Facebook Coalition To Google: Don’t Be Evil, Focus On The User

Last week I spent an afternoon down at Facebook, as I mentioned here. While at Facebook I met with Blake Ross, Direct of Product (and well known in web circles as one of the creators of Firefox). Talk naturally turned to the implications of Google’s controversial integration of Google+ into its search results – a move that must both terrify (OMG, Google is gunning for us!) as well as delight (Holy cow, Google is breaking its core promise to its users!).

Turns out Ross had been quite busy the previous weekend, and he had a little surprise to show me. It was a simple hack, he said, some code he had thrown together in response to the whole Google+ tempest. But there was most certainly a gleam in his eye as he brought up a Chrome browser window (Google’s own product, he reminded me).

Blake had installed a bookmarklet onto his browser, one he had titled – in a nod to Google’s informal motto –  “Don’t be evil.” For those of you who aren’t web geeks (I had to remind myself as well), a bookmarklet is “designed to add one-click functionality to a browser or web page. When clicked, a bookmarklet performs some function, one of a wide variety such as a search query or data extraction.”

When engaged, this “Don’t be evil” bookmarklet did indeed do one simple thing: It turned back the hands of time, and made Google work the way it did before the integration of Google+ earlier this month.

It was a very elegant hack, more thoughtful than the one or two I had seen before – those simply took all references to Google+ out of the index. This one went much further, and weaved a number of Google’s own tools – including its “rich snippet” webmaster tool and its own organic search listings, to re-order not only the search engine results, but also the results of the promotional Google+ boxes on the right side of the results, as well as the “typeahead” results that now feature only Google+ accounts (see example below, the first a search on my name using “normal Google” and then one using the bookmarklet).

After Blake showed me his work, we had a lively discussion about the implications of Facebook actually releasing such a tool. I mean, it’s one thing for a lone hacktivist to do this, it’s quite another for a member of the Internet Big Five to publicly call Google out. Facebook would need to vet this with legal, with management (this clearly had to pass muster with Mark Zuckerberg), and, I was told, Facebook wanted to reach out to others – such as Twitter – and get their input as well.

Due to all this, I had to agree to keep Blake’s weekend hack private till Facebook figured out whether (and how) it  would release Ross’s work.

Today, the hack goes public. It’s changed somewhat – it now resides at a site called “Focus On The User” and credit is given to engineers at Facebook, Twitter, and Myspace, but the basic implication is there: This is a tool meant to directly expose Google’s recent moves with Google+ as biased, hardcoded, and against Google’s core philosophy (which besides “don’t be evil,” has always been about “focusing on the user”).

Now, this wasn’t what I meant last week when I asked what a Facebook search engine might look like, but one can be very sure, this is certainly how Facebook and many others want Google to look like once again.

From the site’s overview:

We wanted to see how much better social search could be for consumers if Google chose to use all of the information already in its index. We think the results speak for themselves. Specifically, we created a bookmarklet that uses Google’s own relevance measure—the ranking of their organic search results—to determine what social content should appear in the areas where Google+ results are currently hardcoded. That includes the box on the right; the typeahead; and the indent under the first result for brand searches like “Macy’s” or “New York Times”.

All of the information in this demo comes from Google itself, and all of the ranking decisions are made by Google’s own algorithms. No other services, APIs or proprietary data stores are accessed.

Facebook released a video explaining how the hack works, including some rather devastating examples (be sure to watch the AT&T example at minute seven, and a search for my name as well), and it has open sourced the codebase. The video teasingly invites Google to use the code should it care to (er…not gonna happen).

Here’s an embed:

It’d be interesting if millions of people adopted the tool, however I don’t think that’s the point. A story such as this is tailor made for the Techmeme leaderboard, to be sure, and will no doubt be the talk of the Valley today. By tonight, the story most likely will go national, and that can’t help Google’s image. And I’m quite sure the folks at Facebook, Twitter, and others (think LinkedIn, Yahoo, etc) are making sure word of this exemplar reaches the right folks at the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Justice, Congress, and government agencies around the world.

Not to mention, people in the Valley do care, deeply, about where they work. There are scores of former Google execs now working at Twitter, Facebook, and others. Many are dismayed by Google’s recent moves, and believe that inside Google, plenty of folks aren’t sleeping well because of what their beloved company’s single-minded focus on Google+. “Focus on The User” is a well-timed poke in the eye, a slap to the conscience of a company that has always claimed to be guided by higher principles, and an elegant hack, sure to become legend in the ongoing battle of the Big Five.

