Is New Google like the New Coke?

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

Have you become a STOP SOPA lemming?

 

Note: If you’re just stumbling on to this post, both bills have been withdrawn at this time but keep reading. The points are still valid. An excellent wrap up of the issue is contained in this New York Times piece: It’s time to put down the pitchforks on SOPA.

The current controversy over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), also known as U.S. House Bill 3261, is highly disturbing on several levels, and the actual bill might be the least of our worries, in the long-term.

I am against piracy, but I’m also against this bill.  The proposal is so out of touch with reality that it is embarassing.  It looks like the opposition is gaining momentum, so that is a relief.

But here is something that is just as disturbing to me. Many people I know became “Stop SOPA” lemmings.

Follow the leader?

Legend has it that a lemming is a little rodent that blindly and unquestioningly follows their leader, even when they follow them over a cliff to their death (they don’t actually do this but that is another story).

I questioned three well-known social media leaders about why they were supporting SOPA and actively encouraging their followers to attach a “Stop SOPA” badge to their profiles. Here is a summary of their responses:

“I’m not what you would call an expert on this. I haven’t even read the bill. I’m trusting what I read from others.”

“To be honest, I don’t know what is in the bill. But based on how people are reacting it must be bad.”

“I have not read the bill and I do not intend to read the bill. What is in the bill is irrelevant. They are taking away our rights.”

You see, on the social web, “Stop SOPA” is not a political issue, for many. “Stop SOPA” has become a meme.  This movement was passed from person to person without much independent thought or an educated response. It has become the Keyboard Cat of political statements.

I fully appreciate the importance of “social proof” on the Internet. In the absence of direction, we may look to trusted others for an idea of what to do. But come on folks. This proposed legislation directly affects the very heart of our lives and our livelihoods. There is no excuse in encouraging action from your trusting followers without doing a little homework.

But what about the problem?

The third level of concern this proposed legislation created was the fact that everybody seems to be against SOPA but there has been little  intelligent dialogue about the actual issue of stopping piracy.  And stealing is “our right” is not a viable answer in my book.  Please, take a strong stand … but also help provide some answers.

Here is the problem in a nutshell. I just spent nearly a year of my life writing a book. If there is no hope of getting paid for the difficult work and sacrifice that goes into creating content like this in the future, I will never write another book.  And so on.

When you steal content, you’re not beating a greedy corporation. You’re not sticking it to “the man.” You’re sticking it to me, and millions of other writers, filmmakers, musicians, software developers, and other hard-working content creators.

Some claim that alternative monetization models will emerge to allow people to continue to create and prosper in spite of what seems like unstoppable piracy.  But we have been stealing legally-protected content for 20 years now. If an easy monetization alternative were available, wouldn’t it have emerged by now? It hasn’t, and it won’t. And yes, I’ve read the book Free by Chris Anderson and still believe there is probably no answer to widespread content theft other than some sort of legislation. We need to come to terms with that fact and be part of the solution.

OK, that is enough of the rant. This time it was SOPA. But the next time we “go lemming,” will it be something even more important? And at what cost? I was really disturbed by the herd mentality I witnessed.  What about you?

Blogging and the fairness challenge

A dear friend was recently lamenting that her blog had become nothing but blah, blah, blah.  There was no commentary, discussion, or meaningful debate. But ironically, she said that it was not her style to “take a stand” on any issue. She would rather go with the flow.

Obviously if you stay in the safety zone of “likability,” you’re never going to attract much conversation other than a polite “great post!”  But think about this … on the social web, the only distinct value you can deliver is your opinion.  And if you never offer an honest opinion, you’re not really creating much value. You are probably well-liked but invisible.

My story

When I was in my 20s, I had a revelation that helped me be a better man and a ultimately, a better blogger.

In a performance review, my boss made an interesting observation: it seemed like it was important — maybe too important — for me to be “liked.” At that time, I just assumed everybody had this same goal, but the more I thought about this, I realized that innovation, change, and progress can never occur if you are preoccupied with just being popular.  I’m not saying anybody should be rude or disrespectful.  I’m saying that there is tremendous value in learning how to take a stand in a kind and nurturing way.

A focus on being liked as being the end goal may get in the way of being respected.  It’s easy to be liked. It’s difficult to become respected.

A new outlook

So I began to re-frame my perspective.  It’s impossible (and exhausting) to try to be “liked” by everybody.   But I do think it is realistic to have a goal of being seen as “fair.”  Somebody who is fair can take a stand and attack issues without attacking people. Somebody who is  fair can have the courage to take a strong stand and also exhibit humility and admit when they are wrong. Somebody who is fair is at peace because their beliefs are congruent with their words and actions.  I think there is tremendous power in that … in life, and as a blogger.

Trading a goal of being “liked” for one of being “fair” will unleash your creativity and embolden your writing style. Having the courage to start a conversation instead of meekly repeating what you think people want to hear is liberating.  And I think you might even be surprised when you voice an opinion and others chime in and say “Yes! Finally somebody is saying what needs to be said.”

Trading in “like” for “fair” will make your words MATTER.  Isn’t that important to you?

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