Personally, I like this direction. I really don't care Google will have the my same data in Picasa and Docs and Gmail. If anything, it's going to mean a better product for me. It's not like Google is suddenly sharing all this data with an external entity - it already had it. It already used it. Now it's just using it across multiple facets rather than limiting it to a single one. I'm just not sure I get the brouhaha. Maybe it's because I already use all those services as a single user, and have wanted better integration between them, so this just fits me better. Maybe I'm just ignorant about the implications. I'm not sure.
I do have to ask, though - if you have an issue with Google's having access to your data, why do you use Google services? As with any web property, if you're in for a penny, you're in for a pound.
People like to bitch and gossip about whoever's on top. It's why celebrity tabloids exist, it's perversely why shows like Jersey Shore and My Super Sweet 16 exist, it's why people complain about Apple or Google or Microsoft back in the day.
Couple the innate tendency towards bitching with the prospect of ad revenue from eyeballs, and you get the kind of tabloidy trash we've seen from pandodaily et al. It's just people capitalizing on some of the seedier aspects of human nature.
Google will survive this "controversy" (which 99.99% of its users haven't heard of), just as it will endure the cyclic cries of "you're being evil!". Sarah Lacy will continue to write sordid tales of no-goodery, and the Internet will continue to lap it up. Bloggers will continue to seize on the latest controversy to get pageviews, and so on.
> I do have to ask, though - if you have an issue with Google's having access to your data, why do you use Google services?
Because no one does have a real issue with it. They might be bugged by the abstract thought of it, but they certainly aren't bothered enough to do anything. Empty words, floating on the wind...
But on to my point, you must have an extremely short attention span, do you not even remember what happened with Buzz? As it pretty much invalidates your entire point.
That big BOOM, straight in their face. Happened pretty much exactly two years ago?
People do have issues with this stuff, if you don't, and I really mean this:
Shut up and sit down.
This is serious stuff, dangerous stuff, very, very, very dangerous stuff. You don't get that. That Google engineer above doesn't get that, disingenuously comparing fantastic user experiences with tracking you and invading your privacy for better advertising.
The worst thing in life you can do is live in this little bubble of 'I don't see the problem, I wish people would stop complaining'. If you don't, don't assume it's because you know best. Learn from history, this kind of consolidation of power is bad news.
First they came for the communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn't speak out because I was Protestant.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.
I'm not talking about people invading your home and sweeping you off into the night tomorrow. But history has taught us time and time and time again that there's every chance that'll be happening 20 years from now.
Maybe you think I'm being melodramatic, but it's the erosion between your life and what any sort of organisation can easily take from you that has to be continually fought, be it a government or corporation.
Just be glad there's people doing it for you. But never compare it to celebrity gossip.
EDIT: I feel a bit of a fool for posting this, but in the end it comes down to this. If you knew that on average every 50 years the world get hit by meteorites somewhere, you'd build a bomb shelter. No question. You'd take precautions. We know that every few generations some force in power will go crazy and do evil things. Giving them tools to seriously screw you up now when they're not evil is not good forward planning.
We're talking about Picasa having access to your address book (or whatever). Get a freaking grip.
You're throwing out a lot of scary-sounding nonsense without saying why it's bad. Sure, someone could use the information to do evil. Someone could also use nuclear power to make a bomb. The problem is the bomb, not the power. If your primary concern with Google is not that someone will use their information maliciously, but rather that someone could do so, you would be far better off focusing your efforts on preventing the bad men from gaining access to it.
Seriously, this what-ifery is why we have the TSA. Focus on the real threats, not the hypothetical ones that could be realized if x, y, z, and z++ all align.
Buzz was a serious fuckup on Google's part, and they learned their lesson. Case closed. It has precisely zero relevance to the "issue" at hand, which is that Google is going to start doing what everyone assumed they did anyway and use your behaviour across their properties to target ads at you. This isn't Kristallnacht, it's using my viewing habits on youtube to sell me shit on Search. I'm fine with that. If you aren't, then don't use their products. If you already don't use their products, great. Good for you. But don't be so fucking sanctimonious as to think that my belief that targeted advertising is not the worst thing since Hitler can only be explained by woeful ignorance. And if you are going to be that sanctimonious, don't be so obnoxious as to tell me.
The reality is some people think linking search to social to surfing habits is a fundamentally scary thought. It gives someone a massive insight into who you are. And that's far more important and complex than [generic celebrity couple]s breakup.
You really have to open your eyes a little, YouTube isn't even Google branded for example, what % of users even knew it was owned by Google till they switched the sign in? I bet a large % wouldn't even realise anyway and think it's like facebook connect.
And stop telling people to stop using services they value and have invested their time and effort in. That's what being sanctimonious is actually about, that's what it actually means. You actually couldn't care either way, the feigned piety is yours, not mine. I'm sincere in my beliefs.
That's because there are two entirely different classes of people that are do the bitching:
1) industry "analysts" and commentators claiming that Google doesn't "get" social and will one day lose out because of it
2) actual users of Google disliking the way that Google, in an effort to be "social" (whatever that is) is inserting unhelpful crap into the previously-pristine search results.
Isn't it possible that this diversion into "social" will end up being a big mistake down the road if it fundamentally alters the main Search product? "Social search" seems to be something that prognosticators always claim is right around the corner and is going to change the way we do things, but I don't know a single person that really wants results from their social network in their search results. If we wanted to know what our friends thought about Search Topic X, we would just ask them.
I had hoped that Google would be more subtle about it, instead I look at the SERPs and see them shouting at me.
This is exactly why I don't use Google's services, except for search and Google Maps. What bothers me is the possibility that even those basic services are being compromised in order to further Google's social media goals.
Who exactly "complained"? Google didn't get social, and it was fine. Now they still don't, but they've decided to try anyway. It's like an awkward teenager who thinks they can dance. It's embarrassing.
Many (most?) professions would never need to remind themselves not to "be evil." Restaurants don't have to say "Don't be evil." Yes, they have the motivation to skimp on quality or ingredients, but nothing like Google's temptation. The company's foundation is so laden with temptation to "be evil" it had to try to build defences to it in its core.
The problem with that situation is that the motivation never goes away, but the effort to resist it can fade.
> The problem with that situation is that the
> motivation never goes away, but the effort
> to resist it can fade.
I think choosing the motto 'don't be evil' was a dumb idea though, because there's a permanent population of people with too much time on their hands trying to show off by casting things as being evil.
I use Google, and I'm looking forward to the improved functionality.
From the Wikipedia article:
Buchheit, the creator of Gmail, said he "wanted something that, once you put it in there, would be hard to take out," adding that the slogan was "also a bit of a jab at a lot of the other companies, especially our competitors, who at the time, in our opinion, were kind of exploiting the users to some extent."
a letter from Google's founders:
"Don’t be evil. We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served — as shareholders and in all other ways — by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains."
The intent seems quite straight forward to me, but if we're actually at the stage where we're debating the meaning of "Don't be evil", then perhaps it's already too late.
Also, if you think the concept of evil is easy or straightforward, well, let's just say I'm a proponent of a broad liberal arts education.
If they choose to take their company to a place where they can no longer easily discern 'evil' from 'not evil', then I think it's fair to say that they're not adhering to the spirit of their motto.
To be honest, my main concern is that they seem to be driven primarily by commercial considerations in dealing with Facebook, rather than serving their users best interests. That, more than the specifics of what they're doing, is what really worries me.
They said "Don't be evil," whereas you're interpreting that as "Don't ever come close to doing anything that anyone could ever interpret as evil," which I think is unfair and would be prohibitively restrictive.
It's a commercial company, so there will always be commercial considerations. And I do understand the general unease around Google. But I also totally get why Google would want to add social signals: to improve search. And if FB won't open up, what alternative does Google have?
Sometimes you find yourself in a moral quandary through no fault of your own.
But if you're going to say, "I wont do evil" (whatever it is that you actually mean by "evil"), it would be wise not to put yourself in a position where you're either forced to do evil, or worse, can't tell if what you're doing is evil or not.
> evil isn't always easily discernible
So you're right; it isn't always discernible, but that's no excuse for making life even more difficult for yourself.
> They said "Don't be evil," whereas you're interpreting that as [...]
Not at all. They explained what they meant by it; I think it's perfectly reasonable and understandable so that's what I will hold them to. Indeed, I think it's clear that's exactly what they wanted us to do.
> I also totally get why Google would want to add social signals: to improve search.
Yes, I understand it too, and as I said elsewhere, I do find it rather convenient. I wont pretend it doesn't improve search, because it does.
That said, I don't want Google locked in a race to the bottom with Facebook to mine our personal data. I don't think it would serve any of us very well in the long term even if it would improve our search results and Google's profits.
> what alternative does Google have?
Find other ways to improve search.
I think you're conflating two perspectives. While we as bystanders can parse and decide whether what Google is doing is evil, this has no bearing on what Google itself considers evil. If evilness is not readily discernable, then there will be deviations between the two. But this doesn't mean that Google itself is putting itself in a position to do evil. Why do you think Google considers its actions evil? If you have some evidence about Google willfully violating "Don't be evil," I'd be interested in seeing it.
> So you're right; it isn't always discernible, but that's no excuse for making life even more difficult for yourself.
Making life difficult for yourself requires no excuse. If Google makes it hard for itself not to do evil, but continues to not do evil, then there's obviously no problem. If Google makes it hard, then does do evil, then it's still the evil deed that's the problem, not having put itself in the situation. So I find this whole "putting yourself in a hard situation" line to be irrelevant.
> That said, I don't want Google locked in a race to the bottom with Facebook to mine our personal data. I don't think it would serve any of us very well in the long term even if it would improve our search results and Google's profits.
I didn't realize that mining personal data counted as evil. If that's the case, they crossed the line long ago, didn't they?
