Earlier this week Google rolled out some radical changes to its search results.
Google’s Search, Plus Your World update aims to make search results more social by mixing privately shared information (Google+ content) with public web results (natural listings).
In Google’s words, “Google Search has always been about finding the best results for you. Sometimes that means results from the public web, but sometimes it means your personal content or things shared with you by people you care about.”
So as a ‘real world’ example, when searching for holiday destinations, Google will serve up organic public listings as before, with the addition of any holiday-related content posted within your Google+ network. Google will also serve up photos from your private Google+ and Picasa stash, based on captions, comments and album titles.
Additionally, Google will also now present user profiles and pages in search results, as well as autocomplete results. You will be able to follow these people and pages directly from the SERP, because according to Google “behind most every query is a community”.
So from now on when you search for your your favourite football team, for example, you might see prominent people who frequently discuss that team on Google+. These results will be displayed on the right-hand side of the results page. You then have the option to connect with these like-minded strangers in order to grow your network.
There are obviously a number of privacy concerns associated with Search Plus Your World as users’ private content appears amongst public results. However, all Google+ content is secured by a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption, the same privacy standards applied to that of Gmail.
If at this stage you’re thinking either “I don’t have a Google+ account” or “what if I don’t want social results”, you’re probably not alone. But fear not, because Google will offer a degree of control over what you want to see in your search results, be it ‘Public’, ‘Limited’ or ‘Only you’. Additionally, people in your results are clearly marked with the Google+ circle they are in, or as suggested connections.
Google is also adding a button on the upper right of the results page which will allow you to toggle between a ‘personalised’ and ‘un-personalised’ view of search results.
At present, Search plus Your World is a minor update in comparison to the potential it holds. Where as the current state of ‘Search Plus Your World’ would be better described as ‘Search Plus Google+’, it would be a very different scenario should Google integrate content from Facebook, Twitter, Flickr etc..
That slightly unnerving, albeit not-impossible-in-the-future level of social integration is currently blocked by those sites’ terms of service, which prevent Google crawling and storing their data. Currently Google+ is the only site that provides such a “persistent service”. Unfortunately for Google it’s also the site with least public interest, which makes the current state of social search less than appealing to the masses.
In relation to multi-network integration, Amit Singhal of Google told searchengineland.com “if others were willing to change, we’d look at designing things to see how it would work”.
The Google-Facebook relationship is rocky to say the least, as Facebook currently, and always has walled off its data from Google’s search engine. Years ago this wasn’t too much of a concern for Google, but with more than 800 million active users under its belt Facebook now makes up a significant, and rapidly growing portion of the web.
It’s highly unlikely that Facebook will give up its data any time soon but we’ll be watching closely as the war for internet dominance continues.