Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt says Google+ content is not being favored over Twitter and Facebook by Google’s search engine. Rather, those companies can be treated the same if they grant Google the right permissions to access their content.
I spoke with Schmidt today about the developing war-of-words between Twitter and Google, which broke out after the launch of Google’s new ”Search Plus Your World” format for its search results.
Included in the new format are suggestions for searchers to follow celebrities and other notable figures who have accounts on Google+, when these people are relevant to a particular search topic. Similar suggestions do not appear for the Twitter or Facebook accounts of such people.
Twitter, Google With Dueling Statements
Twitter quickly issued a statement after Google’s product formally launched, saying in part:
We’re concerned that as a result of Google’s changes, finding this information will be much harder for everyone. We think that’s bad for people, publishers, news organizations and Twitter users.
Google’s then countered with its own statement, through a post on Google+ that says:
We are a bit surprised by Twitter’s comments about Search plus Your World, because they chose not to renew their agreement with us last summer (http://goo.gl/chKwi), and since then we have observed their rel=nofollow instructions.
New Tidbit: Google Says Twitter Ended Deal
The link in that statement from Google leads to an article I wrote last year, As Deal With Twitter Expires, Google Realtime Search Goes Offline.
One new fact emerges from the statement. Google says that Twitter chose not to renew the deal between the companies. Until now, neither company has said who broke things off.
Of course, Twitter might respond that it was Google which chose not to renew, because it may have rejected terms that Twitter wanted. I’m hoping to follow-up more with Twitter on all this if time allows tomorrow (I’m at the CES show this week, so things are pretty hectic).
Nofollow Doesn’t Mean Not Included
As for all that rel=nofollow stuff, it’s a technical reference to a way that links can be tagged so that Google will not register them for the purpose of calculating PageRank scores.
Hey, I told you it was technical, didn’t I? The tag also may prevent any of the pages the links lead to from being included in Google itself. My take is that Google, by mentioning this in its post, is trying to suggest that Twitter is hurting itself by blocking its own pages using nofollow.
However, nofollow doesn’t guarantee that pages will be dropped, only that they might if there are no other links Google finds pointing at a page. As Google’s own help page about nofollow says:
Essentially, using nofollow causes us to drop the target links from our overall graph of the web. However, the target pages may still appear in our index if other sites link to them without using nofollow, or if the URLs are submitted to Google in a Sitemap.
Potentially, Google is finding Twitter’s pages in other ways, perhaps even through a sitemap file that Twitter might be submitting to it, a sort of map of all Twitter’s pages.
FYI, Twitter has had issues with Google before, as How Twitter’s Technical Infrastructure Issues Are Impacting Google Search Results covers. But we’re months past that now.
Google Has 3 Billion Twitter Pages
What’s clear is that Google clearly is finding lots and lots of content from Twitter through its normal crawl of the web:
This search tells me that Google has collected over 3 billion pages from the Twitter.com site and other sites that use that root domain:
These pages are everything from account profiles to actual tweets. Google knows a lot about what happens on Twitter, even without a formal deal in place to send Google the “firehose” of all content Twitter has.
Schmidt Talks Twitter & Facebook
This leads to my talk with Schmidt. I caught him immediately after his on-stage interview at CES today. Despite being tired from both travel and coming off his interview, Schmidt took time to talk with me about today’s events.
The video highlights of our talk can be viewed below, and the article continues with a write-up of what was said.
“To start with, we would have a conversation with them,” Schmidt said, about settling any differences.
I replied that with the Google+ suggestions now hitting Google, there was no need to have any discussions or formal deals. Google’s regular crawling, allowed by both Twitter and Facebook, was a form of “automated conversation” giving Google material it could use.
“Anything we do with companies like that, it’s always better to have a conversion,” Schmidt said.
So were there talks with Facebook and Twitter about today’s rollout of Google+ suggestions?
“I’m not going to talk about specifics,” Schmidt said.