I don't want to sound prickly but you keep putting words in my mouth.
As I said, it's less about the specifics of what they're doing now, and more about the apparent switch of focus from "organising the world's information"  to "deliver[ing] online experiences tailored to each individual's interests and social circles"  which, I believe, may lead to a bad outcome. And it's obvious many people within the company are uneasy about this too (and do, arguably, think it's wrong) 
Does this mean "Google" thinks itself to be evil? Well it becomes meaningless to talk about Google as a monolithic entity at that point because it's made up of individuals.
I'm concerned because going forward I think it's going to be much harder for Google to balance the best interests of their users with their mission and profit motive. When Google launched, our interests were more or less perfectly aligned with theirs. This switch in focus is one of the biggest upsets to that yet.
> Making life difficult for yourself requires no excuse.
If I gave you my word, and then through a series of decisions proceeded to make it almost impossible to keep it, perhaps you would say nothing all the while. At the very least, I think you would have an opinion on it.
But here we have an institution. People build institutions. We can build it in such a way that's it's likely to fail, or build it in such a way that it wont. Surely you can see it's important to make it as easy as possible for Google to do the right thing and difficult, if not impossible, for them do the wrong things.
If we don't, I think history is pretty clear on this one. Sooner or later, a bad outcome is absolutely inevitable.
> I didn't realize that mining personal data counted as evil.
I said a race to the bottom in mining personal data. Is what they're doing now evil? The consensus seems to be, no. Is there a point where we could all agree they've gone too far? Absolutely; obviously, even. So naturally you're going to ask me where the line should be drawn. Well, I honestly don't know and unfortunately I think we'll only know after it has been crossed, by which time it may be far too late to take meaningful action.
Google doesn't need to go down this route. If they choose to they're going to make it very difficult, if not impossible, to hold onto their values.
Me, I think there are plenty of other things they could be getting on with. They haven't finished organising the worlds information yet. Maybe when they've done that, we can talk again about them "deeply understanding" who I am .
> As I said, it's less about the specifics of what they're doing now, and more about the apparent switch of focus from "organising the world's information"  to "deliver[ing] online experiences tailored to each individual's interests and social circles"
I don't see these as divergent. Information about individuals is information, too, and needs to be organized. It also affects how the rest of the information is organized.
> And it's obvious many people within the company are uneasy about this too (and do, arguably, think it's wrong)
> Does this mean "Google" thinks itself to be evil? Well it becomes meaningless to talk about Google as a monolithic entity at that point because it's made up of individuals.
It also becomes meaningless to get that granular, doesn't it? Does Google have to not be evil in the eyes of every one of its employees?
> But here we have an institution. People build institutions. We can build it in such a way that's it's likely to fail, or build it in such a way that it wont. Surely you can see it's important to make it as easy as possible for Google to do the right thing and difficult, if not impossible, for them do the wrong things.
Could you describe in what ways you think Google is building an institution that leads them inevitably toward doing evil? Maybe the part I don't understand is what lies at the bottom of the personal data mine. Is it a matter of how much data they collect? What they do with the data?
Yes, me too!
> I don't see these as divergent.
Not divergent in the sense that one precludes the other, but where one doesn't involve me, the other is all about me. The old Google cared only about my search terms, the new Google seems to want to climb in my bed with a notepad and figure me all out.
> Does Google have to not be evil in the eyes of every one of its employees?
Google, the institution, just has not to be evil, as they have defined evil. That there's obvious internal disquet about their new direction should be fairly disqueting to you.
> Could you describe in what ways you think Google is building an institution that leads them inevitably toward doing evil?
It doesn't matter how many websites Google crawl or books they digitise, we don't have to trust them or their intentions or any of their staff. But our personal information can be used both for us and against us, and it's eventual misuse is inevitable whether by the institution, corrupt agents within it, or parties outside of it. The only thing we can do is limit the potential damage by limiting the data they hold on us.
> Maybe the part I don't understand is what lies at the bottom of the personal data mine.
That's part of the problem, I don't think anyone does really. We're in uncharted territory and part of the reason it's so tricky is so much can be inferred about you from seemingly innocuous data, or from analysing your social graph.
> Is it a matter of how much data they collect? What they do with the data?
Well they have a loosely defined need which is pushing them to collect this data. It seems fairly benign; to improve search. But where does it end? Larry Page doesn't seem to have drawn a line anywhere. Once they have the data and it's been mined for further meaning, it's inevitable they'll find new uses for it. So one leads to the other, leading back to the first.
Google is staffed by thousands of very clever people. I don't want them spending their days trying to figure me out. They're not uncorruptible. It's bad enough Facebook is at it; we really don't need Google competing with them in this endeavor. If we allow the situation to get out of hand, the winner will be the company that holds the most complete portfolio of information on us. Are you comfortable with that?
Could you point me to the obvious internal disquiet? Is this in reference to Larry Page's supposed "ultimatum"? Because I was under the impression that that was a simple expression of his commitment to his vision for the company, misrepresented by a hostile media entity.
It seems to me that the bulk of your objection boils down to Google's continued and expanding collection of personal data, and an impending but vaguely characterized misuse of that data.
> That's part of the problem, I don't think anyone does really. We're in uncharted territory and part of the reason it's so tricky is so much can be inferred about you from seemingly innocuous data, or from analysing your social graph.
I generally find warnings about vague, ill-defined threats to be unconvincing.
> Once they have the data and it's been mined for further meaning, it's inevitable they'll find new uses for it.
This does not seem at all self-evident to me.
In fact, it seems to me that Google's incentives are such that it's pretty much in their interest to use the data well. They have no incentive to sell it, since it allows them to target search results and ads better. And they have every incentive to keep their users' trust. And as far as I can tell, they've taken the issue pretty seriously. The Google Buzz disclosure incident is the only accidental exposure of information I can remember, and they handled it pretty well.
It was to this  article I was referring. I don't think he was misrepresented, but the Larry Page quote was really beside the point.
Edit: reworded the paragraphs below for clarity
> impending but vaguely characterized misuse of that data.
There have already been a number of occasions where either Google's network was compromised , a rogue employee has misused data  or users have had their accounts hacked  en masse. And of course, on top of this, various government and intelligence agencies have had access to your data .
None of that should be the least bit shocking or surprising, because such outcomes are inevitable when a large company holds so much data. I'm not going to blame Google; none of those incidents served their interests and indeed compared to most companies Google are unusually transparent and responsive about these issues. But knowing that these things will happen regardless of their good intentions, Google should seek to minimise and not maximise the amount of data they hold on us.
> > Once they have the data and it's been mined for further meaning, it's inevitable they'll find new uses for it.
> This does not seem at all self-evident to me.
Perhaps I should have said, "it's inevitable they'll find new ways to make money from it". They're a company, after all.
> In fact, it seems to me that Google's incentives are such that it's pretty much in their interest to use the data well. [...] And they have every incentive to keep their users' trust.
Well, we could say that about any company, and yet abuses occur regularly. If you set a companies profit motive against the best interests of it's customers, the cost of a breach of trust will simply be factored into the equation. Unfortunately it is frequently the case that while a breach of trust may be costly, it's not always costly enough.
I don't think there's anything exceptional about Google here. They're not immune to corruption. Google has served us so well so far because our interests are aligned; it's the surest way to prevent an abuse of trust in the future and why I'm so concerned about their new strategy.
The occasions of Google's data being compromised are notable for being exceptions, I think. Of course you're right that there's always the potential for misuse, and the only way to avoid misuse completely is to never gather data. It's parallel to the argument against big government. It's also parallel to the argument against nuclear power. But in each of these cases it's a matter of cost/benefit and risk analysis. You have to weight the risk and cost of misuse against the benefit of Google having that data. It seems that you're ok with the data Google has collected up til now, but you're worried about more data collection in the future. That's valid, but to me the benefits far outweigh the risk/cost.
Part of this is that Google's structured in such a way that its incentives are to keep the data private (within its own network) because it makes money by having sole proprietorship over it.
I think a salient distinction here is between privacy and confidentiality. Google and Facebook both collect a lot of private information about their users. But Google makes money by keeping that private data confidential, while Facebook makes money by selling the data. These are the companies' respective structural traits. And I think that's what makes Google unique.
> Google has served us so well so far because our interests are aligned; it's the surest way to prevent an abuse of trust in the future and why I'm so concerned about their new strategy.
Can you elaborate as to how this new strategy no longer aligns our interests with Google's?
Facebook doesn't sell anyone's data. Facebook, like Google, allows advertisers to target advertisements to a particular demographic of users without divulging that user's identity or data.
(I work at Facebook.)
So far, but the risks are only going to get worse. Eventually the value of our data, at least in aggregate, will exceed the costs of defeating Google's security (assuming it's even as good as the money they put into it). And please don't forget, the government can take a peek anytime for free.
> Google makes money by keeping that private data confidential, while Facebook makes money by selling the data
They use it for exactly the same purpose. To sell ads. Neither platform has, or likely ever will, sell our data outright. That is absolutely the last thing I'd be worried about.
Of course, like the government, you don't know who will be in charge tomorrow or what their intentions might be.
> These are the companies' respective structural traits. And I think that's what makes Google unique.
All institutions will try and do terrible things if you set up the wrong incentives.
> Can you elaborate as to how this new strategy no longer aligns our interests with Google
We are paying for this with our privacy. I'm not sure how much clearer I can get. Improvements to Google's index used to cost us nothing. Now they cost us our data. The more data they collect, the more money they will make. That sets their interests squarely against ours; yes, true, we want good search results. We also want the government to arrest all the terrorists. I'm not prepared to live my life as an open book to achieve these results.
> to me the benefits far outweigh the risk/cost.
