Google Zero: the answer to the backlash

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about how Google is no longer the company it used to be – for example this ridiculous article by Danny Sullivan on paid inclusion last month.*

From its search page design to the nature of Google+ to what it’s ‘Don’t be evil’ slogan means today, it’s coming under the kind of flack that massive brands eventually always do.

But at the same time, I think it’s a company that has navigated a lot of these challenges with impressive grace. Quite apart from burying (or everything but?) it’s head in the sand like Apple, it seems to confront these threats with a powerful cultural tool: transparency.

For example, in tweaking its privacy policy earlier this year, it handled the challenge ahead of time, with dignity and in language that meant something to its users. The pop-ups said something along the lines of “this is not just another policy update, even if you understand things, you are going to want to read this.”

Freedom of data

As well as transparency in the data it keeps on you, the company also has a strong history of not hiding the options to take that data elsewhere. Transparency of choice is made just as apparent, showing that it’s a company that has learned from predecessors like Microsoft that fell foul of the antitrust temptation.

But despite all this, it’s hard to hide from the fact that Google today is a sprawling beast. So, in line with its roots and its current policy of giving people the choice, why not consider a brave move?

Google Zero

If people are sick of all the widgets and add ons from maps to Your Search+ Your World, why not offer them an alternative – a cut back version of Google results that shows fewer ads and reminds the user why they fell in love with the search engine in the first place.

Naturally the chief concern that leaps to mind is that this could drastically reduce the amount of people exposed to the ads and other Google services and harm the business – but here’s the kicker: I don’t think that big a proportion of people would actually adopt Google Zero over the more advanced and full featured version.

None of us have to use Google – alternatives like DuckDuckGo strip down search while everything from maps to Google Docs and Drive have easy to find replacements out there. And yet, even after things like the privacy hoopla that happened this year, the majority of people continue to use the Google experience.

I think the reason for this is simple – smart people realise it’s a fantastic range of products and a huge selection of people simply don’t care. It’s only a vocal minority in the middle who are curious enough to question these things but can’t get past their initial outrage/ complaints.

Freedom of choice is PR and product

Simply giving people the option can often assuage their concerns and let them get on with their life – because it shows that nobody is trapped into behaving in a manner they are uncomfortable with. The end result is a better product, a better experience and a smoother ride on the PR front.

Will a simpler and cut down Google Zero show up? I’d imagine not – but I think the concept is one worth considering and the kind of concern that modern businesses should take seriously to thrive in the current internet age.

*Google makes it clear the results are paid for and he even highlights this in his piece.

- Max Tatton-Brown

June 17th, 2012