Google’s minimal search page has consistently been heralded as a minimalist masterpiece since it first appeared in 1996. It’s been argued by numerous designers—myself included—that it was the perception of Google as a ‘pure’ unadulterated search was more central to Google’s rise and eventual dominance, than the merits of its (in)famous algorithm.
So it’s something of a surprise to learn that Google is abandoning this minimalist approach in its mobile apps in favor of a social media-style newsfeed.
Starting in North America immediately, and rolling out worldwide in the coming weeks, Google on iOS and Android will now show users a ‘personalized’ newsfeed, before they enter a search term.
News, editorials, videos, images, and music shown in the feed will be based on previous searches by the same user. You’ll also have the option to tap a ‘follow’ button to add interesting topics to your feed. But that’s not all, according to Shashi Thakur, VP Engineering, Google:
your feed will not only be based on your interactions with Google, but also factor in what’s trending in your area and around the world
Not a fan of Game of Thrones? Too bad, if everyone’s watching it, you will be too. Bad news for those of us that didn’t get around to season 3 yet.
Naturally one of the biggest concerns about this shift in emphasis is that Google will editorialize content. It’s impossible to avoid bias; even an AI, making decisions based on mathematical formula has bias coded in. Anyone who has ever seen personalized advertising online (everyone), will know how difficult tech companies find it to accurately tailor this type of content.
Of course Google didn’t knock this one out in the course of a lunch hour. It’s a fair bet that its annual turnover is greater than the combined lifetime incomes of everyone who’ll ever read these words, Google have tested and tested and tested and tested this. Neither is this move entirely unprecedented; G+ attempted to build a social network by piggy-backing on Google’s core service, and the newsfeed itself has already been trialled since 2016.
Google’s aim is simple: keep users on Google. Whether it’s AMP, or Material Design, Google’s focus—like any profitable business—is on retaining quality customers, especially on mobile. As Shashi Thakur stated:
The more you use Google, the better your feed will be
The impact goes beyond SEO. Two decades ago Google launched a bold, unashamedly minimal site amongst a sea of maximalism. That bravery resulted in a timeless design that established a brand and changed the web. By taking Google’s mobile search in a new direction, the company is changing the way we find, and therefore consume, content online.