You've asked me a lot of questions, let me ask you some. What happens when the benefits no longer outweigh the risks but Google tell you sorry, our profiling isn't finished yet. What if through some change in your personal circumstances the data they hold suddenly becomes damaging to you. What will you do if they go too far? Will you know straight away? Will you have time to make a decision? Will you be able to tell them to stop? How will you get Google to delete your data if you want them to leave you alone? Are you expecting the government to step in and help even though they're directly benefiting from all this data collection? Are you perfectly happy that they have access to it all? Would you so willingly hand over the same data to them directly?
I agree, and my point is that it seems like a pretty fair deal to me.
Maybe where we differ is that I sort of see the end of privacy as a foregone conclusion. Credit card companies already have way more (and maybe more important) information about people than Google does, and sells that data with absolutely no compunctions. I think data is only going to get harder to control in the future.
But back to the point of the thread: I don't think data collection is evil in and of itself, and so I don't think it's fair to call Google "evil" until they actually do something evil.
To heavily paraphrase Benjamin Franklin: those who would give up privacy to obtain moderately more relevant search results, deserve neither privacy nor relevant search results.
Privacy is freedom, knowledge is power, convenience is safety.
> Maybe where we differ is that I sort of see the end of privacy as a foregone conclusion
It might well be, but that doesn't mean it's not worth fighting for in the meantime. I don't believe human society is evolved enough to handle a complete loss of privacy quite yet.
> Credit card companies [...] [sell our] data with absolutely no compunctions
You've just reinforced my earlier point. This is precisely why we don't want Google to profit from our personal data. I want Google to stay on my side.
> I don't think it's fair to call Google "evil" until they actually do something evil
I didn't. But as I said earlier, if they allow themselves to enter into a situation where they're either forced to do "evil" or can't tell if what they're doing is "evil" or not, they are not adhering to the spirit of their motto.
However I think at this point we should call it a day and agree to disagree as we're starting to go around in circles. I did very much enjoy the discussion though and it gave me much food for thought.
I'll leave you with this:
Privacy has to be viewed in the context of relative power. For example, the government has a lot more power than the people. So privacy for the government increases their power and increases the power imbalance between government and the people; it decreases liberty. [...] Privacy for the people increases their power. It also increases liberty, because it reduces the power imbalance between government and the people. (Bruce Schneier)
...and the last word, if you want it!
On a meta-level, I find that while I'm rarely swayed in the course of an argument, I often internalize some part of the opposing argument and at some later point find myself with a more nuanced, if not completely different position.
So, thanks again for the great discussion! I also enjoyed it quite a lot, and it definitely gave me plenty to think about. It's always a pleasure to have an intellectually honest discussion, and for all the lamentations about declining quality of discourse on HN, I find myself having plenty of great ones like this.
My name's Joe, and you should let me know if you're ever in Portland, Oregon so we can get some coffee or something!
It would be a little opportunistic to, on the one hand, have the founders include the following line in a company manifesto: "Don’t be evil. We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served — as shareholders and in all other ways — by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains" and garner all the amazing PR that's come from that association over the years--but then turn around and claim, oh, no, that was really mostly just talking about user experience. And I doubt they'd make that claim.
On the other hand, it was mostly an internal motto, and wasn't public until Eric Schmidt slipped it into an interview. It didn't become a public statement until it had already received a lot of press.
They came up with the "don't be evil" thing when they were young idealistic hipsters who just wanted to be different from the suit-wearing status quo. They had no idea of how big they would eventually become so it had nothing to do with reminding them of the "slipperly slope".
The moment large amounts of money becomes involved the whole "don't be evil" think goes out the window pretty fast.
Uhm ok tell me if you like this scenario:
* I'm fed up of my employeer so I'm sending tons of jobs applications from my personal gmail account
* I dont write these mails while at work, but sometimes I login on google services for doin some work-related stuff (let's say use keyword search tools)
* I forgot to logout
* I start searching stuff on the net with my chief for our vmware project and instantly google suggests me as a perfect match my application letter sent to vmware HR
* Thank you google I'm almost fired :)
of course in this case I should've logged out from google, but I'd prefer to possibly opt-out this kind of stuff...
Maybe not widespread, but definitely not entirely hypothetical.
Ecio78 outlined a scenario in which relevance targeting "outed" him in a way he didn't want. I'm analogizing Facebook relevance ads with Gmail and search ads.
I didn't think Ecio78 was saying that emails are going to pop up explictly, only that Google would present information that is relevant to him in a situation where he didn't want that relevant information.
Yes, exactly, what is to stop anyone from just going through your sent mail if they were already willing to go through your web history?
Leaving his computer logged into his Google account and his employer sitting down to go through the account, such as sent mail, is a different matter.
The solution to all this is to never use personal logins for anything on a computer you do not control 100%.
The state of tech blogging is so, so poor.
Apple and Google are in two different businesses. When Apple has a unified ecosystem, they limit what you can install/do right out of the box (they sell hardware that's tightly integrated with their own software). When Google has a unified ecosystem, they collect more information about you through different services.
Apple makes money from selling stuff. Google makes money from ads. Who has a greater incentive to collect more of your personal information and use it to make money?
Spot on. For example Google knows my exact porn-searches the moment I make them, either through their search-engine logs or directly through Chrome. Now imagine if it were to surface that Apple somehow logs and sends back to some server in Cupertino all porn-related searches made by MacBook-owners... (I chose "porn" as an example because it's a sensitive topic, I could as well have chosen "drugs", "depression", "cancer cure", "tax evasion" and so on).
For Google, the risk is they control too much of your information.
For Apple, when Apple owns the entire software and hardware stack, the market price of hardware skyrockets (the opposite of the effect Microsoft had by commoditizing hardware), and by its monopoly on App Stores for iPads/iPhones, it is able to gouge content creators for ~30% of the price of books/apps.
IMO, tight integration of BOTH of these companies is bad for society, but I found the author's singling out of Google to be unwarranted.
"It must force Chrome and Google+ down the throats of users who are simply looking for a brilliant search engine."
Google just recently started showing Chrome 'faster internet' ads to Firefox users (before it was only displayed to IE users). This blog is a bit over the top especially with claims like "[Google] search engine that’s no better than Bing", but fundamentally I think it's right on the money.
The "poor" parts are 1) the over-the-top sensationalist language and 2) the implication that it's okay or even beneficial for Apple and FB to integrate but that Google has "sold its soul to the capitalist devil" in doing the same.
Regarding the Chrome ads, this would be a complete non-issue in any other industry. Suppose I go to Amazon to buy a computer-related book and am there shown an ad for Amazon Web Services. Are AWS now being shoved down my throat?
And that's even without giving Google the leverage to change the Terms of Service by which I access my existing business records unilaterally, at will, and without recourse.
On the other hand, if I was a buisness concerned about the ability of competitors to gather industrial intelligence, I wouldn't use 2nd party cloud services.
I have observed people tend to accept vendor lock in. Particularly when the migration costs are high.
Likewise, the cost of lost enterprise accounts would have to offset the revenue gained from mining the data...assuming of course that Google isn't already mining enterprise data.
Maybe it is actually sensationalist nonsense, but that is what the whole article is kinda about.
I'm a little disappointed that Google is returning Goog+ results above other social networks when the + results clearly are not as relevant, but hopefully they'll iron that out over time.
That being said, I see all this as much ado about nothing.
Privacy policies are complex beasts governed by many regulatory environments. Reducing a huge number of these policies to a handful, announcing it ahead of time and giving you controls over privacy all seem like good things to me.
As far as SPYW goes, it's all about giving the users more relevant results. This is something you can opt out of (to some extent with privacy controls, otherwise with logging out).
To me this seems to be another of these "bubble" issues.
Take Apple as an example of that. Every time they release a new (iPhone, iPad, whatever) you'll see people in the tech bubble (largely of SF and NYC) dig up tired old cliches like "its evolutionary not revolutionary" (seriously, I'm so sick of hearing that phrase) and it's "not the upgrade I was hoping for". On HN you'll find people who are still somehow shocked that you can't out-of-the-box sideload a bootloader onto an iPhone (or whatever).
Consumers (outside the bubble) however love these new products. Just look at Apple's 2011Q4 results, which are simply astounding. Thing is, that happens every time and yet the same old jaded "bubblistas" meet every new release with the same mix of lukewarm cliches, disappointment and derision.
I see this as much the same way. All of this is about (IMHO) improving the user experience. You don't have to look very far to see accounts from users who love these new features.
If we know something of your interests (based on G+ and/or search), isn't suggesting more relevant content to you on Youtube (as a purely hypothetical example) a good thing?
EDIT: as far as including Twitter/FB goes, Eric Schmidt addressed this :
> I countered that Google seemed to have all the permission it needed, in that they’re not blocked from crawling pages.
> “That’s your opinion,” Schmidt said, then joked: “If you could arrange a letter from Facebook and Twitter to us, that would be helpful.”
> I pushed back that both have effectively given those letters since their robots.txt files — a method of blocking search engines — weren’t telling Google to go away.
> “That’s your interpretation of their policies,” Schmidt said.
No, it's not. Not because of "privacy" concerns or this whole silly "evil" debate, but because YOU'LL GUESS WRONG.
I have many interests.
I never email anyone about my search queries because I do searches about programming, and I exchange mail with my friends about past or future parties. If you try to use one to help the other you will produce a soup of irrelevant garbage.
Please just show me the most relevant links in the whole Web. I don't care what my friends think (I know already).
And my hunch is, you'll guess wrong about, oh, 8 times out of ten. Google search is the last place I go to look for something that's already one of my interests. For that I have twitter, my feed reader etc. I only google things that I have no, or little, familiarity with. Google search is supposed to tell me WHAT I DON'T ALREADY KNOW.
In fact, now when I think about it, you could use my information to make search better by LOWERING rather than increasing the rank of any result that I'm likely to already know.
