With Entry Into Interest Curation, Google Goes Head-To-Head With Facebook

Jul 19, 2017
Originally published on July 21, 2017 4:47 pm

There's a good chance you're hungry for information you didn't even know you wanted, but Google knows — and the tech giant is going to spoon-feed it to you.

Google is following in Facebook's footsteps, with plans to redesign its popular search page on mobile phones so that you'll get something similar to the social media site's news feed. Only Google's will just be called "feed."

"Google search should be working for you in the background even when you're not searching," says Ben Gomes, vice president of engineering, who spoke at a news conference at Google's San Francisco offices. "It should be looking for information on the Web to give you information that's important and relevant to you to further the interest that you have."

Starting Wednesday, if you use the Pixel smartphone or the Google app (for Android and iOS), you'll see this personalized feed. It will continually draw from what Google has learned about you across its suite of products — such as Search, Gmail, YouTube, Calendar, the Google home assistant and Chromecast.

Google and Facebook — which both make their money by selling advertising — are in a constant tug of war. Google has tried and failed to build a hit social network, but this new product could draw more eyeballs.

Engineering leader Shashi Thakur explained how it is fundamentally different from the competition: "It's not really about what your friends are interested in, which is really what other feeds might be."

Say you have a secret passion for woodworking: Relevant articles will show up in your feed. On the other hand, if you've been reading up on herpes that shouldn't show up in the feed, because Google is using technology to filter out "potentially upsetting or sensitive content."

When it comes to political interests — take health care overhaul efforts — what you get on Facebook or Twitter is heavily influenced by your social network, which could push you into groupthink. Thakur says the Google feed breaks you out of that, because it's based on the same search algorithm that crawls and ranks the entire Internet, not just what your friends share.

"We are trying to provide a variety of perspectives on any given topic," he said. Although in the near future, a spokesperson says Google does plan to add a like button to posts, so that users can actively indicate what they want to see.

Aside from Pixel phones and the Google app, the feed soon will appear in your smartphone browser when you go to Google's search page. The company does not plan to include this feature on desktop browsers. Gomes and Thakur declined to say whether Google would include advertisements in the feed.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Facebook has a news feed. And soon when you go to Google to search whatever it is you search, you're going to get a kind of news feed there, too - although it's just going to be called a feed. NPR's Aarti Shahani reports.

AARTI SHAHANI, BYLINE: There's a good chance you're hungry for information you didn't even know you wanted, but Google knows. And now the tech giant is going to spoon-feed it to you.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

BEN GOMES: Google search should be working for you in the background, even when you're not searching.

SHAHANI: Ben Gomes is vice president of engineering speaking at a press conference at Google's San Francisco offices.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

GOMES: It should be looking for information on the web to give you information that's important and relevant to you to further that interest that you had.

SHAHANI: Starting today, if you use the Pixel smartphone or the Google app, you'll see this feed. It's personalized and will continually draw from what Google has learned about you from places like search, Gmail, YouTube, your calendar, the Google home assistant and Chromecast.

Google and Facebook, which both make their money through advertising, are in a constant tug-of-war. Google has tried and failed to build a hit social network. But this new product could draw more eyeballs. Engineering leader Shashi Thakur explains how it is fundamentally different from the competition.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

SHASHIDHAR THAKUR: It's not really about what your friends are interested in, which is really what other feeds might be.

SHAHANI: Say you have a secret passion for woodworking, relevant articles will show up in your feed, though if you've been reading up on herpes - maybe you had a scare - that should not show up because Google is using technology to filter out potentially upsetting or sensitive content.

When it comes to political interests, what you get on Facebook or Twitter is heavily influenced by your social network, and that could push you into groupthink. Thakur says the Google feed breaks you out of that because it's based on the same search algorithm that crawls and ranks the entire Internet, not just what your friends share.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

THAKUR: We are trying to provide a different - a variety of perspectives on any given topic.

SHAHANI: Though in the near future, a spokesperson says, Google does plan to add a like button to posts so users can actively indicate what they want to see. While it's not ready today, the feed will soon appear in your browser when you go to Google to search. The company declined to say if they would include advertisements in the feed.

Aarti Shahani, NPR News, San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.