This week, Google made major changes to its search algorithm in an effort to make search results both more relevant to users and more up to date. Google is calling this “Search Plus Your World.” To do so, they’re deeply integrating their new social network, Google+, into the search results that a user will receive for any given search term. So, for example, when searching for puppies, you might get something from a pet shelter down the street, but also items that your friends from Google+ have posted their Google+ pages.
These changes will most certainly make search more helpful to many users, but some are questioning why Google decided to leave other major social networks out of this new social search function. Both Facebook and Twitter will not be included in these social search results, leading some to complain that important information will be kept from users looking for relevant information. Twitter took to the web to publicly complain about what they view as a poor choice for consumers on Google’s part. Twitter said in their statement:
“For years, people have relied on Google to deliver the most relevant results anytime they wanted to find something on the Internet.
Often, they want to know more about world events and breaking news. Twitter has emerged as a vital source of this real-time information, with more than 100 million users sending 250 million Tweets every day on virtually every topic. As we’ve seen time and time again, news breaks first on Twitter; as a result, Twitter accounts and Tweets are often the most relevant results.
We’re concerned that as a result of Google’s changes, finding this information will be much harder for everyone. We think that’s bad for people, publishers, news organizations and Twitter users.”
Many see these changes as another front on the antitrust battle that Google faces against the Federal Trade Commission, led by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) and Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI). The FTC is concerned that Google is unfairly promoting its own content ahead of that of competitors. Is this another example of Google not playing fair?
Google doesn’t seem to think so. After Twitter’s statement was released, Google countered with a statement of their own, explaining that they wouldn’t be including Twitter results because, basically, they weren’t allowed. Google and Twitter had a deal to include tweets in Google search results, but it expired this past July. Google said in their statement on their Google+ page:
“We are a bit surprised by Twitter’s comments about Search plus Your World, because they chose not to renew their agreement with us last summer, and since then we have observed their rel=nofollow instructions.”
Google’s Chairman, Eric Schmidt, claims that because of these no follow instructions, they’re barred from crawling Twitter (and Facebook).
Danny Sullivan, a journalist who follows the search engine market, had a conversation with Eric Schmidt over these claims, and according to him and other tech bloggers, his claims don’t stand up to scrutiny. Sullivan points out to Schmidt that there is nothing stopping Google from crawling public Twitter and Facebook pages, since their robot.txt files do not stop search engines from crawling their pages. Schmidt counters that this is Sullivan’s “interpretation of their policies.” Sullivan’s entire conversation with Schmidt is quite revealing, and is well worth reading in its entirety. Schmidt and Google don’t seem to have a lot of answers of why exactly they’re barring Facebook and Twitter from their new “Search Plus Your World” results. If Google wants to stand up to further scrutiny from the FTC, they’ll need to come up with better explanations than what they’re currently giving.
Zack Christenson is a DC-based digital strategist who writes on tech policy.