Google "Plus-ifies" search with social features in effort to un-plus Facebook

Google logoIn an attempt to take the lead on "social search," Google has introduced three new features into its search engine that more deeply integrate the Google+ social network. The new features, which collectively are referred to as "Search plus Your World," allow users to focus on results from their own personal social network connections, and highlight content published on Google+. It's a change that significantly drives up the visibility of Google's social network in its bid to take on Facebook, and builds on Google's already significant plus-ification of its other services.

Google has been personalizing search based on search history, thanks to Google's immortal cookies, for years. And social results based on user profiles have been part of Google search for the past two years. But the new Google+ enabled features of search go much further in plugging into user's social networking habits.

In a post to Google's official blog, Google fellow Amit Singhal outlined the new features, which are being rolled out gradually over the next week to users. The first is "personal results," which draws from photos and posts shared by the user and those in the user's "circles" on Google+. With a click, search results can be narrowed to just those from within Google+ that have been explicitly shared with the user.

Another change is the promotion of Google+ profiles as search results. Google has already given a boost to the visibility of personal profiles in its search results, but the new feature now reveals personal profiles in the "autocompletes" for searches as you type in the first few letters of the name of someone you've added to a Google+ circle. Search plus Your World will also return people and pages in Google+ that are related to a topic you search on, including the profiles of celebrities and experts related to the topic on the right-hand side of the search results page.

Having results like these show up in nearly any Google search might be a bit unnerving for some concerned about privacy—or those who would rather not get bombarded with friend's photos of their family pets at the top of searches. But the features work only if you're logged into Google+, and personal search results can be toggled on and off with a click. And this sort of customization of results was part of the reason why Google moved to protect searches with HTTP Secure for anyone logged in with a Google account—a move that set off protests from the search-engine optimization world, since it blocked search referral information for incoming visits.

But on a deeper level, the move to more thoroughly integrate Google+ into every aspect of Google's functionality is a clear effort by Google to compete head-on with Facebook's own social search efforts. By making social networking part of Google's highest-profile profitable product, the company is clearly making a big bet on the ability of Google+ to fend off loss of traffic and ad revenue to Facebook. Last August, a study by PageLever found that about a third of Facebook pages' external referred traffic came from Google. Google would obviously like to keep some of that traffic, and the accompanying ad revenue, for itself.

Source: Ars Technica

Tags: Google, Google TV, social networks

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