Why Google Thinks SPYW is a Good Idea and You Probably Don’t

In a recent statement Larry Page said if you don’t get SPYW then maybe you shouldn’t work at Google. To understand why he thinks this is such a good idea–and why the rest of the world thinks it isn’t–we need to revisit the concept of filter bubbles and why they are such a bad idea.

Last year Eli Pariser released the book the Filter Bubble (see my review of the the Filter Bubble). As part of the promotion, he was asked to speak at TED. While I wasn’t there, I understand from people who were in attendance that it made several Googlers in the audience … lets go with “uncomfortable” …

When your friends aren’t Google employees, using your social graph to influence your search results is somewhere between stupid and insane …

 Here’s the problem in a nutshell: when you work at Google, your fellow employees, friends, and people you connect with on social networks like Google Plus are going to be some of the smartest, technologically savvy, and Google-centric people in the world. This is not true for the rest of the online population. Using SPYW to take the collective wisdom of your social network of Google employee/friends to influence your search results is a really good idea. When your friends aren’t Google employees, are not the smartest people on the planet, and in some cases are narcissistic and generally a lot more self interested, using your social graph to influence your search results is somewhere between stupid and insane.

We come back to the basic concept of filter bubbles. Using filter bubbles only works if everyone in your filter bubble is smart, worldly-wise, and open minded to different view points and perspectives. Paradoxically, this is self-defeating logic. If your filter bubble is “good” and you don’t realize that everyone else’s isn’t, you’ll never get why filters bubbles and ideas like SPYW are such  bad ideas.

There is only so long you can serve inferior results and distract people with cutesy holiday logos before they decide to try another search engine…

To be clear, this isn’t a case of sour grapes. All of my sites that I care about are doing better since SPYW went into effect. I’m playing the “social game”: broadcasting, engaging, and sending Google the signals it’s looking for so my websites benefit from SPYW and personalized search. However, I can tell you thatwhen I use Google as a regular user looking for answers to questions I don’t know and things I need to buy, I see the results are more polluted by the efforts of other marketers like myself who are playing the same social engagement games I do. The search results aren’t better. It’s nice to sit in the ivory tower of the GooglePlex and say this will teach people to choose wisely who they interact with on social networks. But, in reality, that type of thinking shows they are in a filter bubble: people have a tendency to act in their own best interests. Thousands of years of human history prove that people are really good at reacting to short term dangers like a lion or wolf who starts hunting near their home, but people are really bad at reacting to long term dangers like wildlife conservation, widespread deforestation, climate change, energy consumption, financial responsibility, worldwide poverty, and global starvation.

As regular users notice a decline in the quality of Google results, most of them won’t understand or quite frankly care that the people in their friend network are to blame. There is only so long you can serve inferior results and distract people with cutesy holiday logos before they decide to try another search engine.

photo credit: Shutterstock/NemesisINC

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