Google Search Plus Google Social

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Heard about Search, plus Your World yet? Google launched it last week. The short version is that when someone with a Google+ account performs a search while logged in, results drawn from content they or their friends have posted through Google+ will be a part of the results.

According to Google, the three big features will be:

  1. Personal Results, which enable you to find information just for you, such as Google+ photos and posts—both your own and those shared specifically with you, that only you will be able to see on your results page;
  2. Profiles in Search, both in autocomplete and results, which enable you to immediately find people you’re close to or might be interested in following; and,
  3. People and Pages, which help you find people profiles and Google+ pages related to a specific topic or area of interest, and enable you to follow them with just a few clicks. Because behind most every query is a community.

Google has not provided a single universal search experience for a while, so the first of these three features is not as significant as it would seem. The second and third however are a different story.

Profiles in Search

This is probably going to the most significant feature in terms of actual user adoption, and it is also in line with the steps that Google has been taking towards becoming a key identity provider online. Search is as much a destination in itself as it is a directory, and Google is close to filling the same role as portal sites like Yahoo! used to in the 1990’s.

Adding the profiles to which the user is connected and those they might want to add to their Circles is an important piece of social functionality for Google+. On sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, the people search tools have been one of the tools driving the growth of their users’ networks.

Making Google+ profiles more visible in the results and autocomplete also creates social proof for uncommitted users that Google+ is used, and I suspect will encourage people to use it more.

People and Pages

The third feature being introduced with Google+’s closer integration with Google’s search results is the inclusion of personal profiles as  results in search, outranking older, more active and ostensibly more linked-to web properties. The importance of personal Google+ profiles in search was hinted at earlier with Google’s replacing ‘+’ with quotations for marking a word as exact match.

Google+ on a logged out vanity search

Considering how Google has used YouTube, Google Places and a number of other services within their search results, this should not have taken anyone by surprise.

How well Google+ profiles are performing in search compared to other web properties has certainly drawn criticism, although not much astonishment, from the more cynical commentators online.

There is a positive side to the performance of Google+ content in search, and that is in reputation management. It is another way to get content ranking for a brand or name that could outrank less than favourable results and bury them.

With More Social Content comes Greater Transparency

As well as the new social features, Google also announced a number of changes to their interface to give the user greater control over their search experience and to create more transparency in how the social content is used in search. The search engine also made it easy for users to remove personalised results, which feature is accessible through a toggle button:

That means no results from your friends, no private information and no personalization of results based on your Web History. This toggle button works for an individual search session, but you can also make this the default in your Search Settings. We provide separate control in Search Settings over other contextual signals we use, including location and language.

Crowding the Social Bandwagon

The most interesting reaction to Google’s Search, plus Your World came from Twitter, who seemed understandably annoyed. Even though the two companies parted ways, Search, plus Your World became an opportunity for Twitter to state their concerns on how as a “result of Google’s changes, finding this information will be much harder for everyone” to find the breaking news and event information that Twitter has become known for.

Google+ could become a competitor for Twitter as a realtime news provider and aggregator by displaying breaking information inline with organic search results, and it is interesting to see Twitter publicly take a shot at Google over this. However, it has been a while since their content agreement expired without renewal, leaving Google’s realtime search tools dead just as Google+ was being launched.

With Search, plus Your World, it seems that Twitter is concerned that Google might be able to revive the functionality of realtime search, without having to enter another deal with their own social network.

Social without the Site

For Google+ to pay off for Google, it does not need to replace Facebook or Twitter. To succeed as an identity provider it just needs profiles, and for its users to remain logged in while using other Google products.

The search results themselves are shaping up to be the most important part of Google+, with the addition of everything from friends, personal photos and shared content, to potentially realtime updates on subjects of interest (Remember Sparks? Maybe they will come into this at some point). Google+ is not about being a destination in itself, and frankly, it does not need to be.

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