I wanted to talk about Blake Ross’ post entitled “Trust is hard to gain, easy to lose”. I agree with much of what he says. There’s a continuum to showing tips. Toward the “hawk” side of the spectrum is the notion that a company can show whatever reasonable content they want on their own web site. Toward the other side of the spectrum is the desire to show the best services, whether they are competitors or not. Historically, Google has been much further toward the “dove” side than most other companies.
I personally fall somewhere in the middle. If a Google searcher types in [picture] or [hard drive images], offering a tip to use Google Image Search makes sense to me because it tells a user that they should try image searches instead. Image search tips have been running for quite a while and users generally haven’t objected.
But everyone will have different opinions about what is fine or problematic. Here’s why these recent Google tips went over the line for me personally: they’re often poorly targeted or irrelevant. I’ll mention a few searches I’ve done in the last few days where I got annoyed:
- [blogoscoped]. The easiest way to get to Philipp.
- [google reader blogroll shared]. I was trying to answer a question from Francine.
- [site:phpicalendar.net attendee]. I’m spending some time helping a local non-profit get a calendar working. They’re using Google Calendar as the backend and PHP iCalendar as a way to merge multiple calendars together and change the skin of the calendar a lot. There was a weird interaction between Google Calendar and PHP iCalendar based on the ATTENDEE field of an .ics file.
- [google webmaster blog]. The quickest way to get to http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/.
In each of the previous cases, I was not in the market for a blog or calendar or photo sharing service. Furthermore, the triggers appear to match on substrings: if I type in “blogoscoped”, I’m looking for Philipp, not to create a blog. The poor targeting alone is enough reason to turn off these tips (if I had my way).
Here’s some Q&A:
Q: But if Google thinks its (say) Calendar is the best, isn’t it okay to give that as a tip?
A: In my personal opinion, not if the tip triggers for too many irrelevant queries.
Q: Is it fair that people hold Google to a higher bar than anyone else in the search industry?
A: Whether it’s fair or not, it’s a fact that people expect more from Google than other companies. People compare other search engines to Google, but people compare Google to perfection. We have such passionate users that they’ll complain loudly if they think Google is ever straying from the right path. If you’re a Googler, it may feel frustrating. Instead, I’d choose to be grateful, because that passionate feedback keeps our heads on straight. When our users yell at Google, they care and want us to do the right thing (for their idea of what the right thing is). What other company gets that kind of feedback? Besides, if Yahoo or Microsoft jumped off a building, would you jump off too? So yes, if the decision were up to me, I’d remove these tips or scale them way back by making sure that they are very relevant and targeted.
Update: Blake noticed that recent searches don’t return tips. So a search that has the substring “calendar” in it doesn’t return a tip for Google Calendar:
Over on Blake’s blog, I added this comment: “There’s a binary push going on and the tips are removed in that binary push. It will take a few days before the binary makes it out to every data center. Blake, thanks for your feedback on this issue.”