It actually happened with lightning speed: after a groundswell of online complaints from the technology cognoscenti about increasing spam-laden Google search results, Google recently responded in a remarkably aggressive fashion. It tweaked its search algorithms to knock out more spam and junk and it now allows users to individually filter out sites of no interest.
Score one for the marketplace and the power of the blogsphere you say? If so, you'll be pleased to know you are in the majority. Google has garnered lots of praise for its fast and seemingly strong response. But for me, this move by Google has some intriguing implications that haven't been widely acknowledged.
First, if Google could so quickly re-jigger its algorithms to eliminate so much junk and spam, why didn't it do this unbidden? Part of me thinks that this is a prime piece of evidence that Google has become complacent. I am also intrigued that the two moves Google made here precisely mirror approaches employed by recent competitive start-up search engines that garnered a lot of press: Blekko and Duck Duck Go. Is Google also starting to feel the heat from tiny start-ups?
Second, let's think a little more about this new filtering capability offered by Google. What if it were to truly catch on? The basic concept is that you can now easily and permanently take out any domain from your Google search results. Consider what this means: suddenly, nobody is seeing the same search results. What is the implication for search engine optimization programs and providers? What happens to search engine marketing? If you drop, say, bizrate.com from your search results, will Google continue to serve you Bizrate ads in AdWords? If it doesn't, what is the revenue impact to Google? If it does, has it done a disservice to Bizrate, since you have seemingly signaled you are not thrilled with Bizrate?
And speaking of signals, Google has already indicated it is going to watch the list of sites being blocked as possible signals or indications of what sites it should block for everyone. Yes, it's possible you'll someday be able to use Google to in effect vote on what websites, companies and institutions you don't like, with possibly ruinous implications for those that get blacklisted.
Perhaps most profoundly, after all of us have spent the last decade or so in a fevered rush to get top search engine resulting rankings in Google, we may be moving to an environment where that goal may be both unachievable and meaningless if everyone is effectively going to be seeing different results from the same search.
My view of these recent changes is that Google is getting sloppy about search as it diverts its attention in its own search for the Next Big Thing. Impossible? Think back to the days when Yahoo owned search, until it got bored with search and decided there was a much bigger opportunity in transforming itself into ... a portal. The rest is history. I also think that we may be entering a distinctive new phase in the evolution of the general search engines, one where the search engines are no longer a mass medium. Odds of this happening? Search me!