Google's push for Google+ risks user ire -- and worse

Google is going to excessive lengths to ram Google+ down users' throats, even diluting its own search results and raising competition concerns

Google's going to great lengths of late to promote and celebrate Google+ -- so much so that it's starting to smack of desperation. Not in recent memory, if ever, has the company engaged in such questionable tactics to promote a new service. It's gotten so bad that Google runs the risk of not only turning off users and customers, but possibly inviting more scrutiny from the FTC for potential anticompetitive practices.

In a nutshell, Google seems intent on using its position as the king of search to shove Google+ down our throats. The company is using Google Search to promote the heck out of Google+ -- even mixing regular search results with links to Google+ content. It's also slyly marketing Google+ as a way to get the kind of exposure on Google Search traditionally reserved for sites that have earned high-ranking status through legitimate traffic and referral links or for companies that have paid for advertising space.

Google also appears to be using its search platform to give its own social networking site an advantage over the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I don't know about you, but that reminds me of when another company with a near monopoly tried to lock up a new market and found the Justice Department on its tail: Microsoft back in 1998 when it was hauled into court for stifling competition against the likes of Netscape and Opera by tightly bundling Microsoft Windows with Internet Explorer.

And there's more. Among Google's latest questionable maneuvers has been the act of practically forcing users to create a Google+ account, even if they just want to make a Google account for Gmail, Google Docs, or another Google service. As announced Friday on the third-party Google Operating System blog, "If you try to create a Google account from Google's home page, you'll notice that Google redesigned the page, but that's not all. You'll now have to create a Gmail account and a Google profile, and you'll automatically join Google+."

That's a nifty way to artificially boost a site's numbers to make it appear that people are naturally flocking to it. (There is a workaround, according to an update to the blog post, so long as you have the right URL: https://accounts.google.com/NewAccount.) Such apparent manipulation flies in the face of Google's claims that its search results are objective and that it tweaks its search engines to penalize those who game the system or simply don't serve users well, such as the recent decision to penalize sites with many ads at the top of the screen through lower search result placement.

But this little tactic is really the tip of the iceberg compared to some of the other stunts Google is pulling to push Google+. One of the most irritating and self-damaging moves the company has made is polluting Google Search results with Google+ links, both on the right side of the screen where paid ads usually appear and at times interspersed among real search results. The value of the added Google+ results is questionable at best, particularly for a Google user who neither has nor desires a Google+ account. Some Google+ users have complained (on Twitter, ironically) that the Google+ entries reduce the number of useful search results, showing them their own Google+ content rather than the new information they were seeking.

From a business perspective, Google may have decided the reduction in ads and the reduced customer satisfaction are worthy prices to pay for growing Google+. But that seems a surprising anti-user approach for a company that proclaims user-oriented behavior. What's more, there's reason to wonder whether Google is taking advantage of its inside knowledge about its search algorithms to give Google+ results higher placement than competitors such as Facebook and Twitter. Finally, Google may find itself on the receiving end of privacy complaints as Google+ users find their information presented to Google searchers in ways they hadn't anticipated or intended.

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