Monday, February 13, 2012

When Google+ is not a plus

In an attempt to put the internet directly in the hands of the users, and to give people the content that is most relevant to them, Google has been adding more “personalized” content to search results.  If you’re looking for a restaurant, a review by one of your friends will appear at the top.  If you’re interested in reading more about candidates for the upcoming presidential election, an analytic post by someone you follow on Google+ will be the first hit.  However, this is not catching on in the way Google hoped it would.  Users of the search engine are responding that they would actually prefer their results to be unbiased.  Furthermore, in some cases, reviews from social network sites convey inaccurate information about the products.

Last month, Google began including search results from Google+ to users who were logged in.  This was met by an immediate outcry, and Google quickly responded by adding a set of buttons on the search results page that allowed users to toggle between including and excluding personal results without having to go through the hassle of navigating the settings menu.  Despite this, most users in a recent survey indicated that they were not enthusiastic about viewing posts by people in their Google+ networks when they performed a search.  Only 15.5% of responders indicated they liked the idea of personal search results.  Another 39.1% said they were okay with the idea but had some privacy concerns, and 45.4% felt strongly about having all users receive the same results when they type in a given search query.  When asked if they would use Google+ for the purpose of receiving personalized search results, just 7% responded favorably. 

As results from social networking and review sites make their way to the top of search results pages more often, a question that remains is whether these sites actually provide the best and most accurate content.  A recent study showed that in some cases, they do not.  A popular social networking site called Untapped allows users to log the beers that they drink and write reviews.  They can then opt to share the information on other social network sites like Twitter and Facebook.  A recent comparison revealed a disparity between the quantity and quality of beers that users log in and the ones that they share.  People are more likely to share beers that are new and different.  Other factors could prevent them from sharing information about beer, including drinking frequently or early in the day.  Since their profile on this site is connected to those of their real-life friends, there could be a tendency to underreport any drinking that might be considered socially unacceptable.   Even if they have a favorite beer, they might not log it every time they drink it, which would result in their history not being the most inaccurate. As a result, trends deduced from the data on these websites would not portray actual behavior.  If such information were used as a search result for a relevant query, the user would be presented with flawed information.

There are times when people find it fun and useful to see information from their friends presented in search results.  However, most of the time, well-respected and reputable websites  will contain the information they are looking for.  These recent reports indicate that not only are social network-related results inaccurate, most searchers are not interested anyway.  In the case of Google incorporating social media results, users were quick to register their displeasure, and Google responded promptly with an adjustment to improve the user’s experience. This experience illustrated how public opinion can shape the direction of the internet and social media. 


Google Users Will Get More Personalized Results in Searches

Google Users Dislike Personalized Search Results [Survey]

How Social Sharing Changes What You Drink

App Reveals Reluctance to Admit You Are What You Drink

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