Over time this could put them squarely in a public relations crisis, or worse destroy the brand perception of Google as “owning search.” That is their unique selling proposition in the market. They need to guard that position carefully.
This could be dangerous territory. Back in the dark ages, the 80s, when I worked in print media at the Georgia Straight in Vancouver, we realized the line between advertisers and editorial is one to be respected. If you start to play with advertising influence, your readers loose respect for the editorial authenticity. This is really the same fundamental issue 2012 style. If influence emerges that impacts the value of search results, and that influence is there because they use your products (Google+) you loose respect of users.
I do however see an interesting and appealing business model in combining a search offering that considers your circles of interest and influence. Maybe Google needs to introduce a tab that allows both options. Either way they should come clean with what they are doing and allow transparency so the benefits can be appreciated. It’s pretty obvious how search results are different now depending on if you are logged into Google or not. I wrote about that and potentially how business could leverage it to their advantage in my blog last post.
What are your thoughts?