In a blog post Google has said that it's making search results more local and relevant. What it's actually done is to make things much more difficult, and far more messy. Let me explain. When you want to search on Google you type in your search and you get your results. If you want to see results from another country, such as the Netherlands, you could go to the Netherlands page, run your search and you'd get results appropriate for that country. It's obviously useful if you want to get local information about a person, place, event and so on. However, Google has now decided that it's going to overrule the searcher, and irrespective of which country version you go to, Google will give you results based on your current country. They are now including an indication of that in the bottom left hand corner of the page. They explain "So if you live in Australia, you’ll automatically receive the country service for Australia, but when you travel to New Zealand, your results will switch automatically to the country service for New Zealand. Upon return to Australia, you will seamlessly revert back to the Australian country service." Clearly there is a bias here in favour of mobile search, and apparently 1 in 5 searches is location based. Which of course means that 80% of searches are not, but the results are still biased.
So now we have a great many ways of searching for information, none of them at all perfect. Let's start with a search in which Google doesn't know who or where I am, by using Google via DuckDuckGo. By searching for firearms policy !google DDG is taking me to Google and showing me results. There's an instant answers on Dangerous Weapons and Firearms Policy from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Next is a Wikipedia result on the firearms policy of the UK, and third is a twitter account @gun policy.
Next I'll go to Google.com and try the same search - remembering that Google is aware that I'm in the UK. I get exactly the same result as I got with DuckDuckGo. Either Google is able to work out from DDG where I am, or DDG is actively telling Google. Alternatively my browser is telling Google where I am - it certainly brings up my local address at the bottom of the screen, so we'll come back to that later.
Now let's try a search to include site:.uk to see what we get, still using Google.com. I now get a totally different set of results, the first two from BASC (The British Association of Shooting and Conservation) and the third is from Gov.uk on Firearms licensing law 2016.
Let's move to Google.co.uk and see what we get. Back to the results that Google.com and DDG were giving me; UAB, Wikipedia and the twitter account.
Using Google.co.uk and using site:.uk we get exactly the same results as Google.com and a site search, which makes sense.
Let's confuse matters now and change browser, and use a VPN so that Google thinks that I am in the Netherlands. My Google.com result is now completely different, giving me results from the Firearms Policy Coalition in 1st and 2nd spot, and the Firearms Policy of the UK from Wikipedia.
If I now add in my site:.uk search it's a completely different set again. The first result is from the BMA on advice to doctors on the firearms licensing process, second is from the College of Policing, and the third is from BASC again.
To further confuse matters, I can adjust my country results by going into settings, advanced search, and choosing a region. Let's try that with Google.com. We now have another completely different set of results. The first is from BASC, as is the second, but a totally different page relating to Wales, and the 3rd result is from the London Borough of Barnet.
Trying a multi-search engine, eTools, I disabled all the search engines except for Google and got the Firearms Policy Coalition in 1st and 2nd and @gunpolicy in 3rd place.
Next I used the TOR browser, and DuckDuckGo. For this result, Google decided that I was based in the Netherlands, and gave me results that were familiar - Firearms Policy Coalition in 1st and 2nd place, and the Twitter account in 3rd place. However, when I looked at the results that I got from Opera, using a VPN based in Netherlands it was a different set again. This was quite interesting, so I tried searching on Tor and Google.com (Netherlands) and firearms policy site:.uk and compared it to the Opera VPN also based in the Netherlands. The Tor version gave the College of Policing in 1st place, a student manual from the University of Chicago in 2nd, and the BMA in third place. The Opera results gave me Gov.uk firearms licensing law, the BMA and then BASC.
So within a short space of time I've got a fairly wide variety of search results to choose from - and don't forget that I'm simply limiting myself to the top three results with each search; there's going to be a lot of other differences further down the results I'm sure.
What this DOESN'T do is make life easier for the searcher. It does mean that Google can further personalise and then monetize search in their favour. The simple answer? Just don't use Google!