What’s so disturbing about the new option in Google Search?

For a week or so, there’s been hoards of tweets and posts by people being upset about the new feature in Google Search results: the possibility of including search results powered by your network (in Google+, that is).

The criticism seem to fall into one of the following categories – or both:

  • It’s unfair to include only Google+
  • Search fundamentalism

Before looking closer at these to I have to state: the more I’ve read, the more puzzled I have become. What’s so bad about an option to get a little help from your friends by boosting your search results with their experience and activities? After all, they are more likely to share your interests than all the other folks out there. Friendship is usually based on having something in common, isn’t it?

In our social intranet, we have similar concept, which we regard as an advantage: “Your friends are your filter”. Faced with an abundance of information, it’s usually a good help to have get a helping hand to find the trees in the forest.

Particularly as you really don’t need to be active on Google+ once you have created your network there. Just get an account, add people to your circles and off you go. They don’t even need to accept your following of them like they would have to on Facebook. Topping up, the search results is based on their activity, not yours. So you can just idle and inject their results if you want to. Or not, if you so should choose.

Let’s look instead at the “unfair” argument.

I thought Google wasn’t a public service, but a business. Just like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are. If the same possibility was available to Facebook, they wouldn’t have thought twice about doing it. And would anybody have been surprised? They are not known for acting like your local charity. Rather, I’ve been hoping for Google as the challenger with both muscle and brains to be able to finally challenge the overwhelming dominance by Facebook on the social arena. Facebook getting some serious competition is a good thing.

Also, as stated earlier, once you’ve opened an account and added some folks to your circles your ready to roll…and can keep interacting with your friends on Facebook if you’d like to.

Let’s turn to the Search Fundamentalists

Their argument is that adding “your world” to the search criteria distorts the search results compared to the ones generated by the pure search algorithm. Apart from the ability to turn off the “your world”-option, I’ve had more sympathy for this argument. Many of us still remember how sponsored search ranking caused the downfall of Alta Vista (had to search my memory for the name actually). It would be stupid by Google to fall into the same trap. But are they? The network results are clearly indicated as such and the sponsorship is unpaid, made by people  by your choice. And… once again… you can easily turn it off.

Finally, just a couple of days ago, I came upon the final nail in the coffin of the fundamentalist way of thinking, a blog entry in C-net “Why Google is ditching search“. It brought to my attention what I already knew, but hadn’t thought off: that search results rankings are already distorted, but not through Google selling ranking, but through people engaging SEO services.

So, case closed – at least in my book. I will keep using the Search and your world option most of the time and now have one more reason to add interesting people to my circles weather we know each other or not, as long as they seem to post interesting stuff.

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So what’s so great about social intranets?

If there is one thing almost all intranets have in common, it is that people complain about them. The appreciation of traditional intranets generally is somewhere on a scale between neutral and abysmal.

If you ask employees who have access to social intranets, they would rather be somewhere on the scale between neutral and extatic (at least on occasions).

Communalities of most traditional intranets are:

  • Information is spread down- or outwards in the organization
  • Content is created by a cadre of communication professionals
  • The editors constantly debate structure and editor access
  • Users have difficulties to find their way in the structure
  • And just as much difficultyto find stuff when searching
  • Much of the content is out of date
  • An ever-present question for the company is “How do we make people use the intranet?”. (The response usually is to make it the default start page for all browser installations)

So what about social intranets?

  • Content is spread in all directions by the people who know the topics, not by the people who know how to write about them
  • The creators of collaborative content don’t care too much about the big structure. Only about the substance. And everybody have access to create content (but not everywhere, though)
  • Structure is secondary, since content is found through searching, and by association with similar content and with people you trust
  • Search works much better since it is based not only on search engine “mechanics” but is boosted by peer recommendations and social bookmarks
  • Social intranets apply “Content Darwinism”. Almost all presentation is based on “recency of updating”. Hot topics and communities therefore float to the surface while inactive communities and stuff people aren’t interested in slowly sinks to the bottom. (It can still be found through searching for it though)
  • As the intranet is seen as valuable and relevant, people will want to use it. There is no more need to make them go there.

Of course, it cannot be ALL social. The most powerful tool is blending the traditional with social. The communications folks may give some screen real estate away, but increased exposure of what remains is likely to compensate with a healthy margin for the lost real estate.

But, won’t the staff waste valuable time socializing via the intranet? No way! I’m constantly amazed by how the same kind of features result in such different uses on each side of the firewall. Or would you consider it a waste if:

  • people find experts to help them solve problems fast and with proven solutions
  • instead of re-inventing the wheel for the umpteenth time, people find documents from others that they can adapt to their current needs
  • employees band together in communities to share and build common knowledge on topics of professional and corporate value
  • knowledge is unlocked from employees hard drives, brains and desk drawers, shared and made available for the common good of the company… and for the future – an aspect to take into account in these days of retiring babyboomers and shortening average tenure
  • and – much needed in many a company – the ability of employees to network and communicate in all directions bridge geographic and organizational boundaries helping to overcome the frequent suboptimization stemming from organizational protectionism.
  • the criss-crossing of networks and communication generates chance meetings of people with other people or with unexpected information, a well known, proven and sought for environment for creativity and invention.

For me, it is very simple: the ability of implementing social intranets is the possibility for companies and organizations to show that “Our Employees are our Most Valuable Resource” weren’t just empty words.