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January 10, 2012

Google Search Shows More Results From Google+

Google's search results are personalized even if you don't log in to a Google account. Google uses your location and your previous searches to customize the results. When you log in to your account, Google has more information: your search/browsing history, your social connections, the pages you've bookmarked or +1'd. Everyone is different and Google has the opportunity to use information about you to disambiguate queries, to show more results from the sites you trust and pages you're already visited.

Google+ can change Google results more than any other Google service because social data is an important signal for personalizing results, Google owns the end-to-end experience and it's in Google's best interest to show that Google+ helps sites get better rankings. After all, the reason why many sites added Google+ buttons is that Google+ data is used by Google's search algorithms.

The latest initiative that integrates Google+ with Google Search is called "Search, plus Your World." It's an upgrade of the social search feature that integrates the rich content from Google+.

Google Search now has access to non-public posts and photos from Google+ and you'll be able to search all the posts and photos shared with you or from your circles. "You can find relevant Google+ posts from friends talking about an amazing trip they just took, whether they've shared privately with you or publicly. You'll find links shared by your friends, such as activities, restaurants and other things they enjoyed on their trip," mentions Google. Personal results have a special icon next to the snippet, Google shows the number of personal results at the top of the page and you can also restrict the results to these pages.


Google Instant suggestions now include the people from your Google+ circles. "Now, typing just the first few letters of your friend's name brings up a personalized profile prediction in autocomplete. Selecting a predicted profile takes you to a results page for your friend, which includes information from their Google+ profile and relevant web results that may be related to them." Google shows similar suggestions for "prominent people from Google+, such as high-quality authors."


Another change is that Google includes a special box with Google+ pages related to your query. "Starting today, if you search for a topic like [music] or [baseball], you might see prominent people who frequently discuss this topic on Google+ appearing on the right-hand side of the results page. You can connect with them on Google+, strike up meaningful conversations and discover entire communities in a way that simply wasn't possible before," informs Google. I think it's a mistake to show Google+ pages that are vaguely related to a general query like [music]. The box looks more like a thinly disguised ad than a genuinely useful feature (an ad both for Google+ and the celebrity pages).


To balance the increasing number of social features, Google also added two new buttons at the top of the search results pages that help you toggle between the personalized results and the non-personalized results. This works for an entire session and you can also remove personal results from the preferences page.


Right now, "Search, plus Your World" is gradually rolled out over the next few days, but it only be available when you use Google.com in English and you sign in.

While Google+ data can certainly improve search results, I feel like there's too much information that's not really useful and too much Google+ bias. When Google developed the OneBoxes for maps and stocks, it linked to its own services, but also to competing services. Today Google no longer tries to be fair. Showing the number of people that added the author of a news articles to their circles is not more useful than showing the PageRank of the page or the number of Twitter followers. Showing the latest Google+ posts below the homepage of a business is not more useful than showing the latest Twitter posts. Google profiles are not necessarily better than Facebook profiles and the number of +1's is not more useful than the number of likes. To make Google+ more powerful, to attract more celebrities and businesses, Google might end up making Google results less useful. It's a tricky balancing act to use Google search's popularity to increase Google+ adoption, while also improving Google results using Google+ data and there are many mistakes to be made along the way.



25 comments:

  1. They could easily add calendar, email, and Google Voice data within search in coming iterations, I think this will initially accustom users to the possibilities.

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    1. the only thing remaining would be desktop search. and using the local database (if the user was using google desktop which sadly is no longer supported) they could have added desktop search to their online search database. (a bit of sarcasm). :)

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  2. They may not have popped the filter bubble, but they've put pressure on it. I'm slightly more inclined to start using +1 more because of this.

    As an aside, many of us have probably seen the black bar creep back. It's telling that it's so prominent in Amit's official blog post.

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  3. They would love to add Facebook likes and spent months negotiating with Twitter for access to its data, neither was willing to share it with Google for a reasonable fee, twitter was rumored have want hundreds of millions a year.

    It the same with other services. Data is the only thing many of these sites have to sell, apart from ad space and Google is not willing to pay what they were asking for

    Which is why they have been force to build Google+. I would love it if Twitter and Facebook and Google could all come to a nice arrangement where they all get access to each other data with fair compensation in place for access to that data.

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    1. But I think that favoring G+ results is an excellent stick to encourage closed data systems to open up. It is my social data after all, and I'd love to use it in the new Google search. I wish bloggers would think of this from a business perspective and in a long term way.

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  4. James: I configured my father's browser to clear cookies every time it shuts down, and over the last few months, whenever I was at his house and got on the Internet, I noticed a different version of the top bar appear, sometimes going back and forth multiple times in a single day. Google was definitely heavily AB testing the two versions, I think due to some initial criticism of the newest bar, and it looks like the black bar won. I like it better, too, and am glad I never got "upgraded" to the newest one. The drop down menu looked like a big, floppy ear that just got in the way.

