From Search Engine to Super App: Getting Stuck in Google’s Web

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Google’s mission is simple, bold, and in the annals of silicon culture, tantamount to sacred gospel: “Organize the world‘s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

Today, however, there is a New Testament being written: “Organize Google’s information about the world and make it selectively accessible and mostly useful.”

Okay, not as sexy. But in light of Google’s new focus on social results born from its own Google Plus product, this New Testament is arguably more accurate.

No longer Google Search, but Google’s Search. Not Google results, but Google’s Results. No longer the Web, but Google’s Web.

Google used to be a Web search site. Now it’s becoming an App. And not just any App, but a Super App that pulls you into Google’s Web with an insistent gravity.

Google calls its New Testament “Search Plus Your World,” delivering results from Google Plus pages and profiles more prominently than other Web properties like Wikipedia. This is supposed to make search more personal and relevant – who you know and what your friends like, or share, or do, will have a greater influence on what you see in your search results.

Personalization is hardly new (neither are the inevitable privacy concerns, which go hand in hand.) A personal Web is generally good, faster and easier to use. The “Semantic Web” envisioned by Tim Berners-Lee is today ever more possible, that dream of search delivered according to each person’s interests and desires, by computers that “learn” from us, understand us and make choices on our behalf.

But Google the App — far more so that Google the Web site — also runs the risk of making Search more exclusive and incomplete. One person’s customization is another’s exclusivity. Choices made for us, however well intentioned, are not always the best choices for us.

Google’s search gambit is much broader than Google of course – “aggregation” or “curation” or whatever the ridiculous made-up-name it’s called these days is all over the place, most notably on social platforms like Twitter and Facebook.

The difference is, when I’m using Twitter, I’m making the choice to curate content. I know that searching on Twitter gives me results from and favored by Twitter.

But for now at least, I can’t get results from Facebook or Twitter via Google (although the latter has been true for months.) And as mentioned earlier, results from the rest of the open Web are favored less than results from Google properties.

This is Google’s right. It’s a for-profit company and can do whatever the hell it wants, and what it wants is to secure more ad revenue and expand its own social network and services.

The rub is that Google changed the game first and then told everyone the new rules. Google went from giving us information about the world to giving us information about “our” world, provided our world includes a Google Plus account.

It’s too early to say whether this is bad, but it’s certainly different and should not be automatically assumed to be better. Search is done best with your eyes wide open, and the commercial aspects of Google’s New Web Order should be taken into account when deciding what to click.

For companies like Google, data is a conceit; but humans are far more complex than the data they create. This is why a Semantic Web is the Internet’s Holy Grail – we want and believe it to exist, despite the fact that we may never find it.

Whether Google’s Web is another step toward that discovery remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: The Web of Apps is here.

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