Understanding the Social Ramifications of a Changing Internet
One concept on which Facebook, Twitter, and Google can all agree is the importance of "social" in the next age of the Internet (see Figure 4). When the Net was first introduced to the general public, the focus was on stagnant content. Individuals and companies could create digital versions of themselves, giving people greater access to information and products.
When Web 2.0 came about, the focus changed to delivering dynamic content that was much more engaging and entertaining. We slowly began to move away from Flash-based pages (most of our sites) and instead started relying on HTML5 to deliver a web experience that was far superior to what was possible during the dotcom boom.
These days, a massive shift is taking place on the Internet, as we attempt to bring elements of personal interaction back into the way we digitally engage with both content and individuals/businesses online.
One of the biggest ways in which "social" is changing the Internet is Google's new Search, Plus Your World feature. For years, web designers and search engine optimization specialists have been attempting to "game" the system of online search. In the past, you could attempt to attach the right descriptions, keywords, and back links to your website to make it appear higher on Internet search results than those of your competitors. While this practice was universally accepted, it was flawed in the sense that it didn't have a human touch; instead, it relied purely on mathematical algorithms.
Search, Plus Your World is Google's first attempt to give Internet users a much more personalized experience (see Figure 5). Instead of relying on a computer to decide which websites are the most relevant for users, Google takes into account sites with which you have connected on Google+ (circles) as well as how many of your connections on Google+ have used the "+1" button on content that might be relevant to what you're trying to find.
Figure 5 Google+ Search, Plus Your World.
Here's a great example. Recently I searched Google Images for "Wrangell-St. Elias," looking for images of this beautiful national park in Alaska. Whose images showed up first? Photos of a handful of professional colleagues and friends with whom I'm connected via Google+ made up the first 13 images on the page.
This result is important for a number of reasons:
- It's a massive shift from how Internet search used to work.
- The results that appeared on my screen were directly influenced by how active I was on Google+ and people with whom I connected.
- I actually prefer these more personalized results, because they take the act of "vetting" the content—in this case, images—out of the equation.