I wish Google would stop thinking it knows what we're thinking. It doesn't. It's often ludicrously off base, and usually simply annoying. Obviously not what they were going for.
The (now accepted) intrusion to Google's search box is called Google Instant, and the folks at Google call it a search enhancement. You've experienced it -- the annoying way that Google finishes your sentences before you are able to. While it seems like Google has always been able to jump in there and mess with you while you're in the middle of typing out a search query, it only started in September of 2010. In a mere four years, Google has made it so millions of people just accept that we should let the Google search box finish our thoughts for us. Two questions arise. What? And why?
What made someone over at Google think people wanted this truly annoying feature? Why does Google consider any beginning, with any letter of the alphabet the exact thing to jump on and tell you what's on your mind? Sorry, nope, incorrect. Again. Google got it wrong with this piece of search strategy, and it's still wrong. Google isn't a mind reader. It reminds us of the huge outcry when the big brains deep within the Google matrix decided to redesign Gmail, even though millions of people wanted at least the option to use the Gmail program they already used, and liked just fine. Users were pretty much forced to 'try out' the new form of Gmail, and were told they would like it more. Really, they would.
If only the tech giants would let every part of how we use their services be opt-in instead of opt-out. Prefer the more intuitive, previous version of Gmail? Tired of having Google's search box complete your sentences for you? If you take the time, you are supposed to be able to turn off Google Instant. But this goes back to making users work for something they should have had a choice in. I'm guessing you have to be signed in to op-out. Better to ask why it was every made a standard feature to begin with.
Facebook also thinks it's in the business of mind reading. It's not. At its best it actually connects a diverse community of people. It serves a useful function. But when the side ads pop up on Facebook in a creepy way, offering people, products, services you may or may not be thinking of at exactly that moment, it's just as easy to tune them out as it used to be with banner ads. And, as any web user knows, banner ads and pops-ups have exactly zero effectiveness anymore. We've all had the chip installed that lets us tune these out.
Both Facebook and Google are in the business of collecting our personal information, or in the language of now, our data. Facebook tracks our online doings, connections, likes and dislikes, beliefs and non-beliefs, and so when it shows a targeted ad, it thinks it has a pretty good bead on who you are. What they aren't taking into account is that people are presenting a side of themselves online, and it's either a thin slice of who they really are, a mega-dose of who they are, or a mostly fictionalized version of themselves, made to impress their own target market.
For the tech giants like Google, Facebook, Apple, and others, changing their offerings is an ongoing process. But being told you're going to like it no matter what is no longer accepted by all, and probably by fewer than ever before. Change isn't always progress. It's just something else to deal with. More and more, it's coming back to having a real choice and not having to tolerate tech that isn't easy or intuitive. Easy, elegant, and intuitive. Plus, offering people a choice. This is what the smart new tech companies are making.
While we people on the other side of the screen are called everything from users to consumers, we all want a choice in the matter, and the more choice a company offers up front, the better we'll think of them.
Follow Russell C. Smith on Twitter: www.twitter.com/digitalfirebook