An e-fork in the e-road

Over the weekend I read this article on TechCrunch.

For those too lazy to follow the link, it’s an article about Google Chairman Eric Schmidt’s upcoming book.

The book, called The New Digital Age, tackles many of his predictions for what the web holds in the near future and includes predictions for Twitter, Search, Journalism and even cyber warfare.

Given that Eric works at Google, it was his views on Search that most intrigued me, and a quote that appeared in the TechCrunch article in particular.

Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results. The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance.”

What this quote is saying is that Google search (90% of all web searches) will give higher priority to information that can link back to a profile that is owned by a real person than those that aren’t linked to anyone at all.

An example would be a blog that is tied to a Facebook account would rank higher than one that doesn’t.

What does this mean for the individual?

In an age where our online existence is becoming more vital to both our business and social lives, much of our “presence” is based on how easily people can find us. Eric is saying that by Google’s rules, those who are willing to give up some of their personal information are going to rise to the top of the results.

For those of us who would rather not share our details with the web, the suggestion is that we will become irrelevant. Not irrelevant in as much as “those people will cease to matter to the world” but rather become an irrelevance in search terms, a non entity.

If Google is championing “verified data” over “anonymous data”, and you want to show up to 90% of the searching world, you need to play by their rules. Get a Gmail account, get on G+, sign up to Twitter, or LinkedIn, but you’re going to have to put yourself out there.

There is another side to the coin.

Without your basic user information, (gender, age, location) the web won’t know who you are or what you want.

If you’re data is out there, websites know who you are, they know what you like and more importantly what you don’t like. The web, and sadly by extension, advertising, will become more bearable.

I’m not going to wave the banner for “targeted ads” especially after last week’s blog, but if you’re going to have ads (and let’s face it we are), even I can see that adverts that are relevant to me are less annoying than those that aren’t. Sure I might not be in the market to buy a new putter, but hey at least it’s got me thinking about golf for 30 seconds. Panty liners don’t do that.

This can make a difference, for people who want to use the web, and harness the incredible interwoven power of it; it looks like there’s no choice but to hand over your details. If you don’t, you can’t stop advertisers inundating you with irrelevant nonsense but you might sleep better at night.

So it seems like we’ve come to a fork in the road. Do we want to exist in the future web or do we batten down the hatches and resist? And it’s looking like a question of digital life or death.

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