The game just changed

Oh my god! They killed user reviews! You bastards!
Oh my god! They killed user reviews! You bastards!

I’m in my hotel after the day has wrapped at the always-excellent ILM08 and feeling like the guy in the sci-fi film whose calculations indicate the asteroid is about to hit while the rest of the rubes are blissfully ignorant.
I’m shocked its not all over the Interwebs already, so I guess I’ll be the first to say it. More than any other day since their founding, today Google quietly, nearly silently, took an action that will, for better or worse, change the media world…
I ducked out of the last session today to go back to my hotel room because I had to get out our weekly newsletter. The software we use to send the newsletter has a habit of going into an endless crash loop at the wrong times, so I Googled the company to find their tech support, instantly noticing a change in the Google interface. There was an up arrow, an X and an enticing little speech bubble at the bottom of the listing.
Yup. For realz.
Yup. For realz.

I was shocked. It was a deceptively simple and obvious move, but one that should have every site on the web that has user-generated reviews as a part of the business plan quaking in their boots.
Surprisingly, all I could find on the new features was an NYT blog post and via their link the official Google post. I gtalked our developers back in Dallas and the features had yet to propagate there, which is par for the course when Google gradually rolls out a feature.
They say:

Today we’re launching SearchWiki, a way for you to customize search by re-ranking, deleting, adding, and commenting on search results. With just a single click you can move the results you like to the top or add a new site. You can also write notes attached to a particular site and remove results that you don’t feel belong. These modifications will be shown to you every time you do the same search in the future. SearchWiki is available to signed-in Google users. We store your changes in your Google Account. If you are wondering if you are signed in, you can always check by noting if your username appears in the upper right-hand side of the page.

The changes you make only affect your own searches. But SearchWiki also is a great way to share your insights with other searchers. You can see how the community has collectively edited the search results by clicking on the “See all notes for this SearchWiki” link.

Here’s the video preview, which really buries the lede:

Yeah, the personal customization of search order is neat. And I get that it is private, although I don’t believe for one second that it won’t impact the search algorithm.
But that button on the comment field says “Make a public comment” (emphasis mine). To be fair, my test comment is currently only visible when logged in under the account that was active when I made it. But that button and the popup I got when making it are bloody clear that it is meant to be public.

This pops up on your first comment
This pops up on your first comment

To be a little clearer, if you’re too lazy to read such a long missive:

Understand that I, every local newspaper, every reviews-based business like Yelp or CitySearch or CitySquares or ServiceMagic or Angie’s List or Nameyourdotcomhere is jockying via search optimization to get to the top of the Google results in order to ensure that our reviews get seen first. Have we been disintermediated? Sure feels like it.
Every business with a lick of sense is concerned about managing its online reputation in a panopoly of locales. Now, perhaps only one matters.
Yeah, this also has the potential to be a giant clusterfuck. Comment spam has never had a greater cause for existence. Ditto gaming the system. Google is known to throw almost anything at the wall to see what will stick, and maybe this will be another failed experiment.
But somehow, especially because my comment did not show up instantly, I don’t think that’s the case. And IF Google has figured out how to manage that in their usual uber-scalable way…
The game just changed. And maybe because it profoundly effects my business, for the first time I wonder if my favorite company has gone a search too far.

Mike Orren is the Chief Product Officer of The Dallas Morning News; President of Belo Business Intelligence; husband to Crystal Orren; and a Mungarian at Munger Place Church in Dallas, TX. All opinions herein are mine alone.

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