Facebook, Twitter react to Google's SPYW

Google's Search Plus Your World (SPYW) announcement has ruffled some feathers. Both Facebook and Twitter have reacted, but in very different ways. Here's what happened this week.
Written by Emil Protalinski, Contributor

Google this week announced Search plus Your World (SPYW), a feature which essentially means more personalised information added to your search engine results. If you are logged in with your Google+ account (and sometimes even if you are not!), your results will include Google+ photos and posts (your own and those shared specifically with you), other people's Google+ profiles so you can find whom you're close to or might be interested in following, and Google+ pages related to a specific topic or area of interest. So, where does this leave Facebook and Twitter?

Well, as many people have already noted, results from these two social networks have been pushed further down Google's search results page, making them much less likely to be clicked. For example, searching for celebrities points you to their Google+ Page, instead of also including their corresponding Facebook and Twitter accounts. If you're not on Google+, you sometimes won't come up as a suggestion at all. This gets even worse (and for some, amusing) depending on the query.

As you can see in the screenshot above, courtesy of Search Engine Land, when you search for Facebook in the new Google, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg's Google+ profile shows up as relevant. Obviously Zuckerberg's Facebook profile is a much more sensible result, especially given that Zuckerberg has never posted on his Google+ account. Google doesn't care though. There are loads of examples like this one because Google now rates Google+ webpages much higher than those from other social networks.

Twitter has been very vocal about the fact that Google+ is now so tightly integrated into Google search, and other social networks, like Twitter, aren't. Alex Macgillivray, Twitter general counsel who formerly worked at Google, tweeted the following: "Bad day for the Internet. http://bit.ly/Am5bqz Having been there, I can imagine the dissension @Google to search being warped this way."

This isn't just one Twitter employee talking though; the company made a fierce declaration over the issue. "For years, people have relied on Google to deliver the most relevant results anytime they wanted to find something on the Internet," a Twitter spokesperson said in a statement. "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."

Google responded to the complaints, on Google+, of course: "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." This was taken further with a quote from Amit Singhal, who oversees Google's ranking algorithms. "Facebook and Twitter and other services, basically, their terms of service don't allow us to crawl them deeply and store things. Google+ is the only [network] that provides such a persistent service," Singhal told Search Engine Land. "Of course, going forward, if others were willing to change, we'd look at designing things to see how it would work."

In other words, Google claims if it was granted access to Facebook and Twitter data it needs to put that content into its search results, it would probably do so. As you can see in the video above, Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt was interviewed by Market Land. He was very good at deflecting questions but he did end with: "The core question is, 'Would we be willing to [include Facebook and Twitter], and the answer is, 'We'll be happy to talk to them about it'."

Twitter has been talking about the issue. Google has been responding, and has included Facebook in its statements. So, why has Facebook not been criticizing the move publicly like Twitter has? I contacted the company and was told Facebook was declining to comment on the news.

While Facebook won't say anything as a company, like Twitter has, many of its employees have criticized Google's moves in public status updates. Several of them even went as far as endorsing a Gizmodo article about switching your default search engine to Bing because "Google broke itself."

AllThingsD notes three important Facebook figures were included in the list: "Pedram Keyani, an engineering manager who is a frequent public face of Facebook; Paul Adams, the former Google user experience researcher whose ideas about social circles were famously influential there, but who left for Facebook before Google+ launched; and Joe Lockhart, the former White House press secretary, who is now Facebook's VP of global communications."

"This is a pretty interesting read," Keyami wrote on Facebook. "Google became something we love because they always focused on speed and giving us the best results. They have made a pretty big departure from that with their most recent change. They say fear is a great motivator (fear of facebook and twitter) but I think in this case it has also clouded their vision. Google was my first real fulltime job the direction they are moving in makes me sad. I hope they find their way."

There is no doubt in my mind that Facebook is analyzing Google's SPYW and has already made moves to react accordingly. Menlo Park is just choosing to do so quietly, and I think that's a smart move, though we'll likely hear from the company very soon. After all, the Federal Trade Commission has already been asked to investigate SPYW.

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