Today was one of those days when you take a quick peek at the calendar just to be sure it still isn’t April fools. Given the world of PR pain that Google has gotten themselves into as of late (with Google class, multiple cases in various EU courts questioning their honesty or money, the growing suspicion that they have been backing truckloads of data to the NSA), you might think they would steer clear of anything with any kind of creep or “ick” factor. Apparently not.
The latest offering from Big Brother is either their attempt to follow the Pinterest path, or evidence that someone over there has been hitting the sauce a little too hard. The word is that Google is now testing something called Google Mine. This has nothing to do with big data; rather the theory here is that it lets you catalogue your stuff, post pictures of it, review it share them with your friends through Google+ and even give that stuff away. It also allows for a wish list of stuff you only wished you had. Imagine if Craigslist hooked up with Facebook, and after a drug-fueled night of sexual abandon nine month later this popped out. I can imagine it being very useful to nosey friends or burglars… but apart from that… I’m not buying it.
As you may or may not know I’m not a huge fan of social media and would rather put a pin in my eye than use Pinterest… so I’m probably not the target demo… but seriously how self obsessed and vein would you have to be to think that the world cares about how great your vinyl collection is or how many shoes you have. Having said that I realize that Twitter is proof that there really are that many self obsessed people out there with enough free time to indeed catalog their sock drawer and share it with their friends. It’s all too easy to accuse Google of, once again, missing the boat and playing catch up by throwing their strangle hold on search behind their latest me too product. When they do stuff that leverages their strength and offers real innovation and utility (like the crazy clever Google Now feature), they don’t always get the credit they deserve… other times they get picked on because nobody (especially the EU) likes a winner. We will see how this latest me too project turns out.
If you ever needed proof of the impact that the smart phone/tablet has had on all aspects of search, you need look no further than Google’s release today of the carousel implementation for local search on Google desktop results. These only come up for restaurants and bars (as far as I can tell so far) but the presentation is interesting. The carousel puts images and reviews into a slot above the results page, which can be slid in either direction. If you click on a selection from the carousel, Google rewrites the query to bring in all the results for that location. Google+ is clearly a big factor in getting onto the part of the carousel that appears on the front page. Having a Google+ account with lots of images and reviews seems to be the critical factor. Certainly if I were a local business and I hadn’t quite gotten round to adopting my Google+ profile, this would push me over the edge.
I have a couple of concerns with this presentation. Like many users, I’m very used to reading the snippet for the result, which typically contains the phone number and enough info to act on. This presentation requires that you click on the result to get that info. The problem is that when you do that, the query is rewritten so that all the detailed results are for just that one listing. If I wanted to look at the snippet info for a bunch of locations, I’d have to click on each one in turn… and it’s easy loose track in the process.
Another artifact of this approach is that it further escalates how critical it is to get on the front page (or in this case early carousel placement) to get anything from Google. It essentially creates a new elite… the first 8 in the carousel. Getting into that elite group, and especially getting that click, turns the entire front page into results about just that one location. It doesn’t just feature the Google+ info prominently, it turns the entire results set into just that location; which is awesome if you are the lucky winner, but if not you are done. It will be fascinating to see the fallout from these changes.
I can see why any Googler might be getting just a little bit paranoid. It seems like where ever they turn they are in hot water… which is getting hotter. For example the recent NSA revelations that our dear friends at the government are essentially taping into pretty much anything they want to when ever they want, irrespective of the legalities they immediately came under suspicion of allowing the dark forces access to their systems to troll through query data. Google responded by assuring the world that in cases where they are required to supply data, they send it over by secure FTP or by hand… I kid you not… it conjures the visual of Mr. Brin nipping down the road with a flash drive or two secreted about his person to deliver our darkest secrets to the powers that be.
Fast-forward to the EU where the Brussels regulators hate Google in the worst possible way are sharpening their monopoly axes, this time for Android. From the get go, Android has been a little controversial; Google offers it as essentially open source with caveats that using Android will by default provide revenue to the carrier from Google Ads. I’m not privy to what level of compulsion or commitment goes along with using Android, but Google has always had success with a “please take our product for free and allow us to give you mountains of cash for taking our ads.” That offer took them to the top in search and it’s clearly driven Android’s success to a good extent.
The temperature rose again this week when Google announced their proposed acquisition of the Israeli tech start up Waze. At the same time I take my hat off to those guys for extracting the biggest buyout payday ever secured by an Israeli company I’d hold off on the Lear Jet order until this deal gets past the US monopoly guys. The very moment the deal was announced the anti competition guys called foul and started campaigning to stop the deal. It must be said that Google does have a significant lead in the map space, and adding Waze will substantially bolster that lead… and the temperature keeps rising.