Appearing atop Google’ssearch results used to be the exclusive right of Web celebrities and Fortune 500 companies. Starting this week, your mom is just as likely to show up at the top of those results—providing she uses Google’s still fledgling social network, Google+.
The change represents a fundamental shift, as Google’s algorithm-driven search is going through a social overhaul as it attempts to head off the threat of disruption from socially focused companies, such as Facebook and LinkedIn. The new Google service, called “Search, plus Your World,” is part of that effort.
Over the next few days, Google will start adding information that has been shared publicly and privately on Google+ to its search results.
This means you might see a picture of a friend’s dog when searching for Pomeranians, or a restaurant recommended by a friend when you search for nearby eateries. Even if you aren’t a Google+ user, Google search results will show content posted publicly on the social network that it judges to be relevant—profile pages and pages dedicated to particular topics.
LAS VEGAS — If last year’s launch of Google+ was the search giant’s first shot in the social wars, consider the new Search+ product its Blitzkrieg.
Launched Tuesday, Google’s new Search+ initiative integrates results culled from your Google+ social network connections into Google search queries, a major step into providing relevant social content into the company’s namesake product.
When you search for a term — say, “Netflix,” for example — the new product will serve up private and public instances of “Netflix” pulled from people you’re connected with on Google+, including photos, links and status updates. In addition, relevant Google+ profiles, personalities and brand pages will also be folded into results.
So a search for Netflix could yield the official site, a news story about the company, a link to a friend from Google+ talking about Netflx, and the like. Further, all of these results are tailored specifically to those friends in your network, so each person’s results will be personalized and completely different.
It’s a huge move for Google, a company which made its bilions indexing web pages with its advanced algorithms. The company’s origins are rooted in text-based search, using Larry Page’s now-famous “Page Rank” system to create a hierarchy of relevancy for when users entered search queries. Over the years, search progressed: Google added video, images, its Instant product, and the like. The early Oughts gave rise to an age of search, so much so that “Googling” was deemed a verb in our official English lexicon.
But as the decade progressed, another phenomenon began to take over — social. Facebook grew from a small site created in Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard dorm room to a global presence, now boasting over 800 million users. Twitter sees millions of tweets pass through its pipes monthly. Social network LinkedIn is one of the most watched companies in the Valley. And social gaming giant Zynga just filed a multi-billion dollar IPO in December.
And as users flocked to the platform, a different kind of search evolved. It was a search based on items which users didn’t even know they wanted. Facebook begat “likes,” a way of notifying others that you like (or are at the very least interested in) something. ‘Likes’ spread fast, and liking became another way to find new and relevant content from friends.
And as Facebook widened its reach over time, Google fell further and further behind.
“One of the signals that we haven’t take as much advantage of as we should have is that all of [our search results] were written by people,” said Jack Menzel, director of search product management, in an interview at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). “And you, the searcher, are a unique person, looking for info specifically relevant to you.”
So the introduction of Google’s new Search+ additions ultimately serve a twofold purpose: First, Google is using the strength of its insanely popular search product to bolster its fledgling social network. As of today, Google+ has a user base somewhere in the tens of millions — far behind that of Facebook. Considering the millions upon millions of search queries entered every single day, and the implications of folding Google+ information into those results, it’s a easy way to leverage the power of Google’s existing properties into beefing up its young one.
Second, it provides Google with an entire cache of new information relevance. Google and Facebook made headlines last year after Google alluded to issues with indexing Facebook users’ individual profile data for Google’s search results. In vague terms, Google search seemed limited in how much Facebook data it was privy to. And in an age where social sharing has grown far more relevant than ever before, that’s a huge chunk of pertinent information.
So Google has decided to go within for that data. User posts and data can now be searched for relevant content, and served up to individuals. While it’s nowhere near as extensive as Facebook’s treasure trove of personal data, it’s a fine start for Google’s push into social.
The new products could, however, yield a number of problems for Google. For instance, if a user searches for a recent New York Times article using Google and search results yield both the article itself and a post from a Google+ friend who shared the article, the user may click on the friend’s shared result, possibly read the headline and not end up going to the publisher’s site, instead sticking inside of the Google+ environment. That means fewer clicks for The New York Times, and few ad dollars in the long run.
Further, Google has never had much luck in the realm of privacy, and adding personal results to search queries could cause user upheaval. Privacy scares and Google aren’t strangers.
But Google insists these features aren’t going to be invasive. “With your permission, and knowing about who your friends are, we can provide more tailored recommendations, and search quality will be better for consumers,” Google Chairman Eric Schmidttold reporters last fall.
The company has built a number of safeguards into the product itself to appease privacy wonks as well. First, by default all searches will be secured by SSL encryption, protecting from others trying to peep your queries. Second, it’s all opt-in. There’s a little Search+ toggle button available on the page, so you can turn it on or off depending on if you want the personal results to appear. And finally, you can completely turn it off if you don’t want the new features integrated into your existing Google searches.
In all, it’s Google’s answer to recent developments in Facebook’s expanding universe. As Facebook opened up its graph to integrate better with application developers last year, huge services and publishers have flocked to the platform, and sharing has grown exponentially. If Google has classically wielded ‘search’ as its weapon, Facebook’s ‘sharing’ was its own tool of destruction.
But with Google’s new products, social search aims to become a stronger tool, integrating Google’s past strengths with what looks to be a very social future
Google purchased another round of patents from IBM in the last week of 2011, adding 217 filings as the search giant looks to strengthen its existing IP portfolio to help protect itself in an increasingly litigious tech industry.
A report on Tuesday revealed that the United States Patent and Trademark Officeofficially recordedGoogle’s acquisition of 188 granted patents and 29 published pending applications from IBM in its patent assignment database on Dec. 30, 2011, according to blog SEO by the Sea.
The patents, which were effectively assigned to Google on Dec. 28, 2011, cover a variety of topics pertinent to the company’s internet business including blade servers, server load balancing, email administration and network performance.
Also found in the batch of intellectual property are patents useful to Google’s Android smartphone platform, like portable OS updating, transferring of web applications between devices, voice based keyword searching and a computer phone patent.
The keyword searching patent is of particular interest as Apple’sSiri digital assistant is seen as a key feature of the company’s iPhone 4S, with at least one market analyst saying that it was one of the main drivers of November sales for the new handset. Google is rumored to be working on a Siri competitor for its Android OS, naming the project “Majel” after Star Trek’s on-board computer.
Google has been on an IBM patent buying spree over the last year, with a July 2011 acquisition of 1,030 filings being followed by purchases of 1,022 filings and 41 filings in August and September, respectively.
The financials of the patent buy has yet to be revealed, and both Google and IBM don’t normally disclose the details of such transactions