Search and Social Media: Who Can You Trust?

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The New York Times published a very interesting (and very long) article over the holiday break that raises a lot of questions about Google and search in general. I’ll let you read the 8-page story yourself if you want all the details, but what it boils down to is that Google doesn’t always point you to the best possible results. 

Do you think Google’s results need improvement? Share your thoughts here.

Some of you probably don’t need an 8-page article to tell you that, but this story in particular paints a picture of a business that goes out of its way to treat customers poorly so that they’ll leave negative comments, which have (in the past) worked to boost its visibility on Google, as the search engine has given more focus to local businesses. It sounds crazy, but it has apparently worked, though since the story brought exposure to it, Google appears to have dropped the rankings in this instance. The point is that there is no telling how widespread this kind of thing is  – not businesses intentionally treating customers poorly for search visibility (though I’m sure this one business isn’t the only one to engage in such behavior), but just Google giving undeserved visibility to businesses that get more bad reviews than good. 

Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan, who was tapped as a source for the NYT piece, provides a great deal of further analysis on Google’s practices here

"Having seen the crazy things that Google will rank high over time, it’s easy to become jaded and think ‘that’s the way it is,’ he writes. "Many SEOs I know feel this way and have largely given up assuming anything will change, or that Google will take the SEO view of its ranking problems seriously. Heck, Google still won’t let people look up all the backlinks leading to a site, which might allow outsiders to do a better job helping them police their results."

This is one of the key selling points of Blekko, the new search engine to the party, which both lets people look up said backlinks and relies on community to establish relevancy. See our interview with Blekko co-founder Rich Skrenta here:

"It’s all stuff that can be dismissed as ‘inside baseball’ and not what typical people care about," Sullivan added. "But typical people do care, do get puzzled…what Google ranks tops can have a terrible impact on real consumers."

This is true to some extent. If Google places the bad results over the good ones (and as Sullivan points out, Bing is no better at this than Google, and Bing provides results for Yahoo now), and consumers are duped into going with those results, it is those consumers who will pay the price. 

Buyer Beware

However, it is ultimately the user’s responsibility to use their own judgment and do their homework before making any decisions or suffer the consequences. As Jeff Jarvis at Buzz Machine says, " The internet doesn’t nullify the First Law of Commerce: caveat emptor. When I had my now-legendary problems with Dell, I kicked myself for not doing a search of ‘dell sucks’ before buying my computer. That’s my responsibility as a shopper. And, as I pointed out at the time, Google would have given me the information I needed."

There’s something to be said for this kind of consumer investigating. The information is out there. It’s up to you how you go about getting it, which is why social media has become an important go-to channel for trusted results. You can just as easily get poor results from social media, but you define who your friends are and what their opinions mean to you. 

Google and other search engines know this of course. It’s why Bing made a deal for Facebook results. In fact, it’s why Google recently launched a social recommendation engine (Hotpot) directly tied to local listings.
Using Hotpot to rate places and get recommendations

It’s not as if Google isn’t trying to overcome this problem. Google knows it’s not perfect. The problem with that recommendation engine is that it’s not where consumers’ friends already are. That’s why Facebook is such a key component to this whole thing, and that’s why Facebook in turn is a direct competitor to Google and why Google is trying desperately to build consumers’ social graphs on their own properties. 

It’s Ultimately in Users’ Hands

If users want Google to be their way of finding trusted information, it’s in their interest to build their social graphs through Google. For Google’s part, it’s a matter of a. getting customers to realize that, and b. getting users to care that much about Google being the place where they get their info. There are plenty of people out there that would just as soon go elsewhere, and plenty that simply don’t trust Google. 

Neither of these are easy tasks, and this bodes well for Facebook, which continues to get integrated into more of consumers daily habits

The trust that comes with social and human curation is important across the entire search board. It applies to shopping. It applies to news. It applies to information in general. As the web continues to grow, so to will the importance of knowing who to trust. That means real relationships (social media), and as far as search is concerned, that means access to those relationships. 

This is why social is critical to Google, and why search will continue to become more important to Facebook. It’s also why Twitter (along with Twitter search) is such an effective news medium.

Do you think social adds relevance? Tell us what you think in the comments.

Comments 10

  1. Should Exxon be allowed to Profit $9.28 Billion in 3 Months?
    And you wonder why your paying so much at the pump! We’re talking $9.28 Billion in PROFITS, yes, PROFITS. That’s after all costs of shipping and whatever are factored in. And this is only in 3 months! They’re profiting more than 3 BILLION a month. And you wonder why schools are falling apart, healthcare and social security are non existent, and most of. This is just EXXON too, which is just ~1~ of many Oil Tycoons. And Exxon is still spending money to fix that Valdez disaster, or their profits would be higher. I ask you, since when did hogging up all the money in America, only to claim we can’t fund programs for the PEOPLE, become accepted? People get soooo pissed off when Rosie says 9/11 was an inside job……but let C.E.O’s profit BILLIONS only to watch poverty unfold right before their eyes is accepted? Man, the back of our money should say ‘In Media We Trust’, not God. Google Search – ‘Exxon 2007 Quarter Profits’ …. or see …

  2. No, they shouldn’t be.

    However, they are a publicly traded -for profit- company. Who’s going to regulate that?
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  3. Exxon is a business, and a business goal should be making money. You don’t like Exxon, boycott Exxon and buy other brands. Don’t like the mess they left from Valdez, organize a protest, start a grass root organization. May be you should move to a socialist state so everybody is equal… think..
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  4. Should the cable company be allowed to charge 40.00 a month and not put what I want to see on TV.

    supply and demand. It’s legal. You don’t have to buy gas, you can walk or ride a bike to your destination.

    It really sucks but that’s life, until we stop depending on foreign oil, we’re screwed
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  5. Are you serious? This is still America isn’t it? This is the country where we tell the world and our children that if you apply yourselves and work hard, the the sky’s the limit, isn’t it?

    Or should we be telling them that if you work hard and become successful you will be punished? That you don’t have a right to the money you earned. That though you are paying more then 50 cents for every dollar you make in taxes, you are not paying enough. That you should be fined for being successful for providing goods and services that the public DEMAND!

    What you are suggesting is socialism by increments. The state takes a little here, a little more there. The state decides that the rich shouldn’t be that rich, and maybe they should pass laws to take the money from the rich and redistribute the wealth.

    It is a very subtle cultural revolution in which the have nots are given the right to take from the haves. In less than 100 years we have gone from a income tax free society to a 55% tax bracket… and are we any better off? Has limiting how much people can earn fixed anything? Fed anyone? No it hasn’t.

    You brought up education. Here in California, by law, 40% of the states budget must go to education. That’s 40% of the budget of the richest state in the union, and our education system is one of the worst in the country. Taking money from Exxon and dumping it into a spectacularly failed system is just… stupid.

    Money is not why education is such a problem, money is not why the poor don’t get fed, Exxon is not the bad guy here.
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    Common sense

  6. Hell yes i have 300 shares of exxon mobil stock the more money they make the more money i make get smart people invest in oil stocks..and buy a hybird that`s what i did….
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  7. Do you know the Exxon Valdex never paid a single cent into the funds that created the disaster in Alaske or, the clean-up and fines. They said they would have it in the court system for another century, not paying anything for it. We paid.
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  8. They should put oil under government control, and let the companies bid for it. Or the government can declare a state of emergency and just take it. Like in world war two. It shocks me that we have control of a huge oil country(Iraq), and we are not pumping it dry. As far as 9/11 being an inside job, thats just stupid. People said the same thing about Pearl Harbour.
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