Posted May 8, 2010 8:17 am by with 7 comments

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Yeah that’s right Google is turning into a pop-culture boy band. Soon adolescent girls from across the country will be giggling and blushing at the sight of the Google logo. Okay maybe not, but one thing is for certain, Google is starting to make important decisions based on superficial trends that have little relationship with the fundamentals of search technology or information retrieval.

A few weeks ago I wrote about iconic graphic designer Paul Rand. Rand, was one of the first to combine modern artistic thought with business strategy. In 1992, Rand, resigned his position at Yale University in protest of the University hiring a “postmodern feminist designer.” Now before we start calling names and making assumptions over Rand’s decision it’s important to understand why Paul Rand was opposed to postmodern feminist design.

Shortly after his departure Rand wrote a very convincing argument against modern trends (via) in academia and design. At the heart of Rand’s paper he describes trendiness as a huge distraction from the fundamentals of graphic design. He points to things such as the use of graffiti as frivolous and unproductive. Rand understands the difference between art and design. Art is meant to make a statement about the world we live in. Design is meant to communicate a message. Rand understood that postmodern feminism makes a statement but can not communicate a brand’s message.

Just as trends in design can distract from the fundamentals of communication, so too can trends in social media distract from the fundamentals of information retrieval. For the last 6 or 7 months we have seen Google roll out a gamut of new features based solely on trends in social media. These trends are short-lived distractions that don’t add to long-term improvements in search technology. In essence, these new features are like what the Jonas Brothers are to rock ‘n roll – a brief distraction from the fundamentals.

Top Three Google Social Media Distractions.

Real-Time Search Integration
From the beginning the integration of real-time data into the search results has led many to worry about the inclusion of spam in the results. This concern has proven itself to be valid which may be one reason that the vast majority users completely ignore the real-time search data. As a result this feature has turned into another element of clutter in the SERPs.

Apparently, after failing to successfully integrate real-time data as described above, Google decided it needed its own real-time network. Since then Buzz has proven to be an unproductive social network. Buzz in fact creates more duplicate content than original. This stands in strong contrast to search technology’s goal of finding unique data.

Social Search
The social search integration is an attempt to utilize users unique social network to find relevant results. However this feature makes the dangerous assumption that my friends are the best people to ask for help. I like most of the people I engage in social media but will freely admit that the vast majority of the time I would not turn to them when needing research done.

All of the features above are social media distractions from Google’s stated mission statement, “to organize the world’s information”. If Google continues to launch frivolous social features that do not add functionality and increase the productivity of its general search capabilities, they could potentially alienate a historically dedicated user base.

In short Google needs to quit acting like the Jonas Brothers and more like Aerosmith.

  • Couldn’t agree more, Joe. It’s been interesting to contrast the successful roll-out of the new Google UI, tested over many months and millions of users, with the hastily pushed out disasters you mention. It will be interesting to see how Google deals with these atypically public blunders (there’s a good reason for labeling new services beta and letting them age in Labs): will G kill them mercifully or just bury its head in the sand?

    • The new UI could be debated as a good integration of both trendy design and improved search features. I like the new options, I think they add to Google’s search capabilities, however their new logo and design elements seem completely useless to me. I mean why are they changing up a logo that has solidified it self as a global standard??

  • I think that the most annoying thing is that properly relevent information is being pushed down the SERPS by irrelevent news, twittering and blog posts. On top of the sponsored posts, the most relevent results are losing what they have worked so hard for. Soon it’ll all be novalty stuff.

    • Yep! all of this new social clutter is really interfering with their long standing clean UI.

  • I think the changes that you are seeing at google are indicative of the panic that is mounting as a result of facebook threatening google’s hold over search.

    The semantic web (human based search results through some kind of voting algorhithm) is popping up it’s head. If facebook makes the new “like” feature work in earnest, and critical mass on websites makes it a reality then google is going to lose quite a bit of market share. The old google bot will have to be REALLY smart to compete with real human intelligence creating REALLY USEFUL results – results that are less prone to link spamming and SERP manipulation.

    So I don’t think it’s a matter of google really wanting to be in the social game, but I think they realize that if they really want to compete in the future of search then they really do need to make roads into the social part of the web.
    .-= Wynne´s last blog ..Use SkedgeMe to Organize Your Time and Business =-.

    • Wynne,

      I respectfully disagree. Facebook has no intention of becoming a search tool. The “like” feature is just an attempt to broaden their network. They are not interested in ranking the web. The “like” is just a cognitive cue to get you to click. But, it should actually read “Join Facebook”.

  • I’m curious why you didn’t mention Google Wave – The ultimate Social – Collaborative Tool, it seems to have disappeared from the net lately.