Google Search has an information management problem


Last week, Google announced it was launching a pilot program in which users could opt in to include personal Gmail in the list of search results, but as I see it, this will just add to the growing crowd of items Google seems intent on packing into the results.

If you're like me, your first reaction was probably fear for your personal privacy, but I checked with Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) and this feature is for your eyes only. If you sign up for the program, you are the only one who sees email results from your personal Gmail account. Your emails will not be appearing on the open web. I couldn't see them doing it any other way without risking the ire of users and the scrutiny of angry government officials everywhere.

That is certainly comforting, but it does nothing to solve the growing problem of results bloat in Google and other search engines--assuming you're one of the few people who uses an alternative. In the old days of web search, you entered some keywords or a phrase, and you got back a set of results consisting of a list of web pages--and only web pages.

Over time, we could search for a plethora of other items. At first, these were separate searches. We could search for "x," then toggle pictures to see pictures related to "x." Now, we have a growing list of items in our results including some news, pictures, videos, other suggested searches and social results--on Google that means Google Plus, on Bing, Facebook. Google now also incorporates results from the Google Knowledge Base as well, when applicable.

It's getting pretty crowded and all you wanted was to find a certain website, a job Google used to do so well. And now it wants to include more information--this time from your Gmail account? If I want to search my Gmail, I can do that. In fact, I do it all the time and it's one of Gmail's strengths in tracking down old emails. I don't need to move that into Google Search.

When Google first hit the scene, it provided the service we had all been craving. Other search engines to that point--whether Yahoo or Lycos, Excite or AltaVista--all had their charms, but none were able to nail the site you were looking for quite like Google.

I realize Google wants to be a service that matches its lofty mission statement: "To organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful," but by trying to jam in the whole world on a single page of results, they are only achieving half the goal. They may indeed be organizing the world's information (at least a portion of it), but the more they put on a single page of results, the less useful it tends to be.

Ideally, I want to find what I want to find and that's typically a web page. Sometimes, as when I'm searching for a song, it's a video. Other times it's news, but it should be up to me to decide. This seems to be to be a design issue as much as anything and design has never been a Google strength. What Bing has always had going for it was the form. The substance is another matter, but it's always been pretty. Yet, even Bing now is succumbing to the pressure to include as much as it can on a single page of results.

Perhaps the search engines need to step back and find a new way to present the results, such as finding a way to let users define what they like to search for most and presenting only those types of results--while giving users the options of toggling other results as needed.

As it stands, trying to include everything on the page at the same time just gets overwhelming for the users, and Google won't be doing users any favors by piling on even more results with email. Enough already. - Ron