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  5. @ Anonymous

    On the contrary... the current black nav-bar looks like something from the nineties... I can't wait for the new nav-bar to come to all G's products. What "some people" seem to forget is that the new nav-bar not only contains the links to other G products/services in a dropdown menu to the left and the G+ features to the right (kinda like now) but it also finally adds a search box which looks the same and is placed the same place across all of G's product pages but it still contains search tools specific to the individual product (e.g. in mail you can search for "subject" field etc.)

    There were also some BS circulating for a while about how you would need an extra click to access the links because of the new dropdown menu but it's a "hover-menu" which unfolds automatically when you move the cursor over it and in fact it's unfolded as default on the search page. I'm also convinced it'll be customizable after a while so you can choose and sort the links in the order you prefer to the products you use the most.

    Check out some of the previous posts (http://googlesystem.blogspot.com/2011/11/googles-hidden-navigation-menu.html) here on this very blog about the new nav-bar to remind yourself how cool it actually is ;)

    And if you're interested in UI/UX check out the video (http://googlesystem.blogspot.com/2011/10/more-about-googles-new-design.html) from UX Week 2011 where Jon Wiley (one of the people behind Google's new look) talks about how "some people" automatically criticizes changes to products they use daily but almost all come around after having tried the new UI for a short while. It's not like it's a bunch of highschool students who thinks they're great designers who just threw up some amateur stuff without having any idea about it... it's very skilled designers who check and double-check the UI and UX using many different types of tests across many different groups of people (not least G's own 20,000+ employees) before it's released to the public.

    It's always a good thing to try new things for a while before criticizing them. In the case of new UI's I never post anything before I've tried it for at least 3 or 4 days even though I might have an instant gut reaction liking or disliking it. After playing around with a new UI for a few days one usually realizes that there's a very good reason for most of the changes and it's often way better than before... not to mention much more aesthetically pleasing ;)

    Anonymous 2

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  6. Google is migrating from a Search engine to a social site.

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    1. No. Search can be powered by social signals. This is a migration this is a critical update that pushes toward better AI.

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  7. David Knowles above is right. Google will be more than happy to include relevant results from competing social services in its search results, if those services allowed their USERS' public data to be truly public (open and indexable). Since Google+ is still in its infancy compared to FB and Twitter, including data from those services will only make Google results more useful. So, Google would love to do this.

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    1. Correct, but potentially not entirely accurate.

      I suspect that identity (recall Schmidt's comment about Google+ being an identity service), will be written into the kernel of Google OS and it will be not be changeable by other services (such as Facebook and Twitter). I view this a good thing, because human identity is unchangeable, (despite Chris Poole's insightful commentary about our having multiple different persona).

      I suspect that Google would love to include social data, but not identity from these other social services (Twitter, Facebook and others). This suspicion is supported by the observation that only verified Google+ users are included in the typeahead.

      I do hope that tech bloggers start to think more deeply about this issue (from all different perspectives and not just the 2004 mode of thinking about organic search results and search "fairness"). I have gained an enormous amount of respect for Google's efforts with SPYW; it shows bravery on many different fronts and is potentially a huge technical advance.

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  8. I don't think that Google is being unfair. They are pushing the envelope on social networking and search. They tried integrating social network updates and posts before. They've had plenty of trouble getting everyone on board. Now they are sitting in the driver's seat, and they've unloaded the race car of all it's unnecessary baggage weight.

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    1. I agree. How can a search engine stay relevant and good if there is threat of it being ignorant in the future. Google had to take a stand against other closed data systems, and I see the tying of Google+ to Google search as a way to do this.

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  9. I actually like the move, and love to see google willing to cross the line, it's google, not AT&T. All google does is search, if the world wants more social message and twitter & Facebook don't give it, google just makes one, that's all.

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  10. @ The other Anonymous,

    My mother recently emailed me because she couldn't find her contacts in Gmail anymore. They had changed the interface on her. I correctly surmised that she was looking at the new interface where the contacts are accessible via the drop down menu labeled "Mail". This was not obvious to her. Generally, hiding navigation options in drop down menus is bad for your (mostly non-tech savvy) users. I wholeheartedly disagree that the drop down menu is a better navigation interface, even if it pops open by default (which is the part that annoys me the most).

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    1. something similar with an uncle of mine. he hates the icon based buttons in gmail and he has no idea about the dropdown for contacts and tasks.

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  11. Dreadful, just awful. Enough already with pushing plus in our goddamn faces all the time. Hope the FTC jumps on this.