As I’ve said before, I’m planning on spending some time with folks at Google in the coming weeks. I’m eager to understand their point of view. Certainly they are playing a longer-term game here – and seem willing, at present, to take the criticism and not respond to the chorus of complaints. Should Google change that stance, I’ll let you know.


What Might A Facebook Search Engine Look Like?

Google+: Now Serving 90 Million. But…Where’s the Engagement Data!

Our Google+ Conundrum

It’s Not About Search Anymore, It’s About Deals

Hitler Is Pissed About Google+

Google Responds: No,That’s Not How Facebook Deal Went Down (Oh, And I Say: The Search Paradigm Is Broken)

Compete To Death, or Cooperate to Compete?

Twitter Statement on Google+ Integration with Google Search

Search, Plus Your World, As Long As It’s Our World

86 thoughts on “Facebook Coalition To Google: Don’t Be Evil, Focus On The User”

  1. I have no idea why would anyone feel entitled to any sort of placement in Google search results, they do not charge anyone for being indexed, and if you don’t care for the results that is what the address bar on web browsers is for.

    This whole issue feel artificial and inflated and I think that these companies are using you mr Battelle and bloggers like you for their of propaganda. I mean social profiles? seriously?! that is the least of any user’s concerns. I think Twitter/Facebook and whomever should focus on their own products and not resort to this sort of PR stunts.

    1. Fair comment. My response is that those social profiles matter a lot to the people profiled, and also to companies that rely on Google for traffic.

      1. My point is that the profiles still exist and can be reached elsewhere, and Google does not have to guarantee placement to anyone.
        It seems like it’s twitter and facebook who don’t want competition from Google and are using this as a red herring, and building on the already established anti-Google PR framework, notice that they are using Ben Edelman’s lingo of “hardcoded” in that site and their PR staff are obviously doing a better job than Google’s judging from the blogosphere.

        Also a simple query in which you append the desired profile does the trick, see:
        lady gaga twitter: http://www.google.com/search?q=laddy+gaga+trwitter
        lady gaga facebook: http://www.google.com/search?q=lady+gaga+facebook

      2. David, if you research the rel=nofollow tag, you’ll see why Google doesn’t surface facebook/twitter pages in comparison to other sites.  If you search specifically for the item (as you do above), then they show the results to you.  If you just search for Lady Gaga, they only surface results that they are allowed to follow.

      3. Agreed, FB/Twitter are making it difficult for Google yet they are demanding to featured in their search results which is outrageously hypocritical.

        My point above about the more specific queries is to demonstrate that these profile pages are still easily reachable through Google and they don’t even owe them that much.

      4. Yes. So companies that “rely on Google” should think very carefully about that reliance and make moves to diversify their distribution.

    2. It’s not artificial, Google says they provide the “best unbiased results…best for the user,” and people are saying that’s a bunch of bull. It’s fair to note that Google has come clean after reaching a virtual monopoly, they did not gain 70-95% market share this way.

      Damn, you should been testifying for Microsoft a while back. Even now they have to provide a list of browsers for the user to choose, even though no one is forced to use Windows and i have zero doubt that MS feels that IE is the best browser.

      But your point is well taken. Google may have the right to (openly now) rig results for more profit. But people have the right and even moral obligation to call them out.

      1. I don’t think you are a lawyer nor are you articulating your point clearly.

        Firstly they never said that they would provide “unbiased results” (there is not such thing), they said “useful results” and “usefulness” can be open to discussion and interpretation.
        Second: you do not pay them to preform searches and you don’t have a contract with them as to what the results must be, so they don’t owe you anything.

        The Windows+IE case differs in that you bought or licenced Windows and they pushed their proprietary browser on it. In this case you paid for none of these services and you own none of them, so you are asking something for nothing and that is the worst sort of entitlement.

      2. David the Google “contractor” ?
        The point is non-existent, it’s the same crap.

        MS gave IE for free anyway, they made it default “in their opinion is best” but go ahead and change it. Very few would bother. (And that’s why Google paid a fortune for Firefox.)

        And if they make Bing the default search engine on the default IE they’d win a nice chunk of market share because James from Ohio and his friends aren’t going to bother to change from default. But since MS has a huge browser market share anti-trust doesn’t look kindly on that. They have to win market share with the merits of the product.

        Please stop polluting us with nonsense, here it isn’t going to work.

