A guest post by {grow} community member Helen Brown

Let me tell you a story:  Back in the 1980s there was a brand war, and it was a big deal at the time.  Named the Cola Wars, it was a knock-down, drag-out fight to decide which of the two mega brands of cola was better, Coke or Pepsi.  Both felt that neither could survive while the other lived, and you, the consumer, had to choose.  Which did you like better?  Side-by-side blind taste tests were done in supermarkets, on beaches, Main Streets and college campuses.  It was the Duke-Carolina and the Yankees-Red Sox of marketing wars rolled into one.  It was huge.

Then in 1985, in a moment no consumer could figure out (and no major company should ignore), Coca-Cola decided they would ditch their cash cow and make an entirely different product.  The venerable “Old Coke” was gone overnight and “New Coke” was the Coke to beat Pepsi. There was just one problem.  Nobody liked it.

There were practically riots in the streets.  People started hoarding “old” Coke when they could find it.  If you weren’t around then (and I suspect most of the Google decision-makers weren’t) I know it’s hard to believe that consumers actually rose up and made such a stink that a mega company completely reversed course about something, but they did.  In a matter of a few months, New Coke was gone and “Coke Classic” was resuscitated.

So now we’ve got the New Google and for professional searchers it tastes about as good as New Coke.  Here’s the vanilla article from Lance Ulanoff at Mashable, announcing its birth: Google Merges Search and Google+ into Social Media Juggernaut.  He says:

“Now we know Google’s master-plan for integrating Google+ ever more deeply into the Google ecosystem: Pour the whole thing into Google search. Starting today, Google+ members, and to a lesser extent others who are signed into Google, will be able to search against both the broader web and their own Google+ social graph. That’s right; Google+ circles, photos, posts and more will be integrated into search in ways other social platforms can only dream about.”

Short version: when you type a search into Google, what you’re going to get for your first results are everything you or your friends have ever written or shared publicly on Google Plus on anything related to the item you’ve just searched.

If you’re on your mobile device looking for a restaurant in San Francisco, you’re treated to a gold mine of your friends’ and acquaintances’ recommendations.  Nice!

But if you’re a professional 9-5 researcher like me using Google, it’s another layer of non-relevant stuff to wade through before you get to what you need.  We’re not “social” searchers — we use these tools to provide reliable answers to others.  Relevant search is our job.  And Google has always had the largest database of legitimate, relevant resources that professional researchers need and use every day.

THE EXPERTS WEIGH IN

In a Search Engine Land post, Danny Sullivan argues that besides making relevant search results harder to find for professional  searchers, the potential trouble on Google’s horizon is legal: if they highlight information (mainly) from their own properties – including Google+ and YouTube they could be charged with abusing their power as a monopoly.  Also, there’s that teeny little issue of privacy – what if something you thought you were posting privately to Google+ got shared without your permission publicly and then emerged as an answer to a search query?

On the Epicenter Blog, Tim Carmody describes the problem this way:

Fundamentally, it’s how Search Plus appears to privilege Google+ results — not links suggested by your Google+ contacts, but Google+ pages themselves, regardless of your social graph — in three categories:

  • Ranking of pages to determine their relevance, in the main body of search results;
  • The placement of those results on the screen, and the amount of screen real estate alloted to each result;
  • The right hand “recommendations” sidebar, where Google advertisements — not just the old text ads, but big graphics that follow you as you scroll down the page — have been joined, and in many cases replaced, by links and photos of “People and Pages on Google+.”

Effectively, Google has bought itself a huge amount of prime advertising space on its most popular platform for the product it most desperately needs to succeed.

FIXING WHAT’S NOW BROKEN

I’ve seen comments saying “what’s the big deal, you can turn Search Plus off!” and yes you can, and here’s how.

And you can also turn Verbatim on, which forces Google to allow you to use your exact search terms instead of Google trying to correct them for you (in case you didn’t really mean what you meant).  Here’s how:  Do a search, go to the search options sidebar, click “show more search tools,” select “Verbatim” and Google will keep your search string like you wanted it to be.

And you can turn filtering off, too, so that your world on Google doesn’t keep getting narrower and narrower.  And yes, it does.  You don’t even know what you don’t know, but you will if you read this and watch Eli Pariser’s jaw-dropping TED talk. 

But all these turning offs and turning ons are a total hassle.  Just to do one search in Google the way I used to just last year, I have to turn off two things and turn one on.  Every. Single. Time.  This is progress?

I’ve read other comments saying, “Google’s free and they can do whatever they want to with their product.”  And that’s true, they can.  I’d argue that Google is “free,” but whatever.  We can vote with our feet.  And Bing’s the next logical choice for database size.

Mat Honan at Gizmodo has this to say: Google just made Bing the Best Search Engine.

Trouble is, Microsoft has always run hot and cold on search.  They kindasorta want to compete with Google, but Bing’s not their core business and it’s never going to be.  There’s no Coke vs. Pepsi thing going on here.  It’s Coke vs. Shasta.  Google’s still got the largest database lurking inside all that growing social stuff, and Bing just doesn’t.  It’s big, but it’s not Google big.

So will Google create two products – one for professional searchers and one for social searchers?  Or, in the words of the immortal SNL writers, is it just to be “No Coke! Pepsi!” for us?

Helen Brown is the founder of The Helen Brown Group, a firm that helps non-profits with their donor research. She blogs at The Intelligent Edge.  Follow Helen at @AskHelenBrown.  The Helen Brown Group is a client of Schaefer Marketing Solutions.

 

Illustration: loichay
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