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    1. No. It is highly unlikely that the FTC will do anything, unless there is a major political rather than legal contribution to their actions. Tying (or bundling as we all think of it), is not universally seen as a negative by many economists and lawyers. Indeed, the Sherman Act does not mandate that tying is an abuse of monopoly power. And it is unlikely that Google will be considered a monopoly anyway.

      From a personal perspective, I am appreciate that Google is willing to push a social service that might be (it has yet to be proven) a viable alternative to Facebook. I believe that Facebook has been able to get away with incredible abuses because there has been no meaningful way to overcome the network effects of social networks. By tying Google+ to Google search, they have taken a brave stand for, I believe, the betterment of the Internet users and the Internet as a whole.

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  12. "Google might end up making Google results less useful"... HAH!

    As every power user of Google Search well knows, Google's results have been growing steadily less useful for the last couple of years. How far we have come from the features that originally made Google great - a fast, uncluttered and pinpoint-accurate tool for finding the information you were looking for. What a tragedy that the beautiful seach engine that was Google in its heyday simply doesn't exist any more, nor has it been replaced by any viable competitors - otherwise I would have dumped Google long ago.

    I dread the day when this new piece of insanity hits my search.

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    1. No. One of the key reasons that Google search has been becoming less useful is that the open web has been learning how to game search results. By installing a people powered firewall, Google adds a reputation layer over these results that can further filter them.

      In addition, Google search needs data in order to better the search results. If this data is unavailable, because we all decide that we want to Tweet, use apps and OpenGraph, etc... then Google has no data to provide us with results. And the favoring of Google+ in Google search is a way to launch an absolutely necessary update.

      Social has been added to the "kernel" of the Google OS and it had to be added in that way so that it couldn't be gamed; either by other services depriving Google of the social signal or by the open web manipulating it.

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    2. Actually, no. The biggest reason why Google search has become less useful is its simple failure to perform the search that I asked for, in the terms that I used. Rather than returning hits for the words I typed, it searches for what it thinks I *might* have meant... meaning I get results filled with pages where half the search terms don't appear, and numerous hits for similarly spelled and more popular but completely unrelated topics. The + operator became my greatest ally for a while; it was the only way to force each term to appear as I spelled it - but then of course Google removed that too.

      When I search for something, I already know WHAT I want to find, I just need to locate it. Google used to be great at locating specific information that the searcher wanted. Now it isn't. That's not to say that SEO etc isn't partially to blame, but Google hasn't countered the problem effectively. I would love it if Google+ proved to be the factor that gained Google the upper hand against "the open web", and search results actually improved as a result. But I highly doubt it. It'll be a moot point anyway if Google continues to replace all my search syntax with its own opinion of what I REALLY wanted...

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    3. RE: The biggest reason why Google search has become less useful is its simple failure to perform the search that I asked for, in the terms that I used.

      Yes, personalized search might not be sufficiently predictive today. And for this reason I switch to the "world view" for Google searches at times and perhaps for you, you might want to turn off SPYW entirely.

      However, I am very enthusiastic about what SPYW can become, as it is trained. (I also like what it already is for me). I view SPYW as an exercise in machine learning, where we are the mechanical turks training Google search about the best results for a given query. Google appears to expanded the set of features that it will use for this supervised learning paradigm to include social signals. And I suspect that those social signals will be incredibly important. I want Terence Tao's social signals to guide my Google search results, because I highly respect his annotation of the open content of the web and the closed content of Google+.

      RE: The + operator became my greatest ally for a while

      Quotation marks are a useful replacement for this.

      RE: When I search for something, I already know WHAT I want to find, I just need to locate it.

      I guess I differ there at times. When I am trying to explore different aspects topics, such as compressed sensing, I sometimes turn to Google. Terence Tao's annotation of web content is useful here and there are other examples as well.

      RE: But I highly doubt it.

      We will have to see. Again, I view this as a machine learning problem and it is highly unlikely that this machine that is SPYW has converged onto its final model of me for the predictions it could make. I do know suspect, however, that the more I use it the better I will be able to test the hypothesis that it will yield superior results.

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  13. Of course. I think there is good stuff in the Google plus pages than the other websites. So, it might be showing those pages.

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  14. How to activate this version?

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  15. I've just wasted all day trying to get the STUPID "latest posts" crap on the right side of a Google search to go away. So far, the only way I can stop it is to block google.com ...

    I USED TO LOVE GOOGLE NOW IT IS MY MISSION TO DEFEAT THEM.

    I'm working on code that will scrub my browser window of any trace of GOOGLE CRAP other than the (now wrong, usually) search results.

    What a bunch of FREAKING MORONS Google has proven to be..

    Steve

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