Google Inc.'s new feature called "Search Plus Your World" will now integrate material from its social network, Google Plus in its Google search results. This move has sparked controversy as social network Twitter complained bitterly that this would skew search results to Google's social network.
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"For years, people have relied on Google to deliver the most relevant results any time they wanted to find something on the Internet," Twitter spokesman Matt Graves said. "Often, they want to know more about world events and breaking news. Twitter has emerged as a vital source of this real-time information, with more than 100 million users sending 250 million Tweets every day on virtually every topic. As we've seen time and time again, news breaks first on Twitter; as a result, Twitter accounts and Tweets are often the most relevant results. We're concerned that as a result of Google's changes, finding this information will be much harder for everyone. We think that's bad for people, publishers, news organizations and Twitter users."
Twitter is understandably upset about the new feature. Google used to pay Twitter for tweets to appear as part of Google's search results. The partnership also was lucrative for Twitter and tweets could turn up on queries about breaking news or in a real-time search section. Unfortunately the partnership ended in July 2011 because according to Google+ post Twitter chose not to renew the deal.
Twitter does have a point in its criticism of Google's new feature. Google+ posts are less likely to have real-time data than tweets posted on Twitter. If Google wants to provide its users with timely information, Twitter is the best source for that.
There's also the potential that Google is using this new feature to promote its social network over other services. Publishers and users would now pay more attention to Google+ in order to show up in Google search results. For example a query about sports will generate the usual results but also links and comments by people on Google+.
Google responded to the criticisms by pointing out that the search giant doesn't have access to all of the information on social networks and that other services could partner with Google to provide personalized results.
"As always, our goal is to provide you with the most relevant and comprehensive search results possible," said Google in a company statement to the Washington Post. "However, Google does not have access to crawl all the information on some sites, so it's not possible for us to surface all that content. Google also doesn't have access to the social graph information from some sites, so it's not possible to help you find information from those people you're connected to. We'd certainly be open to helping people more easily find information from other services, but we'd want to make sure we were providing a consistent user experiences with meaningful control."
To be fair to Google, it's not the first search engine to integrate social network content to its search results. Microsoft's Bing has been using Facebook content since May. Google's only been attracting more attention because more people use Google than any other search engine. There are also privacy concerns about the new feature as users may not want their personal information appear in search results. Google has assured users who don't want to see their friends' posts on search results that they could turn off the personal results in their personal preferences.