Google's New Coke Moment?

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By: Stefan Kolle

Google has introduced a new feature to it’s search, Google SearchWiki , basically enabling social features. I am not going to go into the details of it, as these are well described elsewhere – including the howl of the informed masses. To sum it up – it is a new feature that adds social elements to your search results, based on your own interactions and comments and actions of others. I’m sure the black hat community has just opened the biggest bottle of champagne in history…

Personally, I don’t like this, for a number of reasons – but the relevant part for this post is just one element – it cannot be turned off! My personal opinion aside, I think this might be Google’s New Coke moment – fix something that isn’t broken in such a way it seriously annoys your users. I’m pretty sure most readers of this blog know what the core problem was when Coke introduced New Coke – while they had done hundreds of millions worth of market research to test whether people liked New Coke, they forgot to ask one specific but elementary question – ‘what if this New Coke replaced the old one?’. They underestimated the emotional attachment consumers had to Coke As It Was.

The same might well apply here – while I am sure most of us would appreciate this as a choice feature (have a quick check what others are saying about certain search results if I am on a particularly esoteric search-quest), I am equally sure most will not appreciate this being forced on us, and basically changing the search experience that we have come to love at Google – simple, straight forward, as unbiased as possible. I have plenty of other tools if I want my search results influenced by the vocal minority or hormone-driven 14 year olds.

For the sake of completeness, I should add it only applies when you are signed into your Google account, in other words, by staying outside the system, you can still use it the old fashioned way. This could however become self-defeating for Google, as after all their long term business model includes an ever deepening recording, analyzing and understanding of search behavior. By driving users out of the system, they loose essential parts of this information.

Another comparison might be Facebook’s massive backlash when they introduced Beacon. Again, a potentially useful feature to some users, but it was introduced systemwide replacing the existing system. Nobody bothered to ask the right questions to the users beforehand.

We will have to see how this plays out, but in my book Google made a big mistake, and will have to revert to at least a ‘turn-off’ switch. But they may have done big damage to themselves in introducing this feature in their typical ‘BOOM here it is’ way, without properly thinking things through.

Come on guys, is it so hard to start thinking from the customers perspective – including his emotional needs and reactions?

UPDATE: as of saturday evening, Google seems to have removed SearchWiki from the logged in search pages again. Whether they want to change the implementation because of the (to be expected) reports of vandalism and spam, or got a little wake-up call from the negative reactions, one can only guess. Google never talks.