Google launched SearchWiki yesterday, an attempt at personalizing search results through voting, removing and commenting.
This seems to be an untimely misstep by the search giant. With their stock price hovering around the 52-week low, they have taken a gamble at modifying their core product. In my opinion, the changes create more noise and will stir questions about the company both externally and internally.
Why SearchWiki? Why Now? Answer: Digg
My first reaction on seeing a new icons next to a search result yesterday was: “Oh, Google is going after Digg!”
Digg is a social content website where its community votes up or down news articles and photos, and the most popular ones bubble to the top. Digg recently raised venture funding after Google walked away from a possible deal to acquire Digg for around $200 million.
Is this a possible scenario? An engineer at Google, say his name is Amay, decides to build a social voting utility for the search results in his 20% time. Google’s strategy group then looks at Amay’s prototype and said, “Mmm .. maybe we should make our search results more social, but Digg does that. Can we acquire Digg?” After passing on the Digg deal, Google decides to make their SearchWiki prototype a full-blown integrated feature of search, for everyone.
Where SearchWiki Fails: Noise and Privacy
There are two immediate red flags raised by the introduction of SearchWiki.
- Noise. There will now be lots and lots of noise in what was formerly an uncluttered and simple experience. On the web, comment forms are dominated by the loudest and most obnoxious of web users. This will result in both inane and inappropriate comments (see example below).
- Privacy. By launching this feature, users will become acutely more aware that Google is recording data on their searches, which may have a negative reputational backlash on Google. I found jblondon’s comment to a TechCrunch article about the same topic an insightful summary of this awakened mindset.
“it’s unsightly disutility acts as a useful reminder to sign out of your google account — which has the concomitant benefit of slightly reducing the amount of data the company stores about your online behaviour.”
Why This Is Untimely
One may argue that social features will inevitably creep into search, and I agree. However, to introduce such major new features into the core product en masse is a risk perhaps Google should have considered more thoughtfully.
Google’s stock price is at $257 at the time of this writing, which puts most of its employee options underwater. With that tension already built, is it strategically advantageous to take a risk on changing the core product? If these changes alienate users or spook analysts, Google could see a bigger drop in its stock price and a revolt among its employees.
It will be interesting to watch how Google modifies their social search strategy once they see it in action for a few days. I’m guessing they will withdraw somewhat.