1 - Completely unlabeled, nor is the icon indicative/clear.
2 - Not sticky. It will turn itself back on, even though this is neither implied nor stated in the UI.
3 - The only way to actually turn it off is to dig into your search settings - what percentage of your users actually know that exists, much less think about looking there?
Another UX lesson: do one thing and do it well. Apparently Google forgot that. I still think it is a great one. And yes, I know it pertains to the function software plays and web empires are a different beast, but I find the poetic irony of the down the rabbit hole fiasco being related to a *nix quib delicious.
But don't become complacent and let these transform into actual beliefs. There is no quicker way to kill your creativity.
Now, if you're suggesting that for some reason there's an inherent "you will never be able to predict me with >x% accuracy", that's another topic.
I'm not even one person. We have many computers in our home; I'm logged in to all of them, Google-wise, but they are used by my wife, the woman who looks after our kids, our children themselves, etc.
It would be very impractical to have each person log in as herself before they can search anything on Google (and my kids are too young to even be allowed to have a Google account!)
For now, customization seems to be attached only to the computer (browser), not the account; I have a computer that I use for work that no one else has access to, where Google searches work fine; I practically can't use the other computers to search Google.
If some day in the future, results are customized according to the account instead of simply the browser, then I won't be able to use Google at all.
> Google's an AI company
Ok, fine. Here's what they could do, then: detect topics in search results (and in query terms) and let one cluster or filter results by topics / domains.
Why don't they do that? Why don't they even try?
They do - for selected queries where it makes sense.
Try searching for "jaguar" (no quotes). On the right, I have "Searches related to jaguar", which include "jaguar big cat" "jaguar car" and "jaguar download"
But my guess is, their models will actually do considerably better than random chance. I find google searches massively more helpful than duckduckgo searches not because ddg isn't a good search engine, but because ddg isn's snooping on me and just doesn't already know that I work a lot with such-and-such CMS.
And this is really all much ado about nothing, since if google were to ever overfit and render me unable to find something that it thinks is not my usual interest, I would just browse right back over to ddg.
> Google and Facebook would have you believe that you're a mirror, but in fact, we're more like diamonds.
> Identity is prismatic
Those quotes may not be the best ones, but he explains well the dangers of the concept of identity according to Google and Facebook. An article about it was also featured here.
> If you try to use one to help the other you will produce a soup of irrelevant garbage.
I definitely agree. My different interests already enter in conflict on Youtube; and Google got trouble dealing with the fact that 90% of my searches will be in English and the last 10% will be in French, and I do not want it to filter my results towards one language or another.
All Google does is guess as to what the "most relevant" results are. What you and your friends say/do/click/whatever is just another data point in the model. Presumably, it trains itself based on the results you/others actually click.
Google will almost certainly model how much a particular friend influences a particular search. It almost certainly will help, and certainly can't hurt (in the long run, if the weight goes to zero).
Considering the vastly different uses people put different portions of Google's services towards, combining all of them seems rather counter-productive to me.
I suppose an option to partition different services into different relevancy 'portfolios' would solve the problem, but that puts a lot of burden on the user that, at least in my opinion, most users are not looking for.
Google's often guessing wrong now -- how many times is the link you want not the top one? How often do you have to change your query? It's all a guessing game, because the situations where there's an obvious right answer (like exact phrases) doesn't give satisfactory results. Moreover, interpreting queries for those situations can often (even usually) give sub-optimal results, as the computer's taking the query too literally.
As for programming queries, my email's actually pretty useful. I'm subscribed to a few mailing lists, and it'd be nice to not get Perl or Win32 results when I'm mostly in C and Linux. A trivial scan of my email headers would say as much.
For other interests, my youtube play list indicates a lot of what I mean. I like cats, and I watch them on youtube. When I type in jaguar, I'm actually probably asking about the cat, not the car. Lots of other people are asking about the car. It's particularly obvious if they were watching a review of a car recently, and not watching cat videos.
And as for your friends, how about the people you follow? If I'm following really good programmers, and I type in a programming-related query, I'd rather get results biased toward what really good programmers like, versus the unbiased average. Even for my friends, I actually respect some of their opinions (gasp!). If they've +1'd something in the realm of what I'm looking for, it's probably worth considering.
> I like cats, and I watch them on youtube. When I type in jaguar, I'm actually probably asking about the cat, not the car.
"Probably" but not "certainly". So what are you to do when you actually want to search about jaguar (the car)? Then you'll have to search for "jaguar car".
But that is broken.
The paradigm of (Google) search is that it gives back, as search results, documents that contain all of the search terms (implicit AND). In the query "jaguar car" the word "car" qualifies the word "jaguar" but is not necessarily to be found in result documents.
The problem with this whole guessing game is that
1) it's UNPREDICTABLE and takes control away from the user
2) it forces the user to try to "unguess" Google ("what did it try to do, and what do I have to type to make sure it guesses right") -- an exhausting mental strain, which has a tendency to fail
> If I'm following really good programmers, and I type in a programming-related query, I'd rather get results biased toward what really good programmers like, versus the unbiased average.
How can you be sure you're already following _all_ the really good programmers that have something to say about your search? Why should I have to bother with setting up all of this "following" business?
I expect Google to give me the most relevant results of the best quality, according to some general consensus -- or, if you want to go the AI route, according to actual textual analysis (for example, and at the minimum, spelling; let me filter out results where spelling mistakes are above a certain threshold, that would have value (out goes Yahoo Answers)).
Giving more weight to results coming from people I know, or even people I've already heard of, does not help.
My email isn't very useful because I don't subscribe to mailing lists. But somehow I end up being there and I keep trying to get rid of them with the "unsubscribe" and if that doesn't work I start reporting them as spam. But the point is, essentially, no matter if you do a scan of recent emails of emails from a longer period of time there's a lot of stuff that I WAS NEVER INTERESTED IN to begin with.
More frequently I've been deleting these emails and the only emails that stay are photos (when your relatives don't quite use FB you do send photos over using Gmail) and other personal conversations. My friends and family don't program but I do, and enjoy doing so. But that never shows up in Gmail.
Even if I WAS subscribed to mailings lists, when I'm mostly Python and PHP - I would love to hear about Node.js when that suits my situation. I've nothing against learning new things. In fact, that's my second objection to you learning how I behave _now_. I WOULD LIKE TO DISCOVER NEW THINGS - DON'T TRY TO KEEP ME IN MY SHELL. (Sorry, had to use caps. I think there was a TED talk as well on this. Keep the world open - not limited - don't build walls around my current tastes to limit my future tastes.)
> For other interests, my youtube play list indicates a lot of what I mean. I like cats, and I watch them on youtube. When I type in jaguar, I'm actually probably asking about the cat, not the car. Lots of other people are asking about the car. It's particularly obvious if they were watching a review of a car recently, and not watching cat videos.
I like watching videos of lions and whatever little footage of tigers in the wild that's there. I love those kind of cats, yes. But I never really was interested in a jaguar. I like watching Top Gear but that doesn't happen on YouTube. But if I search for Jaguar, then most probably I'm looking for the car - but since you don't know what TV I watch you are going to get it wrong. Again, don't take this as a specific case but what I want to highlight is that you will never have enough information about what I consume because Google isn't the source of even, say, 70% of my consumption. I consume more from HN than from Google-originated sources for example.
Here's the rub - for a given query there is no such thing as the list of link that are "most relevant". Different people will have (potentially widely) divergent opinions on what the most relevant set of links are for the exact same query.
The goal Google web-search  is to show you the links from the whole web that are most relevant to you. Knowing more about you allows a search engine to make better decisions about what links are relevant to you.
You would be hard pressed to find an engineer at Google that thinks search is remotely close to a "solved" problem.
( for the cynics - yes, Google makes a lot of money from showing ads on search result pages. That is a nice effect of having a great search engine. Making money isn't the goal of web-search. Showing relevant results is. That was true when Larry and Sergey were cobbling together machines in their dorm room. It is still true today)
I was expecting to get garbage pages about wedding rings, or something like that. As its #1 result, Google sent me where I had wanted to go:
By knowing my interests lie in computer science, technology, and mathematics, Google was able to return this for me as the first result.
Other searches my friends did took them to rings for sale on Overstock.com or Amazon.
I welcome this new technology.
I'm actually surprised that your friends didn't get the Wikipedia entry on "ring" among their top results. When I ran the search on both Google and Bing, it came up second.
But my point is: there is no such thing as "me". Now I do this (programming) and an hour later I do that (cooking). Then my daughter comes along and she wants to see pictures of puppies -- but I personally could not care less about puppies.
If Google thinks I'm into puppies and tries to infer something from that, then they will have broken search for me.
> Different people will have (potentially widely) divergent opinions on what the most relevant set of links are for the exact same query.
I really (really) don't think that's true.
What is true is that the "exact same query" could be about different things (domains), such as java the programming language, the island, or coffee.
But given a query and a domain, the most relevant links are obtained by consensus (PageRank). An interesting evolution would be to have PageRanks evaluated per topic.
False problem. For one, your daughter can (and eventually will) either get her own Google account, or she will get her own computer.
But most importantly: ok, so you're not just "you", but your whole family uses the computer.
You still, as a person, get better results by Google using its knowledge of your family search habits --which include yours--, than just blindly guessing.
But I don't want it to take my entire online life into account when I am doing a search. (At the very least I should be able to opt out of this).
Some of that is available now - e.g. incognito mode in Chrome (or the equivalent) or simply not being logged in, Search+ has the toggle for whether or not to include personalized results are the examples that come to my mind first. One could imagine other controls that might be useful or desirable.
"But I don't want it to take my entire online life into account when I am doing a search"
Personally I think that over time, the difference in the quality of the results provided by search engines that don't know anything about it's users will so much behind those from search engines that do that we will look back and wonder how we ever found anything.
