When Google made me frown

When Google +1  was announced recently, I was a little concerned. I may have momentarily furrowed my brow, before moving onto the next piece of internet news.

I wasn’t quite sure why Google +1 worried me, but I continued to gnaw over it for a few months.

This is how Google describes this search innovation: “Sometimes it’s easier to find exactly what you’re looking for when someone you know already found it. Get recommendations for the things that interest you, right when you want them, in your search results”.

Today, I decided do some more research and write this piece. And I was glad to see I’m not alone.

Google
Google

The idea of +1 disturbs me in the same way that I’m disturbed that so many of us don’t work past the first page of Google search results. Because the question is: what are we missing? When an online tool presumes to know what information we’re looking for (and to know our searches even better than we know them ourselves), how can we be sure all our information choices are fair and open?

I suspect I’m not being very clear. So happily for me (and you, dear reader), there are many more clever people out there who have already written about this vexing issue:

“ … according to Eli Pariser, personalisation on the web is becoming so pervasive that we may not even know what we’re missing: the views and voices that challenge our own thinking” – New York Times

That’s exactly what has been furrowing my brow.

And also: “… it is already way too easy for someone to spend their entire day surrounded with information they favor, and never hear a contrary voice” – Between The Numbers.

I don’t want Google to become so super helpful, that outside views or contrasting sites, authors and opinions are hidden away from me. I imagine my sons studying for a school paper, and finding that during web searches the past searches of their friends influences what they find, thanks to +1. Scary.

Now, like any successful, competitive global company, Google is always in search (no pun intended) of improvement and growth. Google wants to serve its customers better. It’s always been fantastic at giving us exactly what we want and strives to improve the user experience.

But did we really need +1? What do you think?

Further Reading
Google Instant Search = Instant Echo Chamber 
Google Echo Chamber

5 thoughts on “When Google made me frown

  1. Well, yes, there’s a problem, but I don’t think it’s with Google or +1. Google is popular for search precisely because of it’s accuracy, which sometimes borders on the miraculous (but more often achieves only brilliance). Point is, it’s about Trust. We like Google because we trust it to give us what we need. +1 is an extension of that, because it will show us which results our friends have found useful. At least in theory.

    [I personally wonder if +1 will work, because it requires that someone go back to the Google results page to +1 a site, after they’ve gone to the page and decided that it’s good. I don’t see many people doing that.]

    But where there is a problem, potentially, is with the choices we make of who/what to follow for our information, on Facebook and Twitter. Increasingly, we’re getting our view of the world through these socnets, and if we’ve only chosen to follow those we agree with, then we might just be getting a biased view of things.

  2. I think what you are saying is a valid concern.

    I recently went to a seminar by Howard Gardner and he spoke about the 5 minds of the future. To prepare children for the future, he described five kinds of minds, or ways of thinking and acting that we should be thinking about when working with children.

    Disciplined Mind, Synthesising Mind, Creative Mind, Respectful Mind

    He then linked these to learning in the 21st century and called them the Digital Age and the Five Minds. When talking about the synthesising mind in the digital age he said that we need to teach children how to make sense of the information available to them. So these days children can use Google or Wikipedia to find out information almost instantly. He said that we need to teach children what to use and what to ignore and how to make a decision about the legitimacy of info being presented. He then spoke about teaching children to sort, organise and make sense of the information.

    I worry that we won’t be teaching children this skill; rather they will be relying on Google or some other search engine to make decisions about what information they use.

    1. Thanks for commenting Jasmine. I think a lot of schools recognise this and are starting to teach children new skills. My son in upper primary school actually sets his own questions now – that’s a great first step to developing an inquiring mind!

  3. Growing up we were mostly provided the same materials for learning, some people accepted what they were told, others sought further knowledge.

    It’s the same in other industries, 99% of the music we are exposed to is “popular”, mediocre books become bestsellers, crap movies are blockbusters.

    In theory the +1 thing is supposed to broaden our perspective, in the same way I might introduce you to a book/band/movie you’d never considered/heard of otherwise, so if you found a link I +1’d on a subject you were interested in then you’d be more inclined to check it out – or less likely if you knew my taste sucks.

    However I don’t think it’ll work that way, and in the end those of us who seek more knowledge will continue to look further and deeper, and this feature will die off without consequence or evolve into something more useful.

    So, a +1 is theoretically useful, but I’m not convinced yet.

  4. Hmm, just logged into Adsense and there’s now a feature where it recommends you embed the +1 code into your website along with Adsense:

    “Adding the +1 button to your pages allows users to recommend your content to friends and contacts on Google search. As a result, you could get more and better qualified traffic.”

    Hmm….

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