Passionate (read: expletive-ridden) comments from Google users indicate Google's latest changes to Search to have ruined the company's core business product.
Changes surround the use of the "+" sign to instruct Google to only display pages that contain the word you put after the "+".
Up until this week, you could perform a search like this:
+Pepsi Max "Wild Cherry" +"Citrus Freeze" -"Coca Cola"
This means you would only see results for pages that meet the following criteria:
The + sign means "Pepsi" must appear somewhere in the page.
Pages with the word Max on them will be shown higher in the list, but this word is optional in results.
- "Wild Cherry"
Pages with the words Wild and Cherry next to each other in that order will be ranked higer in the results, but this phrase is optional. Pages containing only the word Wild, or Cherry, or both separately will either not be shown, or ranked very low down in the results.
- +"Citrus Freeze"
Pages returned must have the phrase Citrus Freeze somewhere on the page. This phrase is not optional.
- -"Coca Cola"
Exclude pages which have the phrase "Coca Cola" on them.
Now, Google ignores this well-understood way of meaningfully influencing the results you get back so they make the most sense to you. Instead, quotes now indicate a required field, when placed around individual words.
Now, to get (roughly) the same criteria as above you have to type:
"Pepsi" Max "Wild Cherry" "Citrus Freeze" -"Coca Cola"
I say roughly because we can't increase the importance of "Citrus Freeze" over "Wild Cherry", whereas before we could! This is a step backwards and one that might give Google users who use these useful + symbols to refine their searches a great reason to jump ship to Microsoft's Bing search engine.
It all seems especially stupid when you consider the opposite operator (the "-" or "exclude") still works...
Why have Google done this?
Right now we don't know for certain. That information is likely to be forthcoming soon from the Mountain View company because so many businesses rely on it, and businesses feed money into the hungry, multi-coloured Chocolate Factory.
We do know two things: firstly, it's not gone down well. When questioned about it, Google's Search Community Manager, Kelly Fee, was accused of "not answering the question in a full manner".
The second thing we know, which goes some way to explaining the mystery, is that the "+" symbol has great importance (pun intended) somewhere else in Google's online systems. It denotes that the text that comes after it is somebody's name (e.g. +John Smith) on Google+.
Has Google compromised their Search business for their intrepid voyage into Social Networking?
Has Google done exactly what Steve Jobs told Google CEO, Larry Page, what NOT to do when Larry took Google's helm earlier this year? Jobs said, "Don't be like Microsoft with products all over the map, focus."
It looks like Google has focussed on the 40 million users of its Google+ social network, instead of keeping a vary close eye on the way the 3 billion daily searches its core Search produce handles each day are working. Something could be about to go very awry for Google.
The company's inertia probably means this wont happen, but Larry Page would do well to not introduce ANY levels of resistance into its most-used application while the Search Engine wars are heating up. Disruption in the IT industry is good, unless it is destructive, which this change is. In which case, enormous companies have been known to topple overnight.
Give us back our "+", Page, and nobody gets hurt!