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Will Social Kill the Search Star? [Opinion]



I am not sure what to make of this new foray into social that Google has embarked on. I’m not sure because the Internet industry’s court of rush to judgment public opinion isn’t likely to even let Google+ get off the ground. Few are talking about the fact that this is a project that will be rolled out over time. Instead people are reading that Google’s social effort looks like Facebook, is named poorly and is just another Google social flop.

That may be the truth but I say so what? Whether Google is wildly successful with Google+ or it’s a gargantuan pile of dung, the fact remains that Google is a search company at its core and it may be starting to lose its way. If that happens then there will be a void that will be hard to fill and there is something to be concerned about.

Honestly, before my eyes were diverted to the Google+ furor, I was more impressed yesterday with what I discovered using Google’s simple service called “What Do You Love?” The reason was because for the first time Google made it easy to see just how many facets of my personal and business life are impacted by Google products and services. None of these are overtly social either and guess what? I could care less if they were. They were about being productive and helping me do things on my own. They were about independence.

You see, I am an admitted contrarian on the whole social play. I am not to the point of saying it is useless or anything that radical. In fact, I think there is a very important role that the social web can play in many lives. I just think that this idea that it is the central role and the most critical component of everything is completely overstated and, in fact, a dangerous line of thinking.

Dangerous? Really, Frank? A bit alarmist now aren’t you?

If you think so, then sure, you are entitled to your opinion. Here’s my take though. People are naturally sheep. They want to be led around because it’s easy. When things get easy then they can just throw their minds and their lives into cruise control and go. They think that’s cool but it’s really quite scary. Why? Because much like muscles, the brain can atrophy. Being herded by social cues will make many people to be too reliant on others opinions thus making it harder to form their own. That’s a very bad thing.

This is where search is so important. Before I go any further, I realize that using Google in search is asking for an opinion of sorts because results are sifted and presented by the algorithmic whims of Google. What’s different about this result set though is this.

First, I have to actively reach out and figure out what it is exactly that I am looking for. Second, I have no relationship with the algorithm so there is no social awkwardness involved when I feel that what was presented to me is wrong. Third, I am forced to think more deeply about things. Fourth, and I believe most important, is that I am getting data from somewhere outside of my social sphere. Why is that good? It’s because this social group is likely to have similar tastes and visions of the world thus actually restricting growth potentially because the common ground that makes us friends limits the playing field on which to run.

This last one is really important because being comfortable in anything can be the most damaging thing to ever happen to a person. If you are surrounded by a group of social contacts that are your ‘friends’ because of common interests and other similarities then your chances of being exposed to anything that is outside of that group are severely limited for most people. Daring ones will break out of their circles to expand their horizons but they will also be distanced from that group on many levels because they dared to think outside the group’s box.

So this need for social cues to influence everything, including how we search for information and attempt to grow through personal quests for knowledge acquisition, is actually limiting our exposure to bigger (and possibly better) ideas or options. It’s here that Google plays an important role in keeping us all sharp. We need areas of autonomy or independence that aren’t reliant on a group’s influence. We need this to grow and get better.

Google provides that outlet for now. My fear, however, is that this need to be more social by Google is going to take them off track and we may lose one of the areas where we can be more of an individual online. I am concerned that this quest for some kind of social ‘relevance’ is going to make Google a less potent search engine. I think that social cues are going to limit options rather than expand them in many cases. I truly fear that people will be less independent and even more dependent. It’s this group think mindset that leads to an entitlement mindset that creates lazy people. Once you get to that point it only gets worse from there.

I’ll be real honest here and I would ask you to be the same. You see, I love my friends. I respect who they are and what they like. I appreciate them as individuals. But as with anything healthy there should be limits and boundaries. I don’t always want or need their opinions to make decisions. In fact, I seek opinions outside of my circles often because it keeps me on my toes. Being able to search for something and being given information free of that influence is important. It keeps me grounded.

So where am I going with all of this? Honestly, I don’t know. It’s too early to tell anything about Google, social and search. I’ll let the ‘experts’ fight it out and make their reputations off opinions about things they have not yet seen.

What I can say is that I am not interested in being all social all the time. I don’t think it’s healthy. Apparently though it’s lucrative so that’s what matters to the likes of Google and Facebook.

Fortunately, I have a choice to participate or not and to what level. If we place so much weight on social signals that things start to be overly influenced by those who are ‘playing the game’ this will end badly. I fear that we could all start to slide to the lowest common denominator and thus become mind numbingly lame in the process.

Am I right? I hope not.

What’s your opinion? Just be sure to not ask your friends before you comment :-).

  • Jeremiah

    I will still continue to use google for searching as standard, and that will massage my brain, along with as much real world input that I can get. I LOVE the new google + idea. Still waiting on an invite though.

  • http://www.arcanasphere.com MrAndrewJ

    I recall reading that Gmail once existed for the benefit of keeping the name “Google” in front of users. That may be less true now, but it sets a precedent. Google Plus may hold a similar value in branding and serving ads.

    Google has been timid to date about mixing too much social with their organic listings. 20 years of probation from the Buzz fiasco might also dampen their courage. Other businesses (DuckDuckGo, ConsumerWatchdog) keep their name in print by harping on Google over these matters.

    What would happen to advertising revenue in your worst case scenario?

    I think there is motivation for Google to keep the importance of social in check. I think, anyway.

  • MissEMILIEb

    I don’t know how it all relates yet specifically to Google+ and social networks on the whole. However, I agree and absolutely appreciate appreciate the sentiment on overall search and society. And beyond the immediate topic of search, I think it makes a great sociological case and study in human behavior. There are similar thoughts, too on our (society’s) incessant need and reliance on technology. The idea is that we’re nearing the line between outright dependency on tech/web even video games versus using them as tools to achieve a greater goal or entertain a hobby that we’re altering our perception of reality and decreasing the brain’s need to work and create the related paths for recall – since we no longer need to make decisions for ourselves or do things for ourselves. Even smart people have difficulties with everyday common sense nor understand how to do the menial tasks for which we’ve created tech shortcuts. How many smart people do you know who don’t know how to read a map or be able to deduce a route to a new destination? (albeit perhaps not the most efficient route at first, but this is where learning comes into play)