Do e-mails have a place in SERPs?

There comes a point when Google’s attempts to be your best friend and confidante stops being helpful, and starts being borderline creepy. Google’s latest field test is yet another move towards strengthening the “knowledge graph” that will one day aim to make search both semantic and personal. With the World Wide Web currently bursting at the seams with information and content, Google wants to make it easier for users to wade through everything and hand pick the best of the best.

Users with a @google.com e-mail address who are currently using the site in English are now able to sign up to try the new style SERPs. The new result pages have some great features, such as group searches, which pulls together related search terms to help you find what you’re looking for. But Google is also trying out a new feature that will pull results from your gmail account into searches. Which begs the question – does anyone want, or even need their e-mails showing up in search results?

This is a feature that I certainly wouldn’t want – if I’m looking for an e-mail, I’ll search my inbox and sent items using the key terms I can remember from it. Likewise, if I’m using Google search, one of my primary goals is likely to be content discovery, so showing me content that I’ve already seen, or maybe even created is likely to be counter productive. With so many start-ups now trying to crack the problem of users trying to discover new content, it’s odd to see Google going in the exact opposite direction by bringing up old content.

The example that Google provides is based around planning a bike trip to Tahoe. The theory behind offering search results from your own e-mail account is based on the idea that your friends and family may have already sent recommendations to you via e-mail. So, rather than only provide itinerary plans and tips based on sites from around the web, you’ll see your personal results alongside the wider web.

This is likely to be an unpopular move with many Google users, particularly those who already feel that Google is intrusive and violates their privacy. By further blurring the line between personal and public, Google risks alienating their users. There’s already a vast array of information stored about users for advertising and market research purposes, and the more private users are likely to have qualms about their e-mails flashing up in search results. Imagine the difficulty you’d have lending a computer to a friend, or the nightmare of leaving your Google account logged in on a public computer!

What do you think of these changes? Should e-mails be showing up in searches?