Google+ and the future of search

17 Jul

SparksIs G+ a killer app?”  Oh, come on that’s what everyone’s wondering.  Some people think that it’s going to rival Facebook.  Others think it’s here to challenge Microsoft.  I’m wondering if it’s here to change search.

You may not have heard about it, but G+ has a feature called Sparks, which brings content from around them web to you through your Google+ account.  Sparks features streams (to use Google speak) of information on a variety of topics.  It’s preloaded with some topics when you join G+, but you have the ability to add others.

Although Sparks hasn’t received nearly as much press as some other G+ features (like Hangouts and Circles), it may be the one that has the biggest impact on how we use the internet.  By bringing content directly to us, Sparks has the potential to change the way we get information, specifically the way we search. 

History lesson time!

Originally, there was the internet.  It was made up of individual sites that may or may not have been connected; finding what you were looking for was difficult.  (Remember links pages?)  Things became out of date, sites crashed, links broke, and you had no way of knowing that until you got an error.

Then, there were search engines, which helped us to find the things that we were looking for.  We typed in the terms that we were searching for and they told us where we could find those words on the internet.  Search engines combed the internet for links and kept track of what internet users, in aggregate, were clicking on to help us find relevant  results.

Google LogoNext, search engines got smart.  When we searched for X and got very few results, they asked “are you sure you aren’t searching for Y?”  And most of us said “Yes, thank God, I always forget how to spell Y.”

Then, they started guiding our searches even more and encouraging us to change our search terms before they even showed us the results.  In the split second before we typed an additional search term, Google would suggest one instead.  Maybe we were searching for “X is great,” but in oh-so-slight pause between “is” and “great”, Google suggested “an idiot”.  (The most famous example of this is to type “all women should” in Google and see the search terms that it suggests.  Try it for yourself.  Doesn’t leave you too impressed with the average Google user, does it?)

Maggie O'Toole's Irish PubNow, search engines show us the results that they think we want.  Instead of the highest ranking sites, our top 10 hits are filled with the sites that the search engines think that we personally want to see.  These results are customized by our physical location, past search history, and anything else that Google know about us.  (And, I’m going to guess that Google knows a whole lot about us.)  Results also change based on whether you’re logged in to your Google account.  When you are, Google has confirmation of who you are and your results are much more tailored.  (For example, when I’m logged in and search for my name, my personal pages come up a lot higher in search results.  When I’m not, I get a bunch of results for bars that share my name.  Yes, that’s what happens when your name is Maggie O’Toole.)

Great history lesson, Maggie.  So how does all of this relate to Sparks?

Google+ Sparks LogoSparks has the potential to, once again, change the way we search.  Because with Sparks, we won’t even need to search.  Google will say, “Here are the topics that we think interest you, and here are the pages about those topics that we think you’ll enjoy.”  And, you know what?  They’ll probably be right 99% of the time.

But, I like exploring the internet.  I like going off in the wrong direction and learning about things that I never would have discovered otherwise.  (Hello, fanfic.)  I don’t want my news to come to me through pre-filtered silos.  My interests, my politics, and the people that I follow aren’t all distinct and my opinions change all the time based on what I read.  I don’t want Google, or anyone else, reinforcing them.  I want to be exposed to things that challenge me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not some sort of Luddite.  I appreciate the way that I’m able to access information as never before.  (And I do fully take advantage of Google’s “did you spell this wrong” auto-correct feature.)  But, I don’t want to be pigeon-holed.

I don’t like the political and social implications of anyone (company, government, etc.) telling me what I should want to read.  (And telling you that you should want to read something different.)  I want everyone to be engaged in the same conversation.  If we’re all getting different information brought to us, we’ll never be on the same page.  I want Democrats to read Republican opinion.  I want Evangelicals to see pictures of gay weddings.  I want people to confront things that their not comfortable with.

And I don’t want Google to stop it.


MaggieCakes is a blog about social media, marketing, culture, and what’s new on the internet written by me, Maggie O’Toole.  Every day (okay, I try for every day) I comb blogs and news outlets for the news about internet culture and social media to bring them to you (with my commentary, of course) here on MaggieCakes. Find anything interesting in the worlds of culture or social media that you’d like to see a post on? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail at 2maggieotoole@gmail.com.

8 Responses to “Google+ and the future of search”

  1. Wendy July 19, 2011 at 9:53 am #

    Hey! What an awesome summary of Google +! And I completely agree with you about Sparks — shudder.

  2. Dael July 19, 2011 at 9:27 pm #

    Awesome post thanks Maggie, and thanks for the ‘all women want’ suggestion for Google. I’ve had a bit of a challanging day and that gave me something to laugh about:)

  3. Mallika :) July 20, 2011 at 5:00 am #

    Loved the history lesson.. 😛
    And the search filter debate.. I love Google.. but I agree to the search problems it presents.. the whole they-give-us-what-they-think-we-want-to-see-and-not-what-we-need-to problem. 😐

  4. Silvernfire July 20, 2011 at 8:50 am #

    I’m ambivalent about guided searches. I don’t trust them on general principle—ack! giant corporation deciding what I will see!—but there are times when I don’t want to put a lot of energy into a search. Maybe I need an opt-in button so that I could easily switch from one to the other. Besides, it would be interesting to see the differences between the two sets of results.

    Incidentally, I found your blog through Sparks. “Amazon, eBooks, and the demise of Borders and bookshop culture” came up in a Sparks search for e-books.

  5. Subh July 24, 2011 at 12:11 am #

    Well written article. Never thought of this perspective of google plus.

  6. Gail Gardner July 24, 2011 at 3:22 pm #

    Yeah! Someone else who sees the path we’re on and still has a brain and the desire to make their own decisions! Maybe the Luddites had a point. You have to wonder why those particular “what women should” suggestions are in there, don’t you?

    It is up to us – bloggers and those who are social media savvy – to identify alternatives and encourage our readers, followers, friends, family – EVERYONE to use them because if we do not there will not BE any alternatives. It is just like businesses in small towns. If everyone stops using them they go away.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Google+ and the future of search (via MaggieCakes) « Deep Within - July 20, 2011

    […] “Is G+ a killer app?”  Oh, come on that’s what everyone’s wondering.  Some people think that it’s going to rival Facebook.  Others think it’s here to challenge Microsoft.  I’m wondering if it’s here to change search. You may not have heard about it, but G+ has a feature called Sparks, which brings content from around them web to you through your Google+ account.  Sparks features streams (to use Google speak) of information on a variety of topics. … Read More […]

  2. What’s Going On? « Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth - October 13, 2011

    […] a source – search engine technology has progressed to the point where it can now pretty much tell you what you want to hear. Things are becoming more and more filtered in an age when what we really need is to be challenged, […]

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