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posted 11 Jan 2012, 05:36 by Peter Timperley   [ updated 11 Jan 2012, 05:36 ]

Google’s Results Get More Personal With “Search Plus Your World” 11 January 2012

Below is the main part of an article from Linkedin about how Google is changing how it returns its search results and, as you will read, it is a big change. For the full article please click on the link at the bottom of the page.

Google’s search results are undergoing their most radical transformation ever, as a new “Search Plus Your World” format begins rolling out today. It finds both content that’s been shared with you privately along with matches from the public web, all mixed into a single set of listings.

The change is live now, though not everyone will see it until it fully launches over the next few days. It’s only for those signed-in to and searching in English. You’ll know when it happens, because Google will alert you with a message like this above your search results:

The new system will perhaps make life much easier for some people, allowing them to find both privately shared content from friends and family plus material from across the web through a single search, rather than having to search twice using two different systems.

However, Search Plus Your World may cause some privacy worries, as private content may appear as if it is exposed publicly (it is not). It might also cause concern by making private content more visible to friends and family than those sharing may have initially intended.

The new format and features will also likely cause Google to come under renewed fire that it is leveraging its search engine to favor its own content and crowd out competitors.

Below, a detailed look at what’s involved with Search Plus Your World, from how it works to some of the issues it raises.

Before: Personalized & Social Search Results Separate

Google has had personalized results since June 2005, results from across the web that are given a ranking boost because they are deemed especially of interest to someone, based on their personal behavior and interests. Without the boost, these results might not have made it into the top listings for a particular search.

Personalized results were expanded and presented in a new way in February 2007. Then, in December 2009, you no longer had to opt-in to receive personalized results. They were enabled by default for everyone, to some degree, even if you weren’t signed-in to Google.

Separately, Google has had social search results since October 2009. These are also personalized listings but ones based on the people you know, rather than your personal behavior. They’ve also been given a ranking boost.

Initially segregated from “regular” listings, Google’s social search results were blended into regular results in Feburary 2011 and expanded to include not just content created by those you know but also content shared by them through a variety of social networks.

Now: Personal, Private, Public & Social United

With Search Plus Your World, by default, there’s a new “Personal Results” view that appears. The view personalizes the listings you get based on both your own behavior and social connections, similar to what previously happened. In addition, content that’s been shared with you through the Google+ social network now also appears.

“The social search algorithm, and the personal search algorithm, and the personalized search algorithm are actually one algorithm now, and we are merging it in a way that is very pleasant and useful,” said Amit Singhal, who oversees Google’s ranking algorithms, when I talked with him about the new features.

You’ll know that personalized results are appearing when you see one or both of the indicators below:

The arrow on the left points to a message that, in this example, says that there are “50 personal results and 419,000 other results” that have been found. Some of those 50 results will be blended into the first page of results being shown.

The second arrow highlights a new toggle that Google has introduced, something that many of those who do search engine optimization have wanted for ages. It allows you to switch between personalized and unpersonalized results.

I’ll cover more about the toggle in a bit. When the button with a person icon is shown dark, that means results are being personalized.

Private Content In Your Web Results

To summarize, personalized results include:

  • Listings from the web
  • Listings from the web, boosted because of your personal behavior
  • Listings from the web, boosted because of your social connections
  • Public Google+ posts, photos or Google Picasa photos (all of which are also listings from the web)
  • Private or “Limited” Google+ posts, photos or Google Picasa photos shared with you

The last line is the most radical change, that private content will now be visible in what seems to be a search across the entire web. Here’s an example:

In this example provided by Google (complete with its arrow), you can see how one of the photos is showing up with the note: “You shared this – Limited.”

This is a real life example of how personalized search is working for Singhal. He shared this photo of his dog, Chikoo, on Google+ in a limited manner, rather than with the entire world. The other photos of the dog that you can see, including one from his wife, Shilpa, were also privately shared.

Before today’s change, a Google search wouldn’t have found any of these photos when Singhal, his wife or anyone he’s shared them with searched for “chikoo,” which is a fruit. That’s because since the photos were private, Google couldn’t see them.

Instead, if Singhal or others with access to these photos wanted to find them, they would have had to use the completely separate Google+ Search.

The new feature will also work to find Google+ posts that have been shared in a limited manner, or for Google Picasa photos shared privately.

Slightly confusing, you can drill-down into the results to get what Google also calls “Personal Results,” which is a way to get just content from Google+ or Picasa. Remember this from above?

Clicking on the “personal results” link (or “Personal” in the options under “More Search Tools” in the left-column) brings back pure personal results.

See the full article @