Now that Google has made it possible to, some of its social-media rivals are getting hot under the collar--starting with Twitter.
The microblogging service today fired back at Google's new "Search plus Your World" feature in unusually blunt terms. Twitter general counsel Alex Macgillivray, who formerly worked at Google, tweeted:
For years, people have relied on Google to deliver the most relevant results anytime they wanted to find something on the Internet.
Often, they want to know more about world events and breaking news. Twitter has emerged as a vital source of this real-time information, with more than 100 million users sending 250 million Tweets every day on virtually every topic. As we've seen time and time again, news breaks first on Twitter; as a result, Twitter accounts and Tweets are often the most relevant results.
We're concerned that as a result of Google's changes, finding this information will be much harder for everyone. We think that's bad for people, publishers, news organizations and Twitter users.
The new Google service, which is rolling out today, lets search users toggle between personalized and "global" results, with the former including information gleaned from its Google+ social network and its Picasa image-storage service. Twitter reasonably enough sees that move as a threat, since it could well encourage people to share breaking news on Google+ rather than Twitter.
But it's a bit of a stretch to say Google's new function could make Twitter information harder to find, since it's every bit as accessible as before. If anything, Twitter lost much more visibility last July, when its two-year-old deal allowing Google to index and display real-time tweets expired. At the time, a Twitter said in a statement only that the deal had lapsed and that the company continued to provide a similar level of access to Microsoft, Yahoo and other search engines.
Google, meanwhile, had this July announcement (ironically enough, on Twitter): "We've temporarily disabled google.com/realtime. We're exploring how to incorporate Google+ into this functionality, so stay tuned."
Today, Google followed up with the following post on Google+:
We are a bit surprised by Twitter's comments about Search plus Your World, because they chose not to renew their agreement with us last summer (http://goo.gl/chKwi), and since then we have observed their rel=nofollow instructions.
Of course, Google could conceivably face antitrust issues with this move, similar to the storm Microsoft sailed into following its ill-fated decision to bundle its Internet Explorer browser with Windows.
"I'm not saying that the Justice Department should look into this. I'm just saying that I think they will," MG Siegler, a columnist at TechCrunch and general partner at CrunchFund, wrote on his Paris Lemon blog post. "I'm far from an expert on this, but I think anyone should be able to see how this is a very slippery slope for Google. And it's surprising they would try this given the heat on them in other directions with regard to antitrust."
A Google spokesman offered the following comment to CNET:
We want to help you find the most relevant information from your friends and social connections, no matter what site it's on. However, Google does not have access to fully crawl the content on some sites [i.e., Twitter and Facebook], so it's not possible for us to surface all that information. Ushering in the new era of social and private data search will take close cooperation, and we hope other sites participate so we can provide the best possible experience for our users.
Updated at 6:25 p.m. PT: Added additional Google comment and Google+ post.