Atop the Litany of Google Plus Complaints: It's 'Breaking Search'

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Google is a great search company. They defined how we enter the great brickyard of knowledge for most of this decade because they provided fast and clean to fresh information. But that stopped being enough when Facebook became large enough to threaten the search giant's core advertising business. Google launched a series of social rejoinders, none of which got much momentum until Google Plus, which has the full weight of the Mountain View apparatus behind it.

But ReadWriteWeb's Jon Mitchell, among others, is worried that as Google tries to compete in social, it will ruin the dependable search interface for which it was known. The core of his screed is that G+ is becoming social SEO, a way to draw attention (and therefore dollars) to content outside of the quality of the content itself. G+ has become a way to socially game Google's core search product.

Google+ is the new SEO. Just look at what it's done to Google News. In the name of highlighting authors, it now pulls in Google+ profiles. It doesn't let the author choose, say, her own website as her profile. If she wants a clickable, personal link on Google News, she has to use Google+.

Google does all this in the name of personalization. The public face of this effort is Amit Singhal, who presents personalization as this crucial element of context. Google can better figure out what a query means to each user if it has social signals, his story goes.. All this personalization and real-time stuff surely helps Google organize its content, but it's breaking search.

Perhaps Mitchell doesn't go quite this far, but his argument suggests that the missions of a social network (As we've come to know them historically) and a search engine are antithetical or mutually defeating. You know synergy? Well, Google's social search combination may generate the opposite of that, antergy perhaps.

I am willing to wait a while longer before declaring that Google's social strategy can't or won't work. We're still in the early days of refining search to incorporate social signals.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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