Google vs Twitter: It’s all about data control

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By Charman-Anderson /  12 Jan 2012 , 09:45

Google has announced that they are integrating Google+, their new social network, more tightly with Google Search to create a more personalised search experience for users.

The tighter integration may be another reason for authorities to ratchet up their anti-trust scrutiny of the search giant, experts say, and the move has led to a public spat between Google and Twitter.

For users, the move means that when you search Google, you’ll be presented not just with results from the web, but “relevant Google+ posts from friends” and photos from both Google+ and Google-owned photo sharing site Picasa.

Google says in a post about the development, called Search Plus Your World:

This is search that truly knows me, and gives me a result page that only I can see.

Users will be able to turn off the personalisation using a “prominent new toggle [...] for an individual search session, but you can also make this the default in your Search Settings.” This actually is a step forward compared to the current situation, where you have to make sure you’re logged out of Google to get rid of its current personalisation.

But even with this option, this is still a step too far by Google for some. MG Siegler wonders whether this move by Google will result in anti-trust accusations:

Google is using Search to propel their social network. They might say it’s “not a social network, it’s a part of Google”, but no one is going to buy that. They were late to the game in social and this is the best catchup strategy ever.

Given that it’s opt-out, I’m just not sure that this is all that different from Microsoft bundling IE with Windows.

Danny Sullivan, in a thoughtful and detailed post (a follow on to this post), points out that one of the reasons that Google doesn’t provide links to similar content on Facebook or Twitter is that it doesn’t have the access it needs to index all the pages:

In Twitter’s case, it generates so much data that it simply cannot be gathered up by Google in normal ways. If Twitter wants to be fully indexed by Google in the way its statement claims, it need to provide a firehose of data to Google.

Google would gladly take it, I’m sure. But my guess is that Google no longer wants to pay for it, much less carry Twitter’s ads on its own site, both things that were part of its previous deal with Twitter and virtually unprecedented for Google to do for anyone.

Twitter, for it’s part, is livid about Google’s move. In their statement they said:

Twitter has emerged as a vital source of [...] 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.

This is rich coming from Twitter, given the fact that they failed to reach an agreement with Google over the renewal of their deal to allow access Twitter’s archives. Google stopped indexing Twitter in July 2011 and killed its Realtime Search at the same time.

Indeed, Google was unimpressed with Twitter’s response:

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 (http://goo.gl/chKwi), and since then we have observed their rel=nofollow instructions.

(“rel=nofollow” is an instruction to the crawlers that index the web to not follow that link.)

Why Twitter would choose not to renew – and this is the first time we’ve heard hints of who was responsible for that decision – is beyond me. Twitter’s own search of its own archives is almost non-existent. At the moment, it doesn’t make any use of its vast archive and actively limits how normal users accessing old tweets.

A deal with Google would mean that it can open up its archives without having to develop its own search facility. Indeed, a savvy deal between the two companies could allow them to co-develop valuable applications for businesses eager to access the information trapped in all that data.

We may never know why Google and Twitter fell out, but their relationship problems are not unique. Google doesn’t index Facebook either, or Flickr, or any other social network. My suspicion is that the bigger social networks feel that their data is too valuable to simply share willy-nilly, and Google is unwilling to pay, either the amount demanded or possibly anything at all, to get the kinds of firehose data streams it would need.

But data is only valuable if you can extract information from it that you can sell. For example, if Twitter had any sense, would have already put together an archive search and trend tracking tool for businesses. It’s offering in that area is focused solely on advertising.

It is the users who are damaged by Google, Twitter, Facebook and others’ inability to play nicely together. Says John Battelle:

The unwillingness of Facebook and Google to share a public commons when it comes to the intersection of search and social is corrosive to the connective tissue of our shared culture. But as with all things Internet, we’ll just identify the damage and route around it. It’s just too bad we have to do that, and in the long run, it’s bad for Facebook, bad for Google, and bad for all of us. [...]

Google’s already failed to get a data deal done with both Twitter and Facebook. I doubt they’ll take another run at it soon, though I wish they would.

Instead, we have the deepening trend of each of the Internet Big Five trying to be All Things to All People, creating a World That If Only You’d Use Exclusively, You’d Never Have To Leave.

The ghettoisation of the web began years ago, but this week’s developments further emphasis the fact that when you search Google, you are searching Google and not the web.


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