Google just announced some new elements it is bringing to Google Search: personal results, profiles in search, and people and pages. They’re billing the changes collectively as “Search, Plus Your World”.
Should Google be getting more personalized? Let us know what you think.
Now, Google has been doing personalized search to some extent for quite a while. Likewise, profiles have appeared in search results for quite some time. The new features are different in that the personal results will let users find info specifically for them. This may include Google+ photos and posts of their own and things that have been shared with them. Profiles will appear in both autocomplete and results. The “people and pages” feature comes in to enable users to find people profiles and Google+ pages related to topic areas of interest, and make it easy for users to follow these people.
“Search is pretty amazing at finding that one needle in a haystack of billions of webpages, images, videos, news and much more,” says Google Fellow Amit Singhal. “But clearly, that isn’t enough. You should also be able to find your own stuff on the web, the people you know and things they’ve shared with you, as well as the people you don’t know but might want to… all from one search box.”
Here’s a video Google put together showcasing the “search, plus your world” concept:
“As a child, my favorite fruit was Chikoo, which is exceptionally sweet and tasty,” says Singhal, sharing an example of where the new features may prove useful. “A few years back when getting a family dog, we decided to name our sweet little puppy after my favorite fruit. Over the years we have privately shared many pictures of Chikoo (our dog) with our family. To me, the query [chikoo] means two very sweet and different things, and today’s improvements give me the magical experience of finding both the Chikoos I love, right in the results page.”
Google+ Clearly Now More Important To Search
In terms of Profiles appearing in search, Google is demonstrating why it can pay off in search visibility to be active on Google+ and develop a substantial following. Before it was clear that this was beneficial, but now, you can see directly where this will help you. Not only will Google show people you are friends with, but it will show people it thinks you would be interested in.
Google says it will show autocomplete predictions for “various prominent people from Google+, such as high-quality authors from our authorship pilot program”. You can see this in action here:
Clearly, this is also another reason to use authorship markup.
People can click on these results and easily add the person to their circles on Google+.
It doesn’t look like brand pages will be showing up as autocomplete predictions. When asked about this, a Google spokesperson told WebProNews, “For profiles in search, you will see an autocomplete prediction for people who have Google+ profiles. These are people you’re connected to or popular people related to the query. For Google+ Pages, there’s Direct Connect (launched back in Nov).”
More on Direct Connect here.
Google is also showing people who discuss certain topics frequenty on Google+ in a special section on the right side of the search results page, when the user searches for that topic (such as “music” or “baseball”) :
“When it comes to security and privacy, we set a high bar for Search plus Your World,” says Singhal. “Since some of the information you’ll now find in search results, including Google+ posts and private photos, is already secured by SSL encryption on Google+, we have decided that the results page should also have the same level of security and privacy protection. That’s part of why we were the first major search engine to turn on search via SSL by default for signed-in users last year. This means when you’re signed in to Google, your search results—including your private content—are protected by the same high standards of encryption as your messages in Gmail.”
That move was a bit controversial in the SEO community, as it made referrals harder to track. Not everyone was buying the privacy explanation Google was selling, but today’s new features do make that a little more believable. Google doesn’t want to face the kind of privacy backlash it did when it first launched Google Buzz in Gmail.
Google is providing privacy controls for search, similar to those found in Google+. Personal results are marked as “Public,” “Limited,” or “Only You,” which will be familiar to Google+ users. People in results are marked with the Google+ Circles they are in, or as suggested connections.
In addition to all of that, there is a toggle that appears on the upper right of the results page, where you can see what your search results look like without the personal content:
Turning it off will eliminate personalization based on web history as well. The toggle itself is for an individual search session, but you can also make it the default by going to your search settings and setting it that way.
While the new features will have their benefits to users for sure (at least for Google+ users), it would appear that they will only add to the “filter bubble” problem. The filter bubble, a phrased coined by Eli Pariser in a famous TED Talk (below), is this concept where the content we consume online is being more and more personalized towards us based on what sites know about us. The sites take this information that they have about us and direct us toward content that they think would be better for us.
While this may be convenient at times, some feel the filter bubble is keeping us from expanding our horizons. It’s making it harder to see things out of the box. It’s an obstacle to encountering great content that we might not see because we don’t have a direct connection to it. There are valid points to both sides of the debate (feel free to share your thoughts on this in the comments).
Google is by no stretch the only site engaging in this filter bubble concept, but given its massive reach and enormous search market share, it is arguably the most important site on the web to be considered with regards to said concept.
Is Google moving in the right direction?
Why Google’s Personalized Search is Still Lacking
Filter bubble aside, there is a use for personalized search, and despite Google being the king of search, there are obstacles keeping Google from the best it could be when it comes to organizing the world’s information. The lack of a deal with Twitter for realtime search is a prime example of this.
In fact, it’s for this reason that tools like those from Wajam and Greplin still have a place for those seeking truly personalized search.
Still, the features really emphasize Google’s confidence in Google+ going forward. The fact that they continue to alter their flagship product – search – so much, with an increasing Google+ flavor indicates that they view Google+ as much more than Google Buzz or Google Wave (previous social offerings). Google+ just may be here to stay.
“Search, Plus Your World” is rolling out over the next few days to signed in users searching on https://www.google.com in English.
Do you think Google’s new personalization features are good or bad for search? Let us know in the comments.