Google has now introduced “+1” or “plus one,” a new “social search tool”
inspired by Facebook's “Like” button that enables people to indicate that they approve of various Web sites. When you search for Hair-Loss remedies, you’ll notice that Mark L liked Rogaine. When you search for turtles, you’ll see that Ellen A thought Tom Stoppard's Complete Works were worth perusing.
You can do it all over the Internet, leaving a trail of digital thumbs-up bread crumbs. But first, you have to create a Google Profile. It’s just another way for Google to get us to use it socially.
And I’m against it.
Call me a strange, isolated individual who likes to search for caracals at four in the morning with no input from my friends and family, but what I like about Google is its reassuring and monolithic bulk. Search “I’m afraid of” and you get dozens of matching suggestions. “I’m terrified of telephones” — so is the New York Times Trends Section! “I’m afraid of the dark! I’m afraid of the dentist! I have no desire to see ‘Marathon Man’!” I like knowing that I’m not alone.
But I don’t like knowing whom I’m with.
When I’m up at three in the morning searching deep, insoluble questions like “How can I get taller?” and “What is a good credit score?” and “Why was I born?” it ruins the mood to learn that my friend Mikey B just searched for the same thing, found an article on Scientology and thought it was worth reading.
So I hate the social search movement. Time to bring back the antisocial search. “Go away!” I shout, when plus-ones pop up. “I wouldn’t want you at a party, and here, you’re even worse, because I know you will not be bringing dip!”
Social search is supposed to be great because it shows you what your friends are reading. But when I search on Google, I would often prefer the assurance that my friends aren’t reading the thing in question. “How can I lucid dream?” “What is this growth?” “Is it weird that I’m doing this?”
Whatever happened to the halcyon days when you could search for things without having to be confronted with the likes and dislikes of the people you see every day? Sometimes you just want information as quickly and neatly as possible, without any awkward entanglements. It’s sort of like trying to call a chat line and getting told that your friend Sam really enjoyed speaking with Michelle. “I don’t want this information!” you shout. “If I wanted to hear more about Sam’s preferences, I would have called Sam.”
It’s not about privacy. It’s about the freedom from extraneous information. When I go on Facebook, I expect to hear about what you like and dislike. But on Google, I just want what I want.
The more invested Google gets in social search, the harder that becomes. It’s like running into someone you know in the self-help section of the bookstore. Once, you could be alone online, if you wanted to — or at least feel that way. But the crowd is closing in, and it’s a shame. I don’t care if Tyler H thinks that Web site on cats is great. I just want to learn if my caracal is supposed to be making that sound.
After all, the last thing you want is to search for a sentence like “Am I really alone in hating Social Search” and discover that all your friends feel the same way.