  2. …..Really….Facebook….The Company that sells members data/cotent to generate billions and giving back 0…..The company the treats its users as products to be sold to the highest bidder…..they are saying …”Focus on the user”…..One of the reasons that we are developing kleemi.com is to counter the “Community” last approach of the current search and social incumbents…

    1. I figured this might bring out the anti-Facebook vibe, and welcome all points of view. Anyone who’s read my stuff knows I’ve been hard on Facebook too.

  3. Just watching these fools fret about Google being anti-competitive is hilarious. I don’t even know where to begin. Should I start with the fact that Facebook signed an exclusive deal with Bing? Or that Twitter rejected Google’s deal to have their content indexed? Or how about the fact that *gasp* you are not forced to use Google? And please don’t bring up that retarded Microsoft-Internet Explorer comparison, that was a different story. If people wanted cheap computers, they got Windows PCs, and installing Linux was a pain. In Google’s case, changing to a different search engine is literally “one click away.”

    “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” For years Google has offered its users free services which they are in no way forced to use, and it gets villainized the moment it tries to monetize its investments. Kinda tells you something about human nature, what with some other company, like Apple, which employs similar tactics but gets no heat for it, because, well, it’s Apple, and we’ve all come to expect that from Apple, right? *rolleyes*

    1. Actually you are a fool, and a damn big one. Google provides nothing for free, they charge YOU the consumer some $40 BILLION a year. All those clicks on ads are added to your shopping cart to pay for the “free” service Google provides. Similar to the government building you a “free” road.

      The rest of your comment deserves no consideration, it’s based on the same flawed logic.

      Bottom line is that Google results are gamed, and Google has done that consciously.

      1. I have not paid Google a single cent; I have never clicked on one of its ads (maybe I am in the minority). Try proving that in court. “wahh Google isnt free! we pay with our private info and our clicks on ads!!” Yeah, so do we with EVERY single other website in existence, so don’t single out Google.

    2. Let’s address your ignorance and confusion point for point.

      “Should I start with the fact that Facebook signed an exclusive deal with Bing?”

      The issue with Google is that it is behaving in an anticompetitive manner. This is because Google is using its natural search monopoly to unfairly advantage itself in another industry. Facebook does not have a monopoly in any industry, nor does Bing. So the situations are not analogous. 

      “Or that Twitter rejected Google’s deal to have their content indexed?”

      The implication by most is that Twitter rejected the deal. Viewing it in a more realistic light, it’s likely that Google wasn’t willing to pay Twitter what it felt it earned. In either case, this is what we term “firehose data”. Twitter doesn’t have to surrender its firehose data to Google. But more importantly, Google doesn’t need access to firehose data to make a compelling and fair social extension on Google Search.

      “Or how about the fact that *gasp* you are not forced to use Google?”

      This is a disingenuous claim. Google is used by most used search engine because it is the best product. By virtue of its success, Google has come to dominate the market. It also has a monopoly position. This is evident because the cost to compete with Google in search is astronomically high (see Bing). 

      When a company reaches such a level of success that it comes to occupy a monopoly position, it is held to a higher standard as per US regulations. This is done so in order to protect fair competition. When Google manipulates its search results to promote its social product, that hurts competition (hence the antitrust investigations).

      “Kinda tells you something about human nature, what with other companies, like Apple, employing similar tactics but getting no heat for them, because, well, it’s Apple,”

      Apple is not analogous to Google because Apple does not have a monopoly in any market (except mp3 players, but that market is in decline).

      1. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t this Google fiasco analogous (almost) to the Windows/IE bundle that Microsoft faced in the 90s?

        How can Microsoft get in such big trouble, but Google doesn’t?

      2. I think it can be compared, but I am not a lawyer. I do think various tests apply. What did the consumer pay for the product? Does the consumer have a viable choice besides the product, a choice that does not force more cost? Etc.

      3. It is very much analogous. The false distinction that many people tend to draw is the incorrect assumption that because it doesn’t *cost* the end user anything to switch search engines, that somehow Google a) doesn’t have a search monopoly, and b) isn’t leveraging that monopoly unfairly to promote its search product.

        The reason that the IE-Microsoft fiasco happened was because regulators were very concerned about Microsoft effectively undermining the value of an open internet. They worried that by dominating the browser market, Microsoft would effectively own the internet. For a variety of reasons that did not happen (including because of the response by regulators).

