Yesterday a new anti-Google consortium called “Focus on the User” launched a website that cleverly uses Google’s own words and algorithm to make an argument against Google+ Local (map pack) search results. It also operates as a concrete proposal that might substitute for the now defunct “rival links” compromise in the Google-EU antitrust matter.
One of the potential flaws of the approach is that it’s only geared toward “local intent” searches, which the site asserts represent “over a third” of all Google desktop searches (Google’s 2010 official figure was 20 percent). It takes aim at Google’s total discretion over the content of the “one box” or “answer box.”
Focus on the User is a consortium that features Yelp, TripAdvisor, Consumer Watchdog and other European based entities. It joins a number of other lobbying groups in Europe trying to impose restrictions on Google’s unfettered discretion over its search results.
The new website presents a video that makes the argument that Google+ is “hurting the Internet” and forcefully asserts that “Europeans have the power to stop it.” It seizes upon Google’s own statement that it’s operating in the “best interests of the user” and flips it on its head.
The site directs users to a Chrome browser plug-in that incorporates additional content from third party publishers into the map pack and demonstrates the proposed solution. Rather than just local business listings and links to Google+ pages and reviews, “focus on the user” includes content from third party directories — the “top local review websites” in a given category — such as Yelp, TripAdvisor, HolidayCheck and others.
In short the tool uses Google’s own general search algorithm to rank this broader mix of content. The group doesn’t seek elimination of the map pack; rather it wants Google+ Local results to compete with these local review sites for placement within it. The map pack is currently a mix of local business websites and Google+ page links.
The results of its testing, the group says, show that Google+ Local map packs aren’t in the best interests of the user because “Google’s own content” offers fewer reviews and is demoted by Google’s own algorithm in the focus on the user search results. The group cites a separate click/heat map usability study to argue that the modified focus on the user results drive considerably more clicks than the “status quo” Google+ Local results.
The greater clicks on the focus on the user results, the group asserts, show that users are being harmed by Google’s insertion of “its own proprietary content” at the top of search results for local searches. This is a novel approach to the concept of showing consumer harm, which others have not been able to show in the past.
The group proposes including links at the top of the map pack that would allow users to toggle between Google+ Local results and the “focus on the user” mix of results, which would potentially also include Google+ Local results. The suggestion, however, is to make focus on the user results the default.
As I understand it, the group is putting this scenario forward as a potential rival links successor remedy in Europe and not merely as a piece of anti-Google PR. There’s lots of room for discussion and debate about the validity of the approach. A couple of people I’ve explained this to have balked and expressed skepticism. I’ll leave it to them to write corresponding rants.
The purpose of this post is simply to try and explain and summarize the Focus on the User group’s position. I may not have accurately captured everything. Therefore I recommend watching the video below, produced by the group. I attempted several times to install the plug-in to be able to illustrate all of this with screenshots but was unsuccessful.
Postscript: I was finally able to install the plug-in and will amend this post or write another with screenshots and more discussion.
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