Google’s search update is a moment of clarity, not catch-up

Google is updating how it curates your search results [Google blog], with a focus on highlighting trending news and localized content on mobile. While they seem to be prioritizing the “follow” option for topical interests, here’s what I found the most interesting from its announcement:

  • Diversifying content in News: “News stories may have multiple viewpoints from a variety of sources, as well as other related information and articles.”
  • Localized content: “Your feed will not only be based on your interactions with Google, but also factor in what’s trending in your area and around the world.”
  • Curating your own search: “You’ll now be able to follow topics, right from Search results”

Most coverage interpreted these updates as a competitive effort to catch up with Facebook’s user growth (see Washington Post, NPR, and Verge). Here’s why it’s difficult for me to understand how this is a valuable assessment:

  • First, Facebook has done little to improve its own search recently, and these features are specifically tailored for searchers. Most people don’t want to manually curate their feeds, nevermind their search results. I can’t tell if Facebook simply doesn’t care about search from a user perspective or does care but doesn’t see the money in it (or something else!).
  • Second, Google would find it difficult to suddenly fix the future of mobile search [Entrepreneur] simply by allowing people easier access to curation tools. How search will evolve is an issue that involves a much broader set of issues than social media-based curation.
  • The localized content feature may help travelers (and improve a loyalty to Google’s app), and no one thinks of Facebook as the home of localized search, anyway, so it’s not as if there’s a comparison to even make here. In fact, Facebook has reverted some of search options in the past year, including reverting the discovery of events (a highly-popular tool that seems to get little fanfare at the company’s annual developer conferences and meetings).

The updated features seem to simply improve Google Search results for mobile, a rare clarity in the age of platforms copying each other’s latest user tools.

Related Reading: 

With a shift to prioritizing groups, Facebook searches for meaning [Associated Press via Chicago Tribune, June 23, 2017]

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