        If we look at Google in 2012, it is very clearly a dominate – perhaps the predominate – player on the web. For many users, Google essentially is the internet. It has managed to completely reorganize the web around its search algorithms. This is because Google has developed a better product.

        And no one condemns Google for its success. The amount of value Google has added to the internet is almost immeasurably high. But Google has come to occupy such a position of authority in search (even more so in search advertising) that regulators have to look carefully at Google in order to preserve competition, which is ultimately far more important than Google’s domination of the marketplace.

        The fact of the matter is that Google probably *will* get in trouble. It might not be for several years, and it might not ultimately have much of an impact on Google overall, but we can be fairly certain that Google will be investigated and sanctioned.

      4. Because the case is completely different.

        Back in those days, computers came with only Windows. Consumers looking for other operating systems had to go out of their way to obtain computers pre-loaded with them, or download and install them manually. But it’s a pain the ass and why would they do that? So when Microsoft forced IE onto users, it was being anti-competitive.

        Fast forward to the 21st century. The web is NOT like an operating system. Unlike Windows, People can switch to another search engine with ONE CLICK. People keep using Google because they want to. And you can’t hate them for that. If people could switch from Windows to Linux, and it would only take them one click and two seconds to do so, they would have.

        But I digress. In the end, the people’s actions will speak for themselves. If the people truly believe that Google’s current actions are “evil” then they will leave,and Google’s market share will drop. But probably not. Because Google search engine is the most accurate and comprehensive out there.

    3. Which division of Google do you work for?

      Should I start with the fact that Facebook signed an exclusive deal with Bing? 

      Sure. Bing doesn’t own 90% of the market in Europe nor 70% in the US.  Their market share doesnt affect competition.

      Or how about the fact that *gasp* you are not forced to use Google? 

      I was never forced to use Windows and neither were you.  I never used Windows.  Yet still they dominated the market and were anti-competitive to the browser market.

      like Apple, employing similar tactics but getting no heat for them, because, well, it’s Apple, and we’ve all come to expect that from Apple, right?  

      They should be nailed too.

      1. nail apple for what? they have minority marketshare in personal computers and smartphones! thus, they are not a legal-monopoly and can be as competitive as they care to. further, their mobile devices support both open web apps, and closed proprietary apps. just like everybody else.

    4. Wow, you said a lot of stuff that immediately indicates your complete worship and bias towards Google.  Clearly you are drinking their Kool-Aid.   The one comment that stands out that I absolute laughed at:

      “Kinda tells you something about human nature, what with other companies, like Apple, employing similar tactics but getting no heat for them, because, well, its Apple, and we’ve all come to expect that from Apple, right?”

      Apple gets heat in the press almost daily for their actions.  In all honesty the only company getting a free pass seems to be Amazon who is constantly abusing their standing in one market to promote things in others (dumping Kindles below cost is a clear example).

      When Apple starts giving away iTunes media content for free in order to draw customers then I might be a bit more concerned about them.  But Apple cannot even make a tool that publishes in a proprietary format without getting accused of trying to extinguish the ePub format just because their format borrows from ePub, but does not claim to be ePub.

      The big difference here is that Google is constant claiming “high morales, openness, fairness and ethics” but their actions do not reflect that.  Apple only claims “good business sense”.

      1. Oh just initial set up amd first time use of bookmarklet
        All fine otherwise

        Sent from my mobile

  4. Google gets criticized no matter what.  If they don’t integrate, they are not focusing on the user (but are respecting the legal wishes of FB, Twitter, et al).  If they say screw the lawyers, the user is king then the press and the same group of folks (FB, Twitter, et al) scream that Google is being monopolistic and abusing their power.  

    Hey FB/Twitter -> Let down your walled gardens!  If google doesn’t integrate your content well, you win!

    1. I think their point is, there are billions of pages and tons of public signals already that Google could use and it chooses not to….

    2. It might help if Google simply copped to the fact that they’re a big company. Google likes to paint itself as an egalitarian collective working always for the benefit of the end user. That simply isn’t true. Google is a company like every other company and it behaves in its own self interest (as it should). If Google simply admitted this to be true people might not get so angry at Google’s hypocrisy. They might also be wise to drop the “Don’t be evil” slogan.

    1. This isn’t Facebook’s first time doing so…but it is the first time they’ve done it with code, that I am aware of…

  5. While I understand the attempted demonstration here, I’m pretty sure that this bookmarklet can act as a Trojan horse for social plugins on Google search. Is there any information that could go back to Twitter or Facebook for users of this bookmarklet about, for example, what searches the user made? 
    Am I incorrect here John?

