There has been a lot of complaining lately about Google’s integration of Google+ results into its search. There have been a lot of accusations. Many say we can no longer trust Google’s search results. Some have gone so far as to say that Google is going back on its pledge to “Do no evil.”
I see things a bit differently. Google offers a variety of services, many of which can be called apps in their own right. Google wants to integrate these services into a single app, each piece of which integrates into each other. The black toolbar added recently took a major step in this direction. The inclusion of social results from Google+ is yet another step.
My primary problem with social results isn’t that it only offers search results from Google+. My primary problem is that it only offers results from Google+. Google isn’t evil because they are only investing their own social service, but they are choosing to offer me special results from a service that is not high on my list of social tools. My primary social tools are Twitter and Facebook. I would find inclusion of those services to be quite useful, but they fall into the normal search results with no integration to show more focus on those I follow or friend on those services. Google is missing out on opportunity by not integrating more social services within its search.
The goal of the Google+ integration isn’t to improve search results directly. The purpose is to increase the value of the Google+ social network. I personally think that Google+ could use a bit of a value-increase. The proper tools are there to run a social network. The value, though, is in the people. Like it or not, the value in social networking is in Twitter and Facebook, and Google+ is still an also-ran.
What is bad about a company integrating various services into a single system? There may be a higher cost incurred by the user if they are required to pay for previously unneeded services. There could be features that are forced upon the user that they are not comfortable with. The company may use a dominant market position to force users to “lock-in” to their services, or to drive competitors from the market. I am sure that the list is longer.
Looking at these in turn, the first two do not seem to be at issue. Google is not charging users for access to its search engine, or many of its other services. Those services that cost a fee still exist, unchanged. I am not aware of any plans for this to change. What if Google decided to move to a subscription service, charging $1 per month for access to their now unified application? Many would think of it as a good price for a valuable service, and would pay. Many would make the opposite decision. As the price for the service increases the percentage of users who will say and pay the price will drop. At the low price of $1 per month the percentage of takers will be quite high. Raise the price high enough, though, and users will go elsewhere.
What about unwanted features? Users are used to these. Microsoft’s Ribbon interface replacing normal menus? Horrible idea. I don’t want it. Ubuntu’s Unity interface? Why, oh WHY did someone think that was a good idea? Yahoo? Google putting results from a service you are using in a small area on the search page? Honestly, I’ve had worse. If it was a hill I was willing to die on, I’d stop using Google and go elsewhere for the same services they offer.
Google does have some significant dominance in certain areas. In the last half of 2011 Google accounted for just over 80% of all search traffic. Bing and Yahoo shared almost all of the rest. Microsoft has built a good search engine in Bing. The biggest reason it isn’t gaining better market share is inertia. Similar inertia accounts for why such a large majority of us use Microsoft’s operating systems, Office software, and at one time web browser. Microsoft learned with Internet Explorer that a bad product, or even one perceived as bad, would continue to lose market share until it and its image have improved. With Bing they have a worthy competitor for Google, not only because it’s well-made, but also because it isn’t Yahoo.
What about email? Google’s Gmail product is huge, right? Not really. Google accounts for 4% of email opens in a survey done by Litmus. Microsoft’s Outlook product in various versions accounts for 37%. Gmail lags behind Hotmail, the iPhone, Apple Mail, Yahoo Mail (a strong point for them), and even the web-based version of Microsoft Outlook.
What other market besides search does Google truly have a dominant market share? Office software? No. Instant Messanging? No. Social Networking? Most definitely not. Chances are we’re using something other than Google for most everything we do except search. The one major exception is in Adwords Advertising, but this does not cost the user. In fact, it is what allows the other services to stay free.
This begs the most important question in the argument. Can Google leverage its dominance in search to gain dominance in other markets in which it chooses to compete? So far the answer to that has been no, except for Adwords. Even the Android operating system for mobile phones hasn’t succeeded in breaking the market dominance of Apple in smartphones. It may yet succeed, or a third party may become competitive in the race.
There’s always someone else in the race. This isn’t like cable companies, utilities, and Standard Oil. There’s no law saying we can’t use another service. If Google upsets enough users, they’ll go to the competitors. This is how markets correct. The fact that we can go to someone else denies a monopoly. Google does not have a monopoly on search. Microsoft has never had a monopoly on operating systems or web browsers, though it has defended itself against accusation on both cases.
In the end, to me, it’s just a little search feature. I’d like to be able to disable it if I want. I’d prefer to be able to select and link with services I use along with Google+. It is not, however, the end of the world.