The 2012 presidential campaign is about to get a lot more personal, at least if Google has any say in it.
Type in the name of a candidate, the name of a campaign ad, or a debate topic, and soon you’ll be seeing search results from your friends, colleagues and leading online influencers at the top of the page. Instead of clicking on the top-rated result as voted on by the collective intelligence of the Web, you'll be given an opportunity to click on what your in-laws or co-workers have to say about politics. This change to the Google search engine — perhaps the biggest change to Google in the past decade — is all about integrating all of your loose online social connections with the traditional search results of the “public Web.”
Just as Facebook realized that the opinions of our friends matter more to us than the opinions of strangers, Google has finally come to the conclusion that what we really want to read about is what our friends and colleagues are reading about (and especially if they are reading about it on Google+). If an article or video makes it through your social filter, Google now figures that maybe you’d like to take at least a peek at it before seeing what the rest of the Web has to say. (Full disclosure: The Washington Post Co.'s chairman and chief executive, Donald E. Graham, is a member of Facebook's board of directors.)
With Search plus Your World, Google could profoundly change not only the way we find information online, but also provide a new social context for that information. The old Google search algorithm used to favor sites that were most valuable and therefore most popular. The new Google search algorithm now favors the biased, the subjective and the outspoken — the types of stuff you leave lying around in Google+.
Given that, there’s a reason why we don’t speak about politics in polite company — things can get controversial real fast.
When it comes to the 2012 election campaign, the candidates who would appear to benefit the most from an innovation like Search plus Your World are the ones who get mentioned a lot online, the ones who stir up controversy, and the ones who make the biggest splash with the denizens of the wild and wooly Internet. Based on the latest results from the @MentionMachine, the perfect candidate to take advantage of Google’s Search plus Your World would be Ron Paul. While Paul isn’t the most popular when it comes to media mentions, he is a candidate folks like to mention on social media, particularly on Twitter, which is not incorporated into Google’s new social search.
In the era of the social Web, the only things that get into our social feeds and streams is the outlandish, the exceptional, or the highly personal. A photo of a candidate shaking hands with babies on a campaign stop no longer makes it into our feeds, unless that baby happens to be one we know. Instead, it’s the mean-spirited attack videos and campaign gaffes that make it into your feeds. In other words, the looped soundbite of Romney saying, "I like being able to fire people" is exactly what plays well on the “Interwebs.” There’s also the anti-Romney documentary “King of Bain: When Mitt Romney Came to Town,” which is making its way around the social Web as well.
In politics, the conventional wisdom has been that, after the initial contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, when one candidate consistently emerges victorious, the candidates settle down and reconcile as they turn to the national, two-party race. Online, at least, that will no longer be the case. As we search more of the Web on Google, we are more likely to get the noise and the static. The strongest voices online will become even stronger and more likely to influence people in their social circles. Getting an endorsement from someone in your Google+ Circles is becoming as important as reading about an endorsement from a leading public figure.
This means the very concept of winning an election is changing. Adopting the stance of a moderate and edging toward the center, long the key to winning any general election, no longer seems as enticing for a candidate eager to win. Winning now means taking a strong stance on issues and having a personality that resonates with the Internet in-crowd. The candidate who is able to launch memes into the Internet wild with regularity while winning over the self-proclaimed online influencers on Google may be the one who is finally able to win over all the uncommitted voters in November.
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