But time will tell.
Naturally, you have many interests. We all do. Google is trying to get the best picture of what those interests are, arguably so that they can give better than chance (or whatever they had before this). As usual, I would suspect that having more information trumps having less, so I argue that SPYW is improvement.
Sorry if this post seems impolite...
Instead of just searching (typing words that I expect to find in result documents), I'll have to try to second-guess Google and craft my query in such a way that it guesses right.
I hated it it when I saw search results polluted like that a few weeks ago. Now I keep myself logged out of GMail pretty much all the time.
For the majority of users, Facebook/Twitter results are more relevant than Google Plus results. There's nothing in the rule book that says you can't leverage a successful property to promote another, but it's unfair to everyone to try to pass that off as a move to increase relevance in search results.
Disclaimer: I'm a Facebook engineer who doesn't take SPYW personally.
Can I have an independent "authoritative" search engine and "cool" social networking tool. You both have Ad platforms on your respective platforms to "promote" products. Thank you.
Disclaimer: A singleton instance of an average user
Yes, you can. But Google wants to make search better. There's no denying it's gotten worse as time goes on (and SEO gets better). The only thing to do next is to understand what you're looking for by understanding you.
"I don't want relevant search results, I just want relevant search results!" This is the problem Google faces. They've made their choice.
For example if I search for "python books" I get results about books teaching the programming language. I'm a programmer and this makes sense in that it is both 'relevant' and 'accurate'.
If my girlfriend does the same search she gets books about snakes. She is a biologist so it is again both 'accurate' and 'relevant'.
The problem arrises if she gets results about programming because she does not know or care about it. It is technically 'accurate' but now the product is useless to her.
Look at the Wikipedia article for "python". There are too many uses for the word.
I don't want that. I don't mind having to work a bit harder to get results, so long as those results are excellent. So, for your example, I want to have to type an extra word (either programming or snakes or herpatology or whatever) to provide the context that Google would otherwise get from wherever. I understand that most people don't want what I want, which I why I try and avoid the many Google-bashing posts. (I'm not part of that crowd; I don't think Google is evil. Just less useful for me in lots of situations.)
I prefer consistency and repeatability over slowly changing weirdness.
I'm all anti-Google, but this makes no sense to me.
You want to type an extra word?
"I don't want to be tracked and sold to advertisers", or "I don't want to be second-guessed" makes much more sense.
I type slowly, about 60 words a minute. That extra word is an extra second of typing, but it makes the results a lot more useful to me.
There's other advantages. (Maybe these aren't as obvious or real to other people.) Thinking about the words I use forces me to think about the problem, and forces me to think around what I'm doing and why.
It also increases the effect of grouping people into only social groups of the same philosophy and reducing exposure to other points of view. Not good for society. So even if I could fix it for myself, it is bad in general.
I'm often looking up stuff related to code - I would love Google to know what languages I use, and present me with results specific to them. If I'm looking up something different, I'm sure Google will present me with their best guess of what I might mean...
I see your point in the post above but disagree. People should control their search results based on what they are searching for, relevance is objective to ones personality, not subject to it.
But you are correct in that these disambiguations are necessary to a certain extent. I think most users wouldn't react well to it being so prominent (as is with DDG). Perhaps a small sidebar would do well for this, but that would eat into their advertising real-estate.
She's a keeper!
I think we are agreed that one way or another - the coming changes are not 100% great for users across the board.
Good for Google perhaps (and that is important) but not good for all users.
Looking at the other responses to my comments and other comments on the thread in general the realisation is dawning that maybe my days of searching the web via Google are soon to be over. That is not a comment on the quality of their service or integrity or anything along those lines, it is an assessment of my position relative to their new direction.
Sometimes it's difficult for us in the technology community to get that most products aren't made for us.
What I am trying to illustrate is that the alleged relevance of a set of results biased on the basis of an individual's profile is incredibly insular (and harmful) if it's there at all.
Boiling it down even further: I believe that search results should reflect what is on the Internet, not just that portion of it that Google deems 'relevant.'
...anything else, in my opinion, skates dangerously close to what most people railed against in the great Net Neutrality debate of 09.
> Boiling it down even further: I believe that search results should reflect what is on the Internet, not just that portion of it that Google deems 'relevant.'
And what I'm trying to illustrate is that you're taking an overly simplistic approach to the question. Google takes in a lot of signals (links, country and language, past behavior with respect to previous queries, sites you've asked to be blocked, ...) and now social signals. Where do you draw the line and why? And why isn't a user responding with more detailed guidance ("I didn't mean X [even though I often do], I mean Y right now") a reasonable exceptional flow some of the time?
I'd agree with that. In fact, I'd say that's a lot to do with my point... I believe that search results should be literal. A search for 'python', in my opinion, ought to return links to information about the animal, the language, the character from The Jungle Book, etc.
>And why isn't a user responding with more detailed guidance ("I didn't mean X [even though I often do], I mean Y right now") a reasonable exceptional flow some of the time?
This is interesting. I guess what I'd like to see is something along these lines. Turning it over in my head earlier: the thought of making two distinct types of searches did cross my mind, ie: searching from your G+ homepage returns focused results from the web at large with social results intermingling whereas searching from www.google.com returns literal results with no fiddling. The user is enabled to select which one is used by default from the search bar in their browser.
Links in Hebrew (I'm in Israel) are unreadable and not helping.
I constantly end up with German results polluting my search (maybe because I signed up when I lived in Germany? No idea, it's out of my control). It is a hassle to fight them.
It got never better. I gradually noticed a trend of decreasing usefulness of Google search, without any visible sign of getting better. Only more dumbed down. And now 'social'?
You have provided no metric for that statement, so how could it even be measured?
There is too much on the internet for you to read it all. Finding what you want at some particular time is going to require a curator, and they are going to be biased.
(besides, the overfitting you describe isn't exactly the hardest problem to figure out and fix (just mix in some other python results and that related results thing that's already there). The hard part is quickly identifying that you actually are affecting users negatively and not just the guy that thinks everyone should have to look at nextag results)
>You have provided no metric for that statement, so how could it even be measured?
That's fair. My comment is massively vague.
Maybe I could reframe that comment as a question: are you of the opinion that moving results that herd users into Google's own products and content above results that are perhaps less biased, more objective and do not serve to enrich Google directly is better for users than the way that Google search has worked up until this point?
I know that the subject of search is hugely complex and that Googles algorithms already define what is returned to the user but I am questioning what I perceive to be a change in motivation and a change in quality as result.
SPYW is where you type in "python books" and the top half of the screen consists of your programmer friends talking about Python.
Or when your girlfriend types in "python books" and the top of the screen consists of her biologist friends talking about snakes.
That's what I'm seeing with my search results. I have no qualms with Google trying to "understand" me and offer more relevant links.
For many people this is great and exactly what they want. Sometimes it's what I want; sometimes Google's stemming or synonyms gets me a result that I would have struggled to find.
But, sometimes, I want Google to search for the words I enter. I want Google to return the same results to me as it does to Bob and Ann (if they're both in my country).
I don't care that [roses] gives me a different result to [roses roses roses]; I do care that Ann gets a different result for [roses] than Bob does. I can't explain why I care, and I'm happy to accept that I'm wrong. (For example, hopefully once people pick up that Google serves different results they'll stop saying Just Google It, which is good advice but sucks if you've Googled it and found only three forum posts with people being told to just Google it.)
I guess a lot of this is age and weariness. I remember a time when a Google search result would be an opportunity for serendipity to point me towards great sources of information. Some person, an expert, had a little plain html page with a few diagrams and a lot of text and I'd have to work to understand it. Now? Not so much. I get a lot of content farms (But I'm really grateful to Google for tweaking those down, and allowing me to block content from certain domains) or flash heavy brand sites (See especially photographers and watch manufacturers.) or a narrow band of not fun sites.
I do plenty of international travel and, until I figured out how to control the country-level Google I got, I violently hated this.
It sounds to me like you want Google to implement exactly the level of personalization you want, no more and no less. I don't think that's reasonable. What I do think is reasonable asking Google to give you the tools required to control the level of personalization you get. For the most part, I think they do that (though I'm sure there are more than a few rough edges at this point).
How do you know this will happen? They haven't turned their new algorithm on yet. You're claiming an idea hasn't worked in the past, but the idea has never been tried before.
The reason they're changing their search results is because their search results are starting to suck more. They're trying to fix your complaint. Want the same shitty search full of SEO spam? Sign out. Otherwise you're just bitching.
>(But I'm really grateful to Google for tweaking those down, and allowing me to block content from certain domains)
THIS IS WHAT THEY'RE TRYING TO DO. If you don't like content farms chances are no one else does either. And yet you complain.
Without an algorithm, you'll get a list of every reference to the searched terms, unsorted in any useful way. The only way to provide accurate results is to know what you're looking for. So either users need to be very specific, or search engines need to get smarter.
Just because FB and TW are 'popular' does not mean the results I (or a search engine) get from them are any more 'relevant' to my search than other "niche" social networks like Google Plus.
Do we know that Google really wants SPYW to be the walled garden that FB & T claim? Where's the evidence?
Seems like Google would like to change that.
Which I'd agree with. In my own network, Fb > Twitter > G+
Yes (it's certainly convenient), but:
a) People will naturally question your motivations for these changes
and b) they will wonder at the privacy implications
The problem is (especially from the perspective of the tech press) you appear to be primarily motivated by "beating" Facebook, and people are now looking uncomfortably at their personal data juxtapositioned with public search results.
It may be that you held all this data already, and it may be that it's just as siloed off and protected at the back-end as it ever was, but the public is slow to wake up to the implications of the data you already hold. What might have flown below their radar yesterday, they're increasingly worried about today. Naturally the tech community who are better informed and think about these things much earlier are going to be amongst the first to start questioning you.
