It’s one of the most iconic aspects of the online experience- simple, clean, easy to use. Google’s homepage has been exactly the same since its launch in 1996, offering a brief respite from the general chaos that comes with an internet full of more pop ups, box outs, and click bait than should be tolerable. But now all that’s about to change dramatically for users here in the UK.
Well, OK, the Google landing page is going to change significantly for everyone, starting with US users, but the switch up will be hitting our shores pretty soon too. Here’s what’s about to happen, and what good digital PR pros should be thinking about the amendment…
Less white space, more news
Android users, and anyone who accesses Google through its mobile app, will already be familiar with a rolling news feed on the search screen, offering up a mixture of stories from across the web that have been chosen for their relevance to your own internet search history.
This is now going to be a mainstay of the desktop web browser version of Google too. Confused? Basically it’s going to look something like this:
An end to search?
Artificial Intelligence has been all over our blog this week, with Smoking Gun MD Rick Guttridge’s newsletter opinion piece asking ‘Should marketers have nightmares about robot staff?‘ Put simply, AI is switching up the way so much tech behaves, in the next few years life and work as we know them could be almost unrecognisable. Experts are predicting Google could be heading for troubled waters as a result.
Already many technology companies have AI built into their core product- we are offered products and services before we actually request them, based on a range of parameters that have been analysed by computer software, for example geographic location and previous purchase history. Online search is likely to employ this functionality more and more, meaning it won’t be too long before we’re receiving suggestions rather than search results, compiled for us because big data knows what we enjoy, where we like to do it, and how much we’re likely to spend on whatever ‘it’ is.
By including a feed in the homepage, some believe this is Google’s first step towards rolling out an AI system that will put an end to search itself- we’re being conditioned to recognise a feed of suggested content, so whenever the big switch happens, it won’t be quite so jarring… Suggestions will look the same as the news stories that are about to appear in the feed, only this will be for products and services the observant programmes know will appeal to us.
As we blogged earlier this month, Google has gone from the ‘Don’t Be Evil’ do gooder to something of a by-word for trust issues thanks to a major ruling in European courts, that found the search giant had been prioritising and biasing results in favour of its own services and products. It has a limited time to show how this will be rectified going forward, or face an even heftier fine than the one it has been asked to pay already.
At the time we pondered over what this means for information, considering how much we consume is dictated by Google search. If the company is heading towards a curated experience, whereby it will suggest stories and content that should interest us based on our online behaviour, via AI, then surely we should be more than a little wary? What’s to stop it prioritising some sources over others, based on agreements- both covert and overt?
As the algorithms used by Google are its most valuable asset and best kept secret, there may be no way of telling this is happening for quite some time- by which point the impact of this favouritism could already be significant.
Fake news has shown how vulnerable the public is to misinformation, with everything from the US presidential election to UK referendum results potentially influenced by the distribution of false facts, libellous stories, and defamatory statements. With this in mind, placing so much trust in one company not to manipulate public opinion could well be a big mistake, unless we spend real time developing robust, fit-for-purpose rules and regulations that allow us to properly monitor and police how information is treated, shared, and promoted online.