Did Google just break the Internet?
Google rocked the search world on Tuesday, with an announcement that bought together social network content and search results at a level not seen before. It launched Google Search Plus Your World (SPYW), which folds content from your social networks into your regular Google search results.
The idea is that content on a person's social network can often be more relevant than search results that come purely from the web. So, mixing the two together should give you a search engine that is far more precise.
Google already trialled something similar with its Social Search feature, launched in 2009, but this is far more personal. It returns data from your private social networks, rather than simply trawling publicly available data from social networks, It also suggests individuals that you might want to follow on social networks, and it will suggest social network pages related to specific topics that you search for.
This means that in addition to the more general results that Google returns for a search on, say, “tacos", it might also return information from your friends who have posted to their social networks about tacos. It will suggest that you follow social network users who are important in the small and highly competitive world of tacos. And it might show you the social networking page for a Tacos Anonymous group, offering support and outreach services for people with a tragic addiction to spicy Mexican food.
But which social networks will it show? Google's new feature is causing some anger among social networking and search experts who say that it isn't including the right data.
Some are accusing Google of prioritising social search results from its own social network, Google+, launched last year. This social network, which has over 60 million users, was designed to take on social networks like Facebook and Twitter.
Twitter is complaining that Google is returning social search results from the Google+ network more prominently than it posts results from Twitter.
Google bigwigs retorted that such accusations aren't fair, because Twitter doesn't give Google a licence to search and index its content directly. It used to, but according to Google, Twitter ended the deal last year. Even so, Google still returns information from social networks such as Twitter, along with others, protests Google engineers Matt Cutts.
Google is able to do this because it already has lots of Twitter pages in its index. Danny Sullivan, a search engine expert who has spent years studying Google, shows how it has 3 billion Twitter pages in its index. He also points out that even without the licence to directly access Twitter's data, Google can still find vast amounts of Twitter pages if they are linked to on the Web.
Google has lots of Facebook pages in its index, too. In November, it even signed a deal with Facebook to start indexing comments that people made on websites supporting the Facebook Connect feature, which lets third party web sites integrate with Facebook.
But in spite of all this, Google is at the very least prioritizing Google + accounts in its social media search feature, and recommending that people follow peoples' Google + accounts, even though they may have accounts in other social networks.
When US users of Google.com search for Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Google SPYW recommends that you follow Zuckerberg's Google + account, rather than his Facebook account - even though Zuck has never posted anything in his Google+ account. Yet if you search for 'Mark Zuckerberg Facebook' in Google's regular web search, his Facebook account is the first account to come up. Google knows it's there. Its search engine knows who he is. But it priorises his Google+ account in the SPYW search regardless. There are other examples.
Perhaps Google should rename its feature Search Plus Your World On Google. Social networking is increasingly important to people. By not fairly representing it, did Google just break the Internet?
Danny Bradbury, MSN Tech & Gadgets