You're really shoving it in everyone's faces, so don't be surprised that there's some backlash.
On the other hand I really dislike the way Google is heading.
In the olden days when Google was dumber having high Google Fu allowed you to get required information faster and with greater accuracy. When Google was dumber you could use its flaws to get where you wanted.
Today it just picks whatever it believes is what you are searching for and wont budge. This is especially annoying when you are just starting out on a search of a topic you know nothing about and need a random factor to get going.
Preciously the reason why I've started using DuckDuckGo as my primary search engine. In my experience, it almost always provides unbiased results.
I don't use it but I'm curious to know if the problems you're encountering also happen with this new feature.
"Bias" has the obvious meaning here. When searching for a topic on which I am not very well informed, I expect to see informative, authoritative results(which Google /does/ provides), but I don't want references to what my "friends" think on the topic. This becomes worse because in many cases, these "personalised" results are higher than the ones which should be more relevant.
And conveniently, most users will never bother to change their defaults.
My concern is not only that my particular interests are being tracked.
My concern is about the worsening of the power asymmetry between the general public and their (for lack of a better word) rulers (i.e., govt.+corporate complex).
What good can come of the fact that the rulers will know the zeitgeist of society at arbitrarily fine levels of resolution? (The feel-good answer is that if they know, they'll cater to the wishes of those whom they nominally serve, but I think there are enough examples to show otherwise).
For instance, can't an outsider's campaign to a high public office be squished more easily just before the cusp of him/her becoming "too big to ignore"?
Except adwords is in this mix. This makes it one step closer (or is it already upon us?) for ads to be targeted to me based on the contents of emails I send and receive.
To me, email is one of the more personal and private things that I do online and even the possibility that Google will use my gmail account to target ads is too much.
edit: perhaps I should clarify – as I understand it, the ads that are currently displayed are relevant only to the email on screen when using gmail's web interface. What I meant was that SPYW opens the door to ads everywhere targeted based on the contents of all of my email. I don't believe that Google does that currently, but I have every reason to expect it's coming. And that bothers me.
Am I mistaken in that understanding?
Not to the satisfaction of many people. I don't need FB or Twitter or G+ results but it seems clear to me that:
(1) if subject X is more active by far on network Y, then even partial results results including network Y are better (read: "more relevant") then results only showing network Z.
(2) Most subjects are more active by far on Twitter or FB then they are on G+.
(3) Results only showing G+ therefore are inferior to more inclusive but partial results from FB/Twitter.
I guess even given the above we'd have to consider whether results that only include network Z are better then results that include no network.
Google's case apparently is that it does, and that, while better worlds may exist where FB and Twitter sign deals, what Google delivers today is better for the user then what it delivered a few weeks ago.
The skeptical counterargument is that this just amounts to favorable placement for Google's product. Imagine if Google launched a Flickr clone tomorrow with very few users and suddenly on GIS's a quarter of the top results were reserved for Google's Flickr clone. Why bother earning a higher page rank the right way when you can just host your images with Google's services and get a free SERP boost? That is exactly what Danny Sullivan talked about although he used video for his example.
You said: As far as SPYW goes, it's all about giving the users more relevant results. This is something you can opt out of (to some extent with privacy controls, otherwise with logging out).
This is not true.
Example 1: Search for cars while "opted" out of G+ results. Ferarri's G+ page is on top on the right, but no link to Ferrari's actual website or their FB page. So if this was focused on relevancy wouldn't the Ferrari link be to Ferrari's home page? Not that I think Ferrari is the most relevant result period, but wouldn't that make sense? Not only that, in your main results Ferrari.com isn't listed in the top 100. So how could they be relevant? This gives pageviews to G+ where the user should be going elsewhere. This isn't just about Twitter/Facebook. Google is driving users to its content over other publishers. This is an ADVERTISEMENT for Google+. 100% Which is against your policies not to mark them clearly as ads. http://www.google.com/competition/howgoogleadswork.html
Example 2: I searched for NFC Championship Game in Google while being opted in. I got a status update from MG Siegler stating he was going to the game in the top 5 results. MG Siegler is not in my circles. Wouldn't an article on the game be 100X better than this result. So you are driving users to your irrelevant content in replace of ESPN. That makes no sense.
Example 3. http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/search-plus-your-world/ - Cutts did a search for werewolf. Was he looking for a picture of himself? Does anyone here find that useful? Most of the comments on his post didn't. I would like to know honestly. Would that be useful to you? Also, in the future, when I search for cars will I see my friends driving their cars as the 2nd result? I would personally rather see some info about how to buy a car or research a car or car prices.
Example 4: You can't opt out 100%. That is disingenuous to say you can.
Example 5: Google was supposed to be "Do No Evil" and you have squashed that. It is worse to be screwed by someone who claims to be trustworthy than someone you know is not. For example, we all knew Microsoft was shady from the beginning so we didn't expect much. But you guys said it was all about relevancy, the user, do no evil, etc. Look at this way, if a girl married Gene Simmons could she honestly be pissed if he was cheating on her? But if a girl married a guy like Donnie Osmond and he cheated she would be devastated. She was probably only with him in the first place because he was trustworthy. You are Donnie Osmond. :)
Anyway, if you guys came clean and said that you are trying to promote your network then maybe people wouldn't be so pissed. As of right now, it looks like you are trying to drive traffic to your own irrelevant content over legitimate content businesses. Since you have a dominant position in search and hundreds of thousands of companies/sites depend on your traffic, they are scared. Google is rapidly getting into the content game and people can only assume you will put your new content above everyone else's. That is bad for business and bad for startups which are country needs so badly right now.
I think it's pretty clearly marked what it is, right above it it says "People and Pages on Google+". Is it mixed in with the search results? Is it taking the place of search results? No, its not doing either. I don't think you can really complain that it violates the "Strict Separation of Ads and Search Results".
> Example 2: I searched for NFC Championship Game in Google while being opted in. I got a status update from MG Siegler stating he was going to the game in the top 5 results. MG Siegler is not in my circles. Wouldn't an article on the game be 100X better than this result. So you are driving users to your irrelevant content in replace of ESPN. That makes no sense.
Yes, it would be better in this case. But what if the game was going on and someone posted about something that had just happened? Wouldn't that be potentially more relevant? Figuring out relevancy is difficult. As of now, I don't see MG Siegler's post in my SPYW results, so I'm guessing it showing up for you had to do with the timeliness of the post.
> Example 4: You can't opt out 100%. That is disingenuous to say you can.
Can you be more specific as to what you can't opt out of?
> Example 5: Google was supposed to be "Do No Evil" and you have squashed that. It is worse to be screwed by someone who claims to be trustworthy than someone you know is not. For example, we all knew Microsoft was shady from the beginning so we didn't expect much. But you guys said it was all about relevancy, the user, do no evil, etc. Look at this way, if a girl married Gene Simmons could she honestly be pissed if he was cheating on her? But if a girl married a guy like Donnie Osmond and he cheated she would be devastated. She was probably only with him in the first place because he was trustworthy. You are Donnie Osmond. :)
Regarding "Do No Evil": https://plus.google.com/109412257237874861202/posts/4U2mpZ6h...
ex2: In 99% of searches I would never want to see that, but I just searched for sales and he is #3... some blurb about kindle fire sales. A. I don't need a status update on sales. B. He is linking out to an article about the kindle fire sales. Shouldn't the result go to the actual story? Isn't that more relevant? Not to mention that he has this on his twitter page too which Google HAS crawled. The twitter result is nowhere in the top 100. I barely use Google as it is, but I am definitely opting out of g+ results.
ex4: All of the stuff on the right hand side and the auto-suggestions are there whether you opt-out or not. Test it.
ex5: no comment
See http://www.google.com/about/corporate/company/tenthings.html - I just think it is funny.
No, it's not. When I search for something, I want the most relevant results, not what you think are most relevant to me. I'm a liberal, and I tend to visit more liberal sites for political information - Crooks and Liars, Daily Kos, Huffington Post, etc. for general news. I'm also more likely to share links to those sites. But if I'm searching for information that could be considered related to a political issue, I don't want Google deciding that the most relevant results will only come from left leaning sites when a conservative site may have better information about a specific issue.
I believe someone even gave a TED talk about this issue.
No absolutely not, a search that is more relevant occasionally is only slightly useful maybe getting a slightly better link a few percentage points of the time(past a certain amount how much more relevant can you get. If you go to far in trying to guess the persons mind based on persons external history rather then their search it seem like you would get more way of answers and if you don't the answer would likely have been near the top anyway), keeping less information on users for shorter amounts of time should be preferred.
Not "shocked", but pissed off and outraged.
I really hate this default "I can't believe you're surprised that ..." response whenever someone brings something to their attention that worries or angers them. It's even on Cracked.com's list of most stupid Internet reactions:
Generally speaking, yes, but there is the danger of creating a [filter bubble](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Filter_bubble).
Alright so if this all about improving user experience, let users know they can opt in then?
That is why I am now a DuckDuckGo user. Of course I can't do anything about Google's prying eyes /everywhere/ on the net, so I guess we need to ask Congress to help out there.
Also, Eric Schmidt said "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place" which in my opinion is fucking crazy. If I want to search for black panthers/Jewish defense league/Aryan nations/journal articles on explosive synthesis/bacillus anthracis/obscure soviet weaponry then I sure as hell don't want Google logging everything. Never mind that I'm just curious, but it sounds like Herr Schmidt and company are ready to send the Stasi out to get me. I have since switched to ssl + duckduckgo and blocked Google in my hosts file. Time for Google to stop trying to be god.
That way, only Kommittee will know what you searched for.
Seriously, it's not a half-bad search engine. Throw it a bone once in while to make sure it survives!
