Google just announced new features that will make our search results much more social; but is this really what we want?
Google’s assumption is that we would enjoy getting personalized results. While it may be appealing, it doesn’t come without risks, which Eli Pariser pointed out in his book ‘The Filter Bubble‘. It’s definitely worth reading, but to summarize it very briefly, his argument is that personalization means we could end up living in a bubble, where dissent and serendipity would have disappeared. What worries Pariser even more is that passive personalization often comes without any warnings. How many people know that their Google search results are different from their colleagues’?
Personalization doesn’t equal social
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But even assuming personalization is the way to go, there’s no reason to believe going social is the best way to do it. Sure, it would take more effort for each of us to teach Google what we prefer, but there’s a good chance we’d get much more efficient results than through our social graph.
For people like me, who use Google for work on a daily basis, these new features are actually worrisome. Will I have to unfriend people I like to keep my search results clean? You all know what I am talking about: we all have friends and family who post random old links, and although we like them very much in the right context, we wouldn’t necessarily rely on them when we are looking for the latest article on CES.
This is where the bubble comes into play: while we may tolerate disagreeing with our neighbors on politics, we may not be as open-minded if their preferences show up when we Google the name of our favorite candidate for the next election.
Good for Google, but what’s in it for us?
To be fair, a toggle will let you remove “personal results” – not to mention private navigation, which will let you get rid of most of Google’s customization, as long as you don’t log into services like Gmail. Yet, it tells a lot about Google’s vision on the future of search.
This is not the first time Google has tried to inject social into search, but the relative success of Google+ takes it to a whole other level. As with many Gmail users, I am logged into my email account whenever I am online, and I could help but notice how it has progressively turned into an online identity – which is now also seamlessly tied to Google+ and YouTube.
More than an email provider, Google is progressively trying to become our englobing online environment. The appeal of this integration for Google is pretty obvious: better targeting, hence better ads. But what about users? Do we want our friends to follow us everywhere we go, even in places as intimate as search?