Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) finally managed to fashion a credible social search solution, using its Google+ network to include Picasa photos, posts and other personalized content in users’ search results.
Called “Search, plus your world,” the new feature is a way to combat the “faceless Web” problem of highly impersonal search results Google, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO) and the rest of the search vendors have provided for the last decade and a half.
The approach is the latest of many unsuccessful attempts by bit players–and even Google itself–to make search social, and to personalize it in a meaningful way.
“Search is pretty amazing at finding that one needle in a haystack of billions of Web pages, images, videos, news and much more,” Google Fellow Amit Singhal wrote in a blog post. “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.”
Over the next few days, searchers who are members of Google+ and are signed into their Google account will see Google+ photos and posts they’ve created, as well as those their Google+ followers have shared expressly with them on search results pages.
Also, users will now be able to search people they follow in Google+, or at least would like to follow in Google+, both in the search autocomplete function of the search box and directly in search results.
For example, users can type just a few letters of their friend’s name to recall personalized profile choices in the autocomplete function, which leverages Google Instant. Clicking on a name will whisk the searcher away to a results page for their friend.
Searchers may also find profile autocomplete predictions for various prominent people from Google+, including “high-quality authors.” Users who aren’t already following these people will see an option to add them to their Google+ Circles.
Finally, users may search and find Google people profiles and Google+ pages related to a specific topic or area of interest.
Googles Menzel Provides Practical Research for Personal Search
During a pre-briefing with eWEEK, Jack Menzel, product management director for search at Google, used the example of vacation planning.
Those who want to travel to, say, Rome, can simply search the Web. But Menzel, who recently went to Rome, wanted to learn about the Italian city through the lens of friends who had been there and experience the city first hand.
Menzel searched for Rome using the new personal results feature and found Google+ posts written about Rome, as well as several photos and links to content about the city. A search of Rome in Google Image Search retrieved the same kind of personalized results for him, solely in pictures his friends took of the city.
Whenever a company mixes social with Web search, security and privacy are natural concerns. Recall the privacy concerns Facebook triggered with its new user interface experiences in the past, including with the most recent Timeline change.
Menzel told eWEEK Google has applied the SSL encryption it recently applied to Google Search to its results pages for the new personal results. Google has also made sure to mark personal results with specific designations used on Google+, including brandings for Public, Limited or Only you.
There is also a new toggle switch in the upper right-hand of search results pages where users can see what results look like without personal content. This toggle button works for each individual search session, but users can also make this the default in your Search Settings.
“Search, plus your world” represents a real instantiation of the Social Search service the company has worked at for the last few years. That approach never really took off because Google didn’t have a network to leverage. With more than 60 million users on Google+, users should experience more value in the new social search approach.
This could also have the effect of luring new users to Google+, which would be a huge win for the company at a time when Facebook has more than 800 million users and counting.