You-Centric Search Could Give Google+ a Boost

New feature lets users organize personal posts, photos, friends

Over the years, Google has updated its search service to organize everything from online images and video to news and blogs to products and patents. Its latest frontier? You.

This morning, the tech giant announced that it was launching Search Plus Your World, a new feature that gives users the option of personalized search results.

“[This new features] puts you at the center of search,” Jack Menzel, Google’s product management director for search, told Adweek. “It’s not just you searching the Web; it’s you searching your Web.”

The you-centric service searches photo collections on Google+ and Picasa, as well as Google+ posts and links shared by individuals and their friends. It also provides autocomplete predictions and search results specific for Google+ friends and helps users find people and Google+ Pages connected to specific topics.

Say you search for Maui. As long as you’ve opted to receive personalized results, a link would appear below the search box (and above the regular search results) letting you know the number of personal results Google has found for you. Click on the link, and it’ll take you to a separate page showing Maui-related photos, blog posts and Google+ content shared by you and your Google+ contacts.

If you search for products or books, the new feature could show you content from friends endorsing (or criticizing) them—an added incentive for marketers to get loyal customers buzzing about them on Google+.

“It’s a fun way to get product recommendations,” said Menzel. “If you can delight your customers and get them interacting and sharing their experiences with your products via things like Google+, this will be a tremendous boon for people who want to get information out about their great products.”

Google’s also likely hoping that the updated search feature gives more regular users a new reason to join Google+. While the feature works for anyone with a Google account, it’s more interesting and helpful for people with rich Google+ profiles and networks. If you want to search for friends, Google will predict and autocomplete the name (and then display relevant results for that person)—but only if you’ve connected on Google+. If you’re planning a trip, Search Plus Your World could provide a nice set of recommendations on where to go or worthwhile things to see, but only if you’re connected via Google+ to people who have been there.

The new feature also plays up Google+ with its People and Pages feature. When you search Google for specific topics, a box on the right-hand side of the screen will display prominent people and Google+ Pages relevant to the topic. A search for music, for example, would bring up the Google+ profiles for Britney Spears and Alicia Keys, alongside buttons for adding them to circles. Menzel said the feature works similar to other kinds of rankings, ostensibly displaying people whose pages have generated the most activity or have been added to the most circles.

At any time, Menzel said, people can opt out of the personalized results, as well as control the content they see from other people. Personalized results are also marked as Public, Limited or Only You, so that people can easily find out who else can see the items that appear in their results. He also emphasized that to ensure privacy and security, all signed-in users get encrypted search results by default.

“Given that it is your information, it is your world. . . . We engineered this so that security, transparency and control are really fundamentally built into these features,” he said.