Google, Search, plus Your World – another step towards a closed web

By January 11, 2012 2 Comments

The world is a-buzz this morning with discussion of Google’s new product “Search, plus Your World” which integrates personal content from Google+, Picasa and other places in with search results from the open web from Google’s main search service (only available on so far, official press release here).

image At one level this is already pretty cool – e.g. a search on my name throws up photos I’ve taken on my phone recently (e.g. this picture of Stanley with his newly built Christmas lego that I took on Saturday), and more usefully the intent is that content my friends have shared will also turn up – e.g. restaurant reviews. Note that my personal content will only be visible to me – i.e. nobody else will get the picture of Stanley in their search results (unless I shared it with them).

However, the content being surfaced is all Google related. I took this photo of Stanley with my Android phone and I think I uploaded it to Picasa. If I’d taken it on an iPhone and uploaded it to Facebook it wouldn’t show up. Ergo Google is using its power in search to promote its own services in areas where it is less strong – like social networking.

Unsurprisingly a lot of the comment about Search, plus Your World has been negative, and rightly so. MG Siegler thinks they are inviting an anti-trust inquiry, and Twitter General Counsel Alex Macgillivray responded by calling yesterday a “bad day for the internet” – more details of the negative response here.

Google has responded by saying that they are open to striking deals so they can feature content from Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere, but that rings a little hollow to me. I’m reminded of Microsoft’s denials of circa ten years ago that bundling Media Player and Internet Explorer with Windows was anti-competitive.

However, it is not so much the rights and wrongs of this that interests me as the likely outcomes and impact on the startup ecosystem. Microsoft won the media player battle but is losing/has lost the more important browser battle, but both battles got mired in the courts and dragged on for years. Innovation became more difficult and with it life at startups suffered a little.

I suspect we will see something similar unfold here. Google’s search results will become more clogged up with their own properties making it harder for new services to get customers via organic search. Unless, of course, they cut a deal with Google…. That will be bad news for startups.

Moving to the bigger picture, this is another small piece of evidence that we are moving away from the first phase of the web which was characterised by free and open access, and the hope of an enduring new order, toward a mature phase where the web is controlled by a small number of companies and regulation becomes increasingly important. (On Monday I blogged about the potential for similar developments in mobile.)

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