      1. It is important John. Thousands, tens of thousands or more maybe using this if you guys are pushing this story throughout all major news publications. Most people won’t understand what is happening when they use this. They will simply click. This can lead to major privacy violations.
        I don’t have a horse in this race, except for the users of the web but I’m very concerned. Please calm my concerns on this one as promptly as you can and if you can’t please warn the media outlets that have picked up this story so that users understand what is happening.

      2. Thanks! I look forward to hearing that all versions of the bookmarklet didn’t report information about users back to Facebook or Twitter or any other serves.

      3. If this really is about the users, you would have known the answer to
        his question.

        Exposing users to privacy risks isn’t cool. I will assume that the answer to this guy’s question is yes, given that no one responded to his question.

      4. Yeah, Blake is a peeping Tom.
        He run out of things to peep at on FB (only 800 million members so there’s a limit.)
        He designed an open source script that at least hundreds of top notch engineers will analyze to peep with.

        Pathetic. Really. Googlers. But. Very. Googley. Go.And.Ban.Some.More.Competitors.And.Demote.Those.That.Dont.Advertise.On.Adwords

        By the way Googlers, isn’t your CEO an admitted criminal?

    1. Hey Matt Cutts, how are you?

      How was your trip to India? Met any “contractors” there?

      No doubt you are very concerned…and so are those 6 Google employees that clicked on “like.”

      John, the javascript code is public, programmers at Hacker News have already seen it.

    2. The source code is open source and open for review of any sort of nefarious actions.  Also, since bookmark lets are JavaScript it is kinda hard to truly block what they are doing, best you can do is obfuscate them.  Posting nefarious code in there will be caught by the likes of Google and made public as a retort to Facebook, Twitter and others.

  6. I object to the idea that anyone should have to pay to index publically available data. That strikes against the fundamental openness of the Web. Twitter is just a microblog. If Tumblr, or WordPress, or everyone who publishes public content on the internet started trying to charge robots for the right to index, we would lose all of the hard won benefits of the Web.

    Now, you may say, Twitter only wants to charge for firehose data. Well, Twitter derives more value from being indexed by Google and having traffic sent to it than Google would derive from Twitter. If not, why would Twitter even care about Search+Your World? They’re asking for people to pay them in order to give them enormous traffic.

    Facebook can’t really claim to not be a monopoly either. They are the #1 or #2 destination on the internet. If Google has monopolized Search, Facebook has monopolized Social and Identity and has “Like” buttons all over the internet. More people spent more time on Facebook’s site than any other property. The fact that they have exclusive deals with others is anti-competitive in that respect.

    Yes, it would be nice if Google’s results included Twitter and FB by default. But you know what would be even nicer? If the companies constructing walled-gardens that are against the spirit of the open, federated, Web over the last 20 years would be, well, more open and federated.

    1. Where’s Google’s “open federated” access to their data?  I’d quite like to build a service that uses their search index, not to mention their Google+ data.

  7. Um, “Focus on the user” is kind of hypocritical for Facebook.  For example, users can’t export their data OUT of Facebook, short of manually copying/pasting from individual web pages.

    This is just a public pissing match.  Facebook, Twitter, et al: ” we want some of that yummy goodness, for free “

  8. Wait, when did Facebook give me the ability to export all of my friends’ contact data into another service?  Oh..  they didn’t.

    This is pathetic.  The same Blake Ross who went on Google+ and whined about how it copied their ideas.  Facebook copies EVERYONE’S ideas.  I can’t believe bloggers fall for this BS.

  9. I don’t get it. What’s the point? Should Google not display search results if it is found on Google plus? Or is it because the google plus result is the first result?

    For me as the one who does the searching it is irrelevant. If I am interested in the page of john battelle on facebook, I will click this entry. If I am interested in seeing his page in google plus, I might click the other link. But most likely, I won’t be interested in any of those social network sites and just see where else he is mentioned on the web.

  10. Just a hypothetical scenario.  Imagine that SPYW were a startup and there is no pre-SPYW Google search, Facebook or Twitter.  Would this startup not be something awesome and really useful ?

  11. Dont “trend” on me!
    Delete all google from your computer now and dont use it, plz pass on to ur fb friends…if you dont know how to do this …ask someone that can

  12. Great post. It helped to analyze how google connects with the social networking sites. And its good to know about such a tools. Thanks for posting this.

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