And I call BS. Nobody asked for results to be more relevant by going THAT particular way.
On the contrary, people have asked for more relevant results by eliminating this kind of artificial results.
I see this as much the same way. All of this is about (IMHO) improving the user experience.
Really? Because it looks like it's all about competing with Facebook and improving the bottom line.
And being able to collect the data about them to serve better results is a business decision. Some may like or dislike it's done that way but it's no different than liking/disliking any product you use now.
If it was really all about the users and their experiences, then why is there no way to opt-out 100%?
And the last time GOOG did what AAPL just did yesterday... must have been, hmm, never.
So for users Google+ is most relevant in social? Not even one link from Facebook or Twitter? Just like Google Local is best for the users when showing 100% Google links. Please do not insult people's intelligence. Google is doing this for a few reasons and plastering more ads is the main one. With Google+ a lote users get to stay on Google+ due to placement not go to our sites.
Just because some criticize Apple and some are now criticizing Google doesn't mean that Google is doing the right thing, considering Apple's success. Apple works perfectly for 99+% of users and APPL never touches that, Google is adding crap and hiding what the users want with dozens of ads (Please don't go into "they're relevant." Yeah, so relevant to your CFO that Google feels the need to show me a full page of them and I need to turn my laptop screen to see what are ads and what is content.) Now imagine if Apple added 2-3 extra tasks to their most basic functions.
Tracking is another beast. Do not poke the government or users in the eye or they will make you cry. A tiny change in the law and there goes half of your revenue. Once they determine you're "evil," everything you do is under scrutiny and that includes ads, tracking, anti-trust and everything. And next time you advertise illegal abortion drugs through Adwords they will just jail your execs and cripple the company.
Are Apple's devices "perfectly tailored for it[s] users"? I don't see any of that tailoring when I use them.
The reason why Apple ratchets up record-breaking earnings is that they build things people want; they build incredibly good devices.
Google is playing with fire; the thing it has that people want is not G+ or Reader or even Gmail: it is search. If they break search, they will die.
It has to be carefully balanced to avoid forming social echo chambers and perpetuating instantaneous events, but, in the end, it may prove useful.
And it's a bit of exaggeration when people gets worried about privacy when they voluntarily submit the data to the very machines they fear.
While a valid point, I signed up to g+ and then logged out permanently as I didn't want all my data submitted to a single company (i.e. Google has my search, calendar and gmail) I don't like that they have so much in one spot already but I certainly wasn't going to give them social as well.
I think that everyone likes to have an element of anonymity online and this lets Google have a much clearer idea of the kind of person you are by tying these together.
While we on HN might be clever ones that realise all the data we're putting out there there's a whole world of lay people that have no idea. I assume the outrage isn't so much about the people in the know, but about your grandmother not realising what she's volunteering.
Think about it. If you owned Facebook and Microsoft, wouldn't you want to co-relate the data in Facebook with Windows? For example, to see how many users of Windows 7 use Facebook, and how it affects bounce rates? Do you think companies don't already do this (Bing and Microsoft, Safari and iTunes, etc.)?
Do you think Google ALREADY wasn't co-relating data from its different properties? And what exactly is wrong with that anyways? You'd have to be pretty naive (and unreasonable) to expect a parent company not to have access to data from all its subsidiary operations. How does one "opt-out" of letting Windows co-relate data with Internet Explorer, short of just not using one of them?
Have you ever tried visiting https://www.google.com/dashboard/? This page shows you all the accounts and information Google associates with your account. This was always the case. All that's changed is that the privacy policies associated with all of these disparate accounts have been combined and simplified.
You CAN opt-out of the Google tracking for ads here: http://www.google.com/privacy/ads/ I've known about this option for ages but haven't used it, simply because I respect Google's approach here. I'd like to see Facebook offer a similar option.
You can also see the profile Google has collected about you here: https://www.google.com/settings/ads/onweb/ as well as opting out of personalization.
Does this really seem evil to you?
Also, you can opt out of ad targeting, not tracking. Huge difference.
Agreed. And if they don't innovate search, they will die.
Big change has to happen. Whether this is the right move remains to be seen.
Please explain how they might "break search". I keep seeing comments on HN about how Google is messing up search, and also G+ is ruining peoples' lives somehow.
I have seen Google do absolutely nothing that you can't opt out of, or just plain ignore. For example, I technically have a G+ account, but I never ever click on G+ and I never actually see or use it, so it has no effect on my search results or my life at all. But i can see how it might add a lot of value for people who choose to use it. Again, i emphasize that it is a choice. Google is not holding a gun to your head and forcing you to use G+. They are never going to sacrifice accurate search by only presenting you with "social" search results.
The best part:
Yet even the examples that Google employees have been showing off don’t seem very useful to me. On his blog, Matt Cutts, who heads Google’s Webspam team, points out how his query for general tso’s chicken is improved by social links. He follows Jennifer 8. Lee, the author of a book about Chinese restaurants, on Google+. When he searches for general tso’s, he gets a link to Lee’s definitive Quora post on the history of the dish. If you don’t follow Lee and you do the same search, you won’t get that post.
But I don’t see the logic here. Isn’t the Quora post a good result for general tso’s chicken whether or not you’re friends with Lee? And the reason it’s a good result is that she’s an expert on the topic, not that she’s your friend or colleague. If Lee’s post isn’t coming up for all Google searchers—rather than just the ones who are perceptive enough to follow her—it would seem to suggest something is amiss with Google’s algorithm. You shouldn’t have to friend a plumber in order to find a good link about unclogging your toilet.
It's probably true that you can "opt out", sort of; I don't have an account with G+ (probably never will), but I use Gmail.
If Google searches start to feature prominently links to content published by my regular email correspondents, then that will break search for me.
The part I copied here for your viewing convenience is not "speculation" nor "hyperbole" or "opinion", it discusses the best example given so far by Googlers about the benefits of SPYW: that when you know someone who wrote a book about something, and you search about that something, then posts by this person, relevant to your search, pop up!
And this is the best case scenario.
Yes, I clicked the provided link and read the entire article from start to finish. First, I want to say that I hope my first post did not sound like a personal attack on you. I was only trying to present my view of the article that you linked to. Next, I would like to try and back up the comments that I made about the article to hopefully make it a little more clear why I said that.
I referred to the article as opinion, hyperbole, and speculation, and here are some reasons why: When I first opened the article, I noticed that the subtitle starts with "Google’s disastrous decision to muck up its search results...", and then the first sentence of the article is "Google just broke its search engine." Calling this "disastrous" is, in my opinion, both speculation and a big exaggeration. I believe it's speculation because the SPYW option was released only two weeks ago, and it is clearly too early to tell if this will have any kind of a negative impact on Google or Google's users... let alone calling it a disaster (the exaggeration/hyperbole). Google has clearly not broken its search engine (more hyperbole, in my opinion). It works exactly the same as it did before, only with the additional option of being able to use SPYW. I would like to emphasize that SPYW is an option that can be toggled on or off at the top of any search page. It is easy to find these search settings/buttons on any search page, and if you would like more details please refer to  below.
Throughout the article, the author gives several made-up scenarios to illustrate what he believes to be critical flaws in Google's new SPYW option (although he ignores that it is in fact an option). The author gives the example of doing a Google search for "Facebook". I performed this search just now, and the number one result is Facebook.com, which is exactly what I would expect. The next several results include the Wikipedia entry for Facebook, a link to Facebook's iPhone app, a link to Facebook's Twitter account, and other websites that provide more information and news about Facebook. This is exactly what I would expect to see. I see absolutely no problem with this. The author tries to make it sound like he didn't see any of this, and that the only thing Google presented him with was a suggestion to add Mark Zuckerberg to one of his G+ circles, but this is simply not true. Try this search for yourself right now and let me know what you see. Go ahead and try it both with SPYW on or off (which can be toggled on/off on-the-fly with a single click at the top of the search page), and please let me know if you saw the same "disaster" that the author is talking about.
The author gives the example of searching for a plumber or information on how to fix a clogged toilet. He then says "What I don’t want to know is which link my boss consulted when his toilet was clogged. I bet I’m not alone." He doesn't want that (good, neither do I) and he doesn't have to ever see that in his results. He is giving his opinion of what he thinks is going to happen, and what he predicts will be the downfall of Google as we know it. Again, I am calling this opinion and speculation, because I have been trying all of these search queries that the author suggests, and I have not seen any of the problems he speaks of. I can only come to the conclusion that his complaints are not real, but are just his opinion of what he thinks Google might become in the future for some reason (some kind of slippery-slope argument, fear-mongering mentality? I can't figure it out).
Later, he gives some links to use cases that Google employees have come up with for SPYW. "Yet even the examples that Google employees have been showing off don’t seem very useful to me." They don't seem useful to him, but apparently they are useful to the person who came up with them.... That is the idea of having a "personalized" search option. If he doesn't find that to be useful, he can turn it off, so he won't see things that are not useful to him. In my opinion, this is a good thing. Then he says "If you don’t follow Lee and you do the same search, you won’t get that post." Again, that's the idea of the personalized search option..... and again, it is an option that can be turned off if you don't think it's useful.
Please, explore your Google search settings and check out the new Google "dashboard". You can fine tune exactly what comes up during "personalized" searches. Or you can turn off SPYW permanently if you wish. Also, if you hate it when Google tries to guess what you want, check out the "Verbatim" search option located under "More search tools" on the left side of any search page. The "Verbatim" option makes Google do only what you tell it to do. It won't even ask you "Did you mean...." anymore.
 Scroll down to the section heading "Can I turn off personal results?" here: http://support.google.com/websearch/bin/answer.py?hl=en&...
You're quite convincing about the "hyperbole" part, but I'd argue this is par for the course for journalists: they have to exaggerate a bit.
But where I completely disagree with you is when you say:
> Then he says "If you don’t follow Lee and you do the same search, you won’t get that post." Again, that's the idea of the personalized search option..... and again, it is an option that can be turned off if you don't think it's useful.
The post he's talking about is the most relevant result for that search. If Google only shows it to people who follow the author of the post, then they will have broken search in favor of some kind of "social" thing that is much worse than what we had before.
It looks like they're in a bad position already if they plan to deploy such a feature. I'm guessing they're having some internal issues, they must be concerned with their situation as a company.
'Don't be evil' went down the drain in the meantime.
What makes me mad is that we don't have the choice. I don't want all the social bullshit, the +1, why would I even give a crap about that? I don't want to have everything interconnected, I hate the fact that now if I logged in to Gmail I am logged into Youtube.
I don't buy Apple to avoid fully integrated systems, I will not use Google in the future.
It makes me think about CNN who believes they are more relevant when they are reading what shit people say on Twitter "Ze pope is dead LOL". Yeah right, great piece of info here.
But hey, if people like it, they are welcome to it, I just hope there will be good alternatives in the future.
If you don't like the social results in your SERP, you realize it's a one click button to turn it off, right?
Or were you talking about the +1? Nobody forces you to click on it.
I don't get the rage. Google owns a multitude of different sites. Being able to sign into all of them at once is a godsend as far as I'm concerned.
So much misplaced anger here..
To tell you where the problems come from in my opinion:
_ Everything is opt-out, not opt-in. After I realize than I am very pro-choice in term of user experience.
_ The +1 thingy is very tricky, if you click the wrong button and don't read well, that's it you're on +1. And once you're on it, no way to get out
_ Relevancy is killed by the influence of +1. Look at this talk if you have the time: http://www.ted.com/talks/eli_pariser_beware_online_filter_bu... . Since it is an opt out 99% of the user won't do it and in the long term it will probably have a bad influence on how people receive and perceive information.
I think my reasons to leave are relevant and not based on rage but a cold appreciation of the future of Google.
I would expect people doing web ranking in a search engine company to be aware of the "online filter bubble" phenomena. So in the longer term I hope it would be a signal used in ranking among many other (and see no reason why it couldn't be that way).
On twitter, I follow a lot of area experts and could be relevant in those specific areas, but many of them have wider interests. Some of these interests would negatively influence the search I do.
I really wish they would concentrate on customer service (human) and dealing with the spam links and implications of the must-post-first journalism model that is a basic creation of their payment model.
Now if they just had their own crawlers - I keep saying they need to merge with Gigablast (Matt Wells) which was the most promising startup a decade ago and looked like the old google pre-adsense, but never took off (built his own crawlers way before "the cloud" existed).
They already did. Hell, we've had this discussion eight years ago  when they announced Gmail, which mines your email for demographic data to show you ads. Nothing has meaningfully changed in that respect.
I read e-mail in Portable Thunderbird, it's downloaded/uploaded via POP3/SMTP, so I don't have to browse the internet with Google cookies. Also I don't have Google+ account, and I have separate browser to access Analytics and Webmaster tools and AdWords. My main browser clears all cookies at end-of-session except ones from whitelisted domains, so I'm not bothered by the search query spying that much. They can bind search queries to my e-mail account only by the same IP address used in HTTP search and POP3/SMTP mail transfer.
One more question: does Chrome browser (on desktop) have some kind of builtin instance/installation ID it transfers to Google servers every time I connect? I use Firefox, but anyway.
Yes, Chrome sends information back to Google just like Google Search does: it tracks what searches you make through the Omnibar. Firefox does the same thing when you make Google searches in their search box.
Spam filtering is hard. Gmail got popular because of their space and their nearly bullet-proof spam detection. If it was easy, someone else would have done it.
I don't have an opinion of if it's evil, but I think it is more than just the sidebar.
Example: I found my blog coming higher and higher on google for random search terms...only to realise that I was logged in and google knew that it was my blog. Not useful data!
I would move to duckduckgo, if it weren't mediocre the last time I tried. Maybe it's time to give them another shot.
And that's the part I don't get. Facebook does not even make that much money. Why would Google want to be more like it?
Google is leading the part of the web with most profits. And now tries hard to abandon it in favor of becoming second in the part that makes one of the worst profits. Why?
Spy World. What were they thinking?
One of these is the PC/mainframe decentralization/centralization cycle. Right now we're completing as swing back from decentralized PCs to centralized mainframes, except now the latter is called "cloud" and "software as a service."
I think it's time for the pendulum to start swinging the other way.
What we need are software platforms for large-scale, secure, reliable decentralized computing over wide area networks. Then we need to use these to enable decentralized meshed Facebook, Google, etc. competitors.
I don't use Google Docs, Google Reader, or log in to Youtube to watch videos marked as offensive.
Use Google for search. Certainly don't use a Google linked version of Android. There are plenty of good alternatives to most everything Google has.
The aggressiveness of Google's actions make me think a launch of a Facebook ad network is imminent, just in time for their IPO.
Also, I think I've always assumed that everything I've entered in Google Search will be linked to me indefinitely...so...sensitive searches are done in the non-logged in browser.
Of course, there's IP tracking, but I'm not feeling that paranoid yet.
Me too. I assumed that since they all share a cookie/login that this is why they bothered to have so many different services.
I don't like the confusing mess it's become either... I use a bunch of products, and I kept them compartmentalized for my reasons, mostly just simplicity. Now it's this big mess that I could go ranting about.....
That said - just because people say they don't/won't like something doesn't mean it won't be liked/loved, and used by everyone. The end users actions speak louder than their words, and on the internet, this is easy to watch.
As a 20 year veteran of the internet and all that crap? Sure.
Am I frustrated by Google's current direction? Yup...
Will I stop using it? I haven't yet - we'll see, but if I do, it will only be because I naturally move to something else because google stops being as useful.... and that's how the majority of people react to things.
(Then I wonder, if I find it confusing, how will my mom find it?)
Who used completely unattributed sources ("X-Googlers") themselves. That's textbook echo chamber in action.
Now, I don't know that they do that, but they certainly have the technical means to do so.
He mentions they use ~30 points of info to identify you, even if you're logged out.
> Even if you're logged out, one engineer told me, there are 57 signals that Google looks at -- everything from what kind of computer you're on to what kind of browser you're using to where you're located -- that it uses to personally tailor your query results.
He says they are signals used during ranking, not something to identify people.
But this is more like when Facebook saw Twitter's growth numbers and got scared and decided to be more like it. So a private social network became more public and everyone (including Google) could link to it now.
It's a sad day when a company abandones what it has come to represent, and becomes something else.
But then again, if you want to use your own stuff, it's always there. You can always host your own applications! Wordpress instead of blogger. Your own email. This has always been possible.
Relying on centralized authorities you have to accept that this might happen.
Stopped reading at this point.. Does apple know if I tap the home screen? Does apple know that I just used twitter? No. This claim shows their willingness to throw around unsubstantiated ideas as fact.
Google’s move towards social search could be the most significant change in the way we use the web since the beginning of Google itself. Consider that with this move, Google is actually moving away from their flagship Pagerank algorithm.
Google has already mentioned it wants to hold our online identity and others have speculated that Google wants to be a “reputation engine” (http://rossdawsonblog.com/weblog/archives/2011/08/breaking-g...).
It is not difficult to see that the next step is to make search results dependent on reputation and on the trust friends and +1’d organisations have in particular websites.
Difficulty to establish identity and trust is one of the main shortcomings of the web compared to the real world, especially when doing business. It is much easier to judge character and establish trust in a local face to face relationship than on the web. Locally we can observe others interacting with a person of interest or ask questions to neighbors who are likely to have some knowledge about each other.
I have been interested in algorithmic trust metrics (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trust_metric) for a while. If I was starting grad school over, I think I might have picked this field for my research. Things like Subjective logic (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subjective_logic) are similar to the way humans establish trust in real life and search engines could improve their results by using it. There are ways to quantify not only direct relationships but also indirect ones where one can trust an entity because some other trusted party, trusts them. The fact that we are all connected by few degrees of separation (some say at most six) makes this truly powerful.
It is probably too computationally expensive to generate a complete global trust network for each google+ user but a team of smart engineers should be able to cluster users with similar opinions or apply the relevant algorithms greedily. Although it is a computationally difficult problem, Google might just be the company that has enough servers to throw at the problem.
The trust network paradigm isn’t limited to search. When plugged into a global trust engine, people or organisations that do transactions online, on eBay for example, could forgo the need to rely on vast amounts of random customer feedback to establish trust but instead users could request to see a trust path from themselves to a target person before doing business. This means that new eBay users could bring their reputation from elsewhere with them when just starting to sell. Inversely, it may become possible for google+ users to "+1" eBay’s reputation system and their search results would then contain things that people with good reputation on eBay have +1’d or linked to.
The transition from rankings based on random websites’ link contents which often include SEO manipulations to rankings based on individually chosen trusted sources has the potential to be revolutionary. I can’t wait for the day when each search result is accompanied by text stating “recommended this because you +1’d this guy who +1’d this organisation who links a lot to this site.” The mechanism could be used in every kind of relationships and might help picking new employees, friends, doctors or even politicians.
I hope Google doesn't become a monopoly in this, like many people I am unconformable with their growing reach. However, if they manage to provide a transparent trust network and provide better search results based on it, it will add a lot of value to the web.
tl;dr I suspect Google wants all its services integrated with social because it is trying to build a trust network.
Trust in real life is broken. Google Search (1999 version) was a HUGE IMPROVEMENT over the "it's who you know" way of doing things that had always existed. Suddenly, you didn't have to know a guy who knew a guy who had a bike to find information about something.
It seems completely crazy to me that we would want to go back to the old way of doing things. I use Google to find out about things my friends don't know (if they did, I'd have asked them).