Google Not Favoring Google+
Did he think Google was favoring itself too much with the suggestions of Google Plus?
Was Google willing to talk with Facebook and Twitter?
“Of course we would.”
Right after that, you’ll hear me sigh, when Schmidt says I’m trying to get him to say something different. I wasn’t, other than something specific. It been maddening that none of these companies for ages now — Google, Facebook or Twitter — will ever just come out and be explicit about what they want or what the barriers are.
Google Needs Permission
Schmidt then said:
“I do hope when you speak to Facebook, you ask them analogous questions about opening up their index and all that content that’s behind there,” ending with a smile.
We talked further about what my issues were. I stressed the concern of Google not pointing to anything other than Google+ for these new social suggestions, not what I had expected from the same search engine that points at content even from rivals through things like Google Finance.
“We had permission,” in that case, Schmidt said, suggesting that Google seemed to lack the permission needed to equally display social suggestions from Facebook and Twitter.
Dear Google: Include Us Please. Thanks, Twitter & Facebook
I countered that Google seemed to have all the permission it needed, in that they’re not blocked from crawling pages.
“That’s your opinion,” Schmidt said, then joked: “If you could arrange a letter from Facebook and Twitter to us, that would be helpful.”
I pushed back that both have effectively given those letters since their robots.txt files — a method of blocking search engines — weren’t telling Google to go away.
“That’s your interpretation of their policies,” Schmidt said.
Detour: What Google Knows Already About Social Connections
I tried one more time, saying that actually, it was my interpretation of how Google was viewing those sites, because I can tell with searches as shown above that Google is gathering content. I can also tell in other ways that Google knows who I’m connected to on some of these other social networks.
For example, this dashboard still works to show how Google has learned about your friend connections via social accounts you’ve linked to your Google profile.
Using that, I can see several people I’m connected to through Facebook, as shown below. And when content from those people appears in my old-style social search results that still work for me, I can even hover to see the Facebook connection:
I can even see that Google knows I’m directly connected to something like Diet Coke through Twitter:
I know all this, because among other articles I’ve written, I did a big look last year at how Facebook had a third-party PR firm accusing Google of somehow gathering material without permission. Instead, Google was gathering up information Facebook itself was releasing to the public web.
These are the articles, which explain more about how Google can know quite a bit about social connections even without formal deals:
- Examining Facebook’s “Smear Campaign” Concerns About Google Social Circle, May 2011
- How Facebook Enables The Google Social “Scraping” It’s Upset About, May 2011
Schmidt: “Happy To Talk”
Back to the interview, the last round went to Schmidt, who concluded:
“The core question is, ‘Would we be willing to [include Facebook and Twitter], and the answer is, ‘We’ll be happy to talk to them about it’.”
Here’s hoping that some talking really does happen. Why the Twitter deal fell apart remains a mystery, but I’d like to think both sides could reach a deal that would help each other. Here’s the background:
- As Deal With Twitter Expires, Google Realtime Search Goes Offline
- Google Realtime Search & The Aftermath Of The Google-Twitter Split
- Twitter Renews Deal With Bing; Google Deal Remains MIA
As for Facebook, so far it has stayed quiet in all this. But as I said, the fight between the two companies over what they need to strike a deal has been maddening. The background, below:
- Facebook On Social Search: ‘We Want To Work With Everybody’
- Facebook: You’ve No Right To Export Email Addresses (Unless It’s To Yahoo & Microsoft)
- Google & Facebook: If You’re So Smart, Work It Out!
And background on today’s news:
- Google’s Results Get More Personal With “Search Plus Your World”
- Twitter: Google+ Integration In Google Search Is “Bad” For Everyone
- Search Engines Should Be Like Santa From “Miracle On 34th Street”
Postscript: See also
- Real-Life Examples Of How Google’s “Search Plus” Pushes Google+ Over Relevancy
- To Understand Google Favoritism, Think “If Google+ Were YouTube”