IndustryDon’t Be Evil Tool: Focus on the User Builds a ‘More Relevant Google’

Don't Be Evil Tool: Focus on the User Builds a 'More Relevant Google'

Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and other social media networks have created a Chrome bookmarklet and website to reveal the bias in Google’s personalized search results. Their Focus on the User campaign was a bold move, but who is it hurting?

“Most portals show their own content above content elsewhere on the web. We feel that’s a conflict of interest, analogous to taking money for search results. Their search engine doesn’t necessarily provide the best results; it provides the portal’s results. Google conscientiously tries to stay away from that. We want to get you out of Google and to the right place as fast as possible. It’s a very different model.”

That was Larry Page, in a 2004 interview with Playboy. My, how things have changed.

The passive aggressive melodrama that has been Social Media Wars over the last several months has become open war, with Facebook, Twitter, MySpace & Friends drawing first blood.

Back in November, I wrote about the social network soap opera as it was at the time: Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Mark Zuckerberg had gone on the Charlie Rose show to snipe at Google and others, painting them as the real baddies users needed to be weary of. Google’s Bradley Horowitz responded to a interview question about Zuckerberg’s jab that Google+ was a Facebook ripoff with the quip, “We are delighted to be underestimated. It’s served us very well to date, and that’s fine by us. I’m not going to clear anything up.”

Zing! For months, each stayed above the fray, refusing to full-on engage the other, trying to appear to take the high road, yet getting their digs in when and wherever they could.

That changed yesterday with the arrival of the Don’t Be Evil tool, created by a conglomeration of engineers from Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and other unnamed social networks.


The Chrome extension bookmarklet and accompanying Focus on the User website are designed solely to call Google on the carpet over the preferential treatment given their own Google+ posts and pages in organic search results, since the launch of Search Plus Your World (which I am tempted to refer to as SPYWorld from this day forward).

Google’s new SPYWorld search results run counter to everything the search giant says they stand for, says the group. It turns the top point from Google’s own Company Philosophy, “Focus on the user and all else will follow,” on its head.

Using Google’s own search results, the Focus on the User open source bookmarklet unveils the bias created by Search Plus Your World. See the video below:

A few notes about Google’s Search Plus Your World, if you haven’t noticed the change:

  • It’s the default search option for logged-in users
  • It incorporates Google+ activity in search results, seemingly regardless of relevance, content freshness, or other factors you’ve come to expect from Google’s algorithm

So, with the antitrust war drums beating once again in full force, Facebook et al.’s browser extension has hit the mainstream news, with everyone from Forbes to The Wall Street Journal to The Hamilton Spectator driving by to take a whack in the public Google spanking.

As for the group behind Focus on the User, they declined to answer any questions about whether they have other actions or initiatives planned, will file a formal FTC complaint, or had C-level approval from their respective companies before launching their tool, as John Battelle speculated. As a Facebook spokesperson for the group told Search Engine Watch, “I think the content of the site and the video say it all best and we don’t really have anything to add beyond that.”

Facebook & Friends contend Google Search Plus Your World is bad for users. Some might suggest Facebook’s ongoing privacy issues have a negative effect for users, as well.

It’s an odd battle to watch, this Social Media War. Soldiers on all sides had best take care they aren’t engaging in a race to the bottom. All of this mud slinging is starting to make the social media arena look very dirty, indeed.


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