There were reports a few weeks ago that the European Commission has reopened its antitrust investigation into Google
. The main issue is how Google promotes certain (usually internal) results in so-called "answer boxes" in a way that may hurt other sites. We've been skeptical
of the idea of European bureaucrats deciding what Google's search results should look like, but earlier this year, it appeared that a settlement had been reached
in which Google would point to competitors' results in some cases.
Against this backdrop, a few organizations, led by Yelp and TripAdvisor have created a somewhat fascinating site and tool called Focus On The User
-- a play on Google's own core philosophy
of "focus on the user and all else will follow." The site makes a very
compelling argument that when Google is returning opinions
(i.e., ratings) rather than factual answers
, that it could do a much better job than just pointing to results from Google+. That is, if you do a search on "best restaurants in San Francisco" Google will show you results as rated by Google+ user reviews.
The Focus on the User site shows that rather than just relying on Google's own data, users would benefit greatly if Google used its own search algorithm
to pull in results from reviews elsewhere. In short, where you might see a box up top with seven to ten reviews (all linking to Google pages), Yelp and TripAdvisor are arguing that if you just used Google's "organic" search algorithm to find the most relevant review pages, consumers get a much better experience. And they have a fair amount of data to back that up, showing a greater number of clicks in such a box (which you can test yourself via the site).
As noted above, the results are
compelling. Using Google's own algorithm to rank all possible reviews seems like a pretty smart way of doing things, and likely to give better results than just using Google's (much more limited) database of reviews. But here's the thing: while I completely agree that this is how Google should
offer up reviews in response to "opinion" type questions, I still am troubled by the idea that this should be dictated by government bureaucrats. Frankly, I'm kind of surprised this isn't
the way Google operates, and it's a bit disappointing that the company doesn't just jump on this as a solution voluntarily
, rather than dragging it out and having the bureaucrats force it upon them.
So while the site is fascinating, and the case is compelling, it still has this problem of getting into a very touchy territory where we're expecting government's to design the results of search engines. It seems like Yelp, TripAdvisor and others can make the case to Google and the public directly that this is a better way to do things, rather than having the government try to order Google to use it.