s rules or Google will play without you.

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