Do you remember when Google just gave you a list of websites that matched your search? No “featured snippets”, no pins from Google Maps, no shopping results… just ten links that matched your search?
Well, a group of journalists and developers from The Markup do and want to give you a chance to have a “Throwback Thursday” in your search results with a new browser extension that strips your Google results back to just those original results.
Called “Simple Search”, the extension rewrites the contents of your search result page, stripping away Google’s additions and just leaving the vanilla search results behind. It’s actually pretty nice to go back to that simple list but this extension is way more than just a toy…
Why does it matter?
Google used to be just a search engine. Then it introduced ads, which nobody really complained because Google had to make money somehow and the ads were clearly ads and didn’t get in the way of the actual results.
Then ads started snuggling up to the main results and things got a bit more blurry. Then along came shopping results, and news results, and maps, and the knowledge graph, and featured snippets…
Bit by bit, Google has injected more of its own services into space that used to contain organic search results, either driving traffic to these services or keeping you inside the Google search experience itself. Many questions can now be answered without leaving Google, and that’s bad for the rest of the web – especially as it’s the rest of the web that provide the answers in the first place.
Will Google put up with this?
I’d be surprised if Google allow this extension to remain in the Google Chrome Extension Store. Altering the output of results is a violation of the Google Terms of Service (Section 5.3, nerds) and whilst Simple Search tries to work around this by adding a box on top of the main search results…
… I still personally think this a pretty borderline interpretation of Google’s rules and something they would object to. And Google has a long history of banning extensions from Chrome that do things they don’t like… like take money away from them.
It’s dangerous ground for Google though and, personally, I think this controversy is what this plugin is really designed to create.
When put under pressure in the recent antitrust hearings about why Google have made so many changes to how search results are displayed and why they have injected and interwoven their other services into search, CEO Sundai Pinchar said…
When I run the company, I’m really focused on giving users what they want,” … “We conduct ourselves to the highest standard.”
Sundar Pichai, Google CEO
Well, if what people really want is a simpler, cleaner Google, then this plugin delivers that. Isn’t that a good thing?
Personally, it would not shock me at all if this plugin was removed from Chrome by Google but that does raise another key question that the antitrust hearings also hit on – is it good for the web that Google control the most popular search engine and the most popular browser?
Those antitrust questions just keep mounting up…
Our documents show that Google evolved from a turnstile to the rest of the web to a walled garden that increasingly keeps users within its sites
Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI)
The bad news for Google is that the extension is also available for Firefox so, at least for those users, it won’t be going anywhere.
Should you try it?
Absolutely, if only to see where your website might sit if all Google output was the search results and not the current SERP.
Of courses, this might make for a depressing result if you realise your high ranking site might be a lot more prominent this way